We believe that understanding your clients is the foundation of all good business strategy.
Many of our valued clients use a regular feedback process to help them learn from their work. Here are two examples of client businesses learning what works from talking directly to their customers.
Jane Northcote is an independent change management consultant and author of ‘Making Change Happen‘. She helps large firms implement business change. She also designs and runs meetings and training courses.
Jo Twiselton runs Twist Consultants, a change communications consultancy. She works with clients including Interserve Defence, Southern Electric Consulting and Sodexo. Jo also helped easyJet manage its historic shift to allocated seating in 2012.
We work closely with both Jo and Jane to help them get valuable insight into what their clients think about them and the work they do. In this article, they generously share their experiences of asking their clients for feedback.
What do your clients think of the feedback process?
Jane: “My clients are hugely impressed that I have paid someone to ask these questions. No-one else does it. Even the big corporate consultancies don’t do it. The very fact of doing it is impressive.”
Jo: “Clients have told me that they really appreciate the opportunity to give this sort of feedback. They have said that it shows I am conscientious and that I want to develop myself and what I do. For them, it’s a chance to reflect on the project and focus on what they have got out of it. Above all, there’s a perception that it is more professional — especially when you get a third party to do the interviews. It shows you are prepared to listen and respond to your clients.”
Is it a valuable process for you?
Jane: “It is terrifically valuable. I want to make sure that if anyone has anything they want to say then that they have the opportunity to say it. It’s tremendously useful and very reassuring. It can provide positive endorsements and it can also prompt clients to recommend me to others.”
Jo: “Lots of consultants don’t do this. They get testimonials or ask for comments on LinkedIn. And that’s great — I do that too. But this is a lot more detailed. Feedback enables you to refine what you do and understand what your clients want. I think my clients have benefited from what I have learned from other projects.”
What are the main benefits?
Jane: “I genuinely want to learn. I know there are many ways I can do my job and it’s nice to know what you’ve done particularly well. The other thing is that it does signal to the client that you’ve almost finished the job. It’s like the closing chords of a symphony and it’s a really good way to end. It provides an element of protection — I know they were pleased with the work and a line has been drawn under it.”
Jo: “The feedback helps me understand the value I have given to the client and it also shows what hasn’t worked. Feedback can be very enlightening, especially when you compare the responses from different people in different roles.”
How do you learn from it?
Jo: “I have been going through all the feedback I have gathered over the past year, identifying themes and looking at areas where I can build on things or where I need to do some work. Often things come out that I hadn’t realised were of such benefit to the client — those are the golden nuggets.”
Jo: “Often feedback raises interesting issues. During one interview, a client told Sonja that he had never worked with a communication consultant before. I realised that I had assumed everyone already knew what I do. That one comment has triggered a whole thought-process for me.”
How do you gather feedback?
Jo: “We usually approach clients about feedback towards the end of the project. We present it as a quality process, something we can learn from that enables us to add value. Sonja then conducts the interviews for me.”
Jane: “Usually Sonja asks each contact for ten minutes of their time and they end up chatting for 45 minutes. We use a structured list of questions, covering what was delivered, how it met the objectives and the results that were achieved.”
Who do you interview?
Jo: “I tend to ask the people I have worked most closely with and also those people whose opinion I value.”
Jane: “We interview anyone that I have had anything to do with, including heads of departments and their secretaries, often up to ten people.”
When do you conduct the feedback?
Jo: “The timing is crucial. I do it as the project is winding down and I like to get a case study signed off before I am out of the door. Otherwise, the clients have moved on and they are not as willing to participate. People like me become part of the team. As the project comes to an end, you can ask people to look at you objectively. They can’t do that in the middle of the project.”
Can you tell us about the experience of using Valuable Content to do the research?
Jo: “By using a third party to gather the feedback, I get a clearer picture. Some clients will tell Sonja things that they might not tell me. When you are in the middle of the project you don’t usually have these conversations.”
Jane: “Sonja encourages people to give constructive criticism as well as positive feedback and she asks open-ended questions so she gets a complete picture of what the clients think. She gets far more feedback than I do. It’s a very British thing — people are unlikely to give you feedback to your face, positive or negative. For me, the whole essence of the process is that it is conducted by a third party. It’s probably the only genuine feedback I’ve had in my entire career.”
Five reasons to conduct customer feedback
- To get insight into the needs of your client
- To improve your own skills and services
- To understand the value of what you do better
- To get positive quotes that can be used in testimonials and case studies
- To demonstrate your professionalism and willingness to learn
Five ways to make the feedback process run smoothly
- Ask for feedback as a project is coming to a close
- Keep questions open-ended to get a complete picture
- Thank clients for their participation in the process
- Get client approval on any quotes you use in your marketing materials
- Use a trusted third party to conduct the interviews
If you’d like to gather direct client feedback we can help. Find out about our Client Feedback and Research Service – for consultants and professional firms.