I have had a number of conversations recently with marketing/business development/client relationship colleagues who are trying to gain buy-in for client feedback programmes from partners but are struggling to gain traction. They, like me, see the value in a robust and systematic feedback programme but why might some partners be resistant?
It might be uncomfortable
There’s something very ‘Un-British’ about asking people what they think about us. And while no-one wants to hear negative feedback or constructive criticism (if that term makes you feel more comfortable), none of us are perfect.
It’s important to remember that seeking feedback is not a ‘witch hunt’. It is not an exercise which seeks to identify a team or individuals’ shortcomings. As difficult as it may be, the emotion needs to be removed from the process. Yes, the feedback might raise some performance issues which need to be addressed but at the heart of this exercise is the client and ensuring they receive an excellent level of service.
It can be uncomfortable for the client to give feedback directly to the partner or project lead with whom they work on a day to day basis. It is for this reason that I advise that someone removed from the immediate situation is best placed to undertake the feedback. Clients are more likely to deliver difficult messages to someone neutral, either an external consultant, another partner from the business or a member of the marketing/client relationship team.
We already seek their feedback
You may have a testimonials page awash with glowing feedback from your clients. But how did that happen? Chances are that you identified the clients you know love you and asked them for a quote. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but it does present a one-sided view.
Just to be clear, I am not suggesting you publish negative comments verbatim, but I do think you need to seek feedback from your ‘difficult’ clients as well as those you know view you favourably in order to gain a well-rounded view of your service. And while not publicising individual feedback, it can enhance your integrity if, alongside your positive service comments you say ‘our clients told us we needed to improve xxx and as a result we have implemented yyy change’.
It’s time consuming
Introducing and running a client feedback programme is as time consuming as you make it. If the Managing Partner/Board decide to introduce a cross-firm programme, they should identify a senior sponsor who will work with the marketing and client relationship team and other relevant individuals to develop and implement the programme. That team should be given the autonomy to set the parameters of the programme – number of clients, feedback capture method, use of third parties, mechanisms for reporting back to individual partners, ways of aggregating and communicating the results more widely etc whilst reporting back to the board as and when necessary.
Once the framework for a programme is agreed and a programme is underway, it should become just another business activity your firm undertakes without too much involvement from anyone other than the person undertaking the survey. Of course, there needs to be partner involvement when feedback is received from one of their clients, but this engagement should be viewed as a positive rather than a drain on their time.
Running a client feedback programme by committee, involving numerous stakeholders from across the business will considerably hinder the programme’s effectiveness as you are never going to please everyone.
Isn’t it expensive?
Client feedback programmes can be costly but with it costing more to acquire a new client than keep an existing one, it’s an investment that should pay for itself as the programme might highlight that a client isn’t quite as happy as you thought. Again, the cost can be as high as you like and while I have to admit a vested interest in involving external experts such as myself, your programme need not cost the earth.
As with all programmes, there will be certain set-up costs but once your programme is established, there are ways to economise. For example, you can categorise clients into those who receive an email survey (low cost), those whose feedback is captured via a telephone interview (medium cost if conducted by a third party) and those for whom a face to face interview might be beneficial – not just high value clients, but also those who might be more ‘difficult’ and an in-depth conversation necessitates (higher cost if you factor in travel time/costs).
If your partners are sceptical about the value of gathering in-depth feedback from your clients then why not suggest a pilot with a small number of clients and once you prove the value, seek to roll out the programme to other parts of the business? If you would like to know more about how I can help you overcome internal barriers and set up a client feedback pilot, please contact me.