Using feedback to get results

Handling clients’ feedback isn’t easy, but seeking out their opinions can be a wise strategy that strengthens the bon between you, argues Jan Casey

Client feedback is an essential component to offering excellent service. Working as a client for a proportion of my time, I have found that consultancies which take the time to ask for feedback, listen and act on what is expressed deliver a better service and are demonstrably head and shoulders above those that do not seek a client’s opinion. As an added benefit, this positive initiative demonstrates a desire to nurture the relationship, which can reinforce the bond with the client.

Indeed, clients can be keen to be involved in this process. Last year, I conducted some feedback and project analysis on behalf of a consultancy where I was particularly struck by the unanimity of the various clients’ positive responses. Each of them was delighted to pass on their experience, commented on how rewarding they found the process and was able to be objective, seeing the exercise as a means to enable the consultancy to improve. They went out of their way to give me as much time as necessary, and each client congratulated the consultancy on the initiative, seeing it as a positive reflection on it.

The benefits of client feedback and project analysis are many. Rather than making assumptions, you can obtain an experience-based assessment of areas where the consultancy is succeeding and where improvements can be made. You also have the opportunity to ask questions across all areas of your business – client servicing, working procedures, resources, team dynamics, individual relationships, creativity, delivery, price – and if the client works with other groups, you can gain comparative feedback.

But to ensure you receive full and frank feedback and make the best use of it, there are several requirements.

It is essential that the interviewer provide a totally impartial, dispassionate and receptive space so the client can express the whole range of their thoughts about the relationship. In this way they will not feel the need to limit, temper or defend what they say and you will receive a comprehensive account of their dealings with you. It can be difficult to achieve this neutral space if the feedback is being conducted internally.

When presenting the feedback to your team it is essential that it is based on a client’s words and not the interviewer’s interpretation of them, though the summary needs to be subjective and should also provide an analysis of the themes and patterns of behaviour that have emerged. For these to be apparent a sufficient number of clients needs to be included, no fewer than three. From this information issues, gaps and areas of strength can be identified and an action plan proposed.

To use the information productively, the group needs to hear what the client is saying and take it on board. It needs to acknowledge that the client’s experience exists, whether verbalised or not, so providing the opportunity for it to be voiced can only be productive. The consultancy will often have a varying version of events, but the client’s opinion must still be taken on board.

The feedback and summary should be disseminated to the immediate client team and the rest of the group to ensure celebration of what is working well and a collective understanding of any changes required. The action identified then needs to be put into practice. Future client feedback can be used as a tracking tool and a rigorous way of evaluating progress. Improvements can be assessed across individual performance, creativity and operations. Ideally, client feedback should take place during and at the end of a project, which offers the chance to rectify any issues when they arise. An ongoing internal overview of the client relationship, delivery and staff performance is also beneficial.

Client feedback and project analysis should be an integral part of any serious business. It is an investment in your client, which will improve your performance and strengthen the relationship. The improvements you make will help you maintain your client base, which should be an important focus for your future revenue stream.

Jan Casey is an independent consultant specialising in brand consultancy, project management, client feedback and coaching. She is also a qualified and practicing psychotherapist

Getting the best results from client feedback requires:

• Including a sufficiently large selection of clients to recognise patterns of behaviour and delivery

• Giving clients an impartial space to express their feelings

• Analysing the feedback and identifying the patterns and themes

• Listening to what the client is saying and accepting it

• Assessing what needs to change and acting on it

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