The painful process of getting client feedback

client feedback

Mark Newton

Managing Director

Posted on December 14, 2015

Every good business is always dying to know what its clients really think. We want to grow and do better, it’s as simple as that, and we know that the best way to do that is to listen. However, getting customers to talk and provide client feedback, honestly and openly, is not as simple as it sounds.

What’s working

Rather than rely on unreliable response rates of email surveys and questionnaires, every two years we go the whole hog and employ a market researcher to call our key clients.

Clients are invited to give feedback uncensored and anonymously. Our researcher interviews them about their experience of Talisman and our service, presenting the findings back to the whole team here.

We’ve been doing this for around ten years now, and it’s always a rewarding experience. Clients are nearly always happy to participate (we’ve only had someone decline once or twice) and tend to give generously of their time.

And, happily, the feedback is always mostly positive. It’s human nature – or my nature, anyway – to focus in and feel hurt by almost any negative, no matter how slight, but we deal with that by creating action plans for improvement.

What’s more, over the years we’ve come to realise that it’s actually the surprises and negatives that are most useful to us.

What we’ve learnt

The most revealing insight from our latest survey has been discovering that some clients, even ones we’ve been working with for some time, hold misconceptions about us or aren’t aware that we offer a service that we’d love to be providing to them. They may be happy with our relationship, but without a full and accurate picture of who we are and what we could do for them, is their satisfaction a good enough result? And if they feel let down in some way, is that simply because they didn’t know that additional support or other options were available to them?

Talisman has changed hugely in the last two years, and we’ve successfully developed many valuable new skills and resources. But this feedback shows that we’ve not been as good as we could have been at communicating these changes to our clients.

It’s challenged us. Good feedback needs to come from a place of depth. For it to be most useful, we need to know client feedback is grounded in full knowledge, engagement and confidence in our services.

Why we’re conflicted

It’s obvious to us that more open, responsive relationships are the key to gaining quality, accurate feedback and to providing a richer, more rewarding service.

Every time we do the survey, it always sets me to thinking about how this bi-annual exercise shouldn’t be necessary.  The best and most profitable client relationships I’ve ever had have been those where feedback and review was a regular occurrence. What worked, what didn’t, what could be improved upon – these questions naturally flowed back and forth from ongoing communication.

Ideally, we should reach a time where this is the experience for every client, and our two yearly survey isn’t necessary at all, especially as we’re working hard to underpin all our work with more open, positive conversations.

But that’s easier said than done. It seems to be a part of human nature to be reluctant to ask for or to give feedback of a partner, friend, colleague or client while we have no problem giving feedback to a stranger – or in this case, our researcher. Will we always be reliant on third parties to get the feedback we need?

The future of client feedback

We’re determined to find new ways of simplifying and improving our feedback techniques and making it more natural part of our day-to-day work. I’m going to keep plugging away with our Account Managers and Project Managers, asking them to find new and better ways to ask for and collect regular feedback. Let’s see if we can overcome everyone’s natural reluctance.

How about you? How do you gather meaningful feedback from your clients? Do you have to use formal surveying techniques or have you found another way?