Back to Basics #4: Walking the Talk

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips


Back to Basics #4:
Walking the Talk

During this past year, we’ve been asked to go into client organizations as a third party, to elicit feedback from several clients in each system … typically large municipalities. These clients all have multiple projects at any given time, with more on their horizon, as well. And if they’re pleased with how a firm has been providing services to them, they’re able to reward that firm with years of additional work.

These are the kinds of clients that are the “Bread and Butter” for almost every consulting engineering firm. Yet, the “Care & Feeding” of those clients seems lacking.

Admittedly, clients from whom we’re asked to gather feedback are those that a firm suspects may not be pleased with how things are going. And so – the negatives usually are significantly greater than the positives, although they can usually also be remedied. Some observations, however, seem consistent from client to client and from consulting firm to consulting firm asking us to gather this feedback…

  • Clients feel relieved that they’re able to “unload” their feelings on a third party. Most of you who read “Stu’s News” have been through Mandeville training and have experienced the positive impact the feedback process – regardless of content – has on a client.
  • Clients consistently report that it was the first time anyone, from any consulting firm, ever came in and asked them these questions (which are on your Mandeville feedback sheet.) And these clients work with many firms … major firms … whose names we all know.
  • Clients also report that specific requests for personnel changes – such as if the chemistry between one of the consultants and one of the clients is untenable – are often not made, forcing clients to work with people they don’t like. (Sometimes the consultant with the poor chemistry has the best technical skills and the most project history, but it’s still a very painful situation for the clients.)
  • When “things” seem to be going south, firms will rush in to gather feedback and attempt to repair the situation – and hopefully retain the client relationship and future repeat work. But these clients know of no one who goes in and elicits feedback as a regular part of how they do a project … when they may be quite pleased with how their project is progressing and have more positives than negatives.
  • Clients also seem to be changing their working style expectations. For years, consultants would enter, do some listening, then gather the technical information needed, retreat to their office, produce a solution, and return to the client with that solution. Now, clients seem to want to be an integral member of a team that creates solutions; consultants don’t seem to have the facilitation skills needed to engage a group and lead it to a consensus decision.

Some guidelines to remedy this evidently pervasive situation …

  • For every project, designate someone who’s not working on the project to be the third party who gathers feedback. At your kick-off meeting, tell your client who will be doing it and when. Titles for that person vary … “Principal-in-Charge,” “Account Manager,” “Client Service Manager,” “Client Advocate.” Use whatever name feels right, but do designate someone to be the person who measures client satisfaction, and has your project manager make adjustments.
  • Designate someone else to be sure that people who are supposed to be getting feedback and causing appropriate adjustments to be made are doing what they’re supposed to do. Senior people in consulting firms are capable people; no question. But – they’re also busy, and planned actions can fall “between the cracks.” To ensure high levels of client satisfaction, you need a fail-safe ongoing system.
  • Most of you have completed Mandeville training; few have attended our (or any) “Facilitation” skills workshop. Several specific processes – with “By-the-Numbers” steps – exist that can enable you to engage from “four to forty” people on a project team, and arrive in a timely way with a true consensus decision that your people and your clients all agree is a great solution. You’ll have no compromise in technical quality and much higher levels of client satisfaction.

Is “Client Satisfaction” any more crucial now than it has always been? Yes.

First, in a slower economy, the supply of consultants may be greater than the demands from clients. If a client is not pleased with your efforts – say, an “8” or better on a “10” point scale – there’s always another firm eager to step in.

Second, from all the monitoring of major trends we see, the difficult times we’ve all been experiencing have the potential to become even more difficult. Major changes are happening; change can be very disconcerting and uncomfortable. In stressful times, we tend to want a “rock” on which to rely. We need to be that rock for them.

And third, profits tend to be less in a slow economy. Firms will spend considerable sums winning “Major Pursuits.” Yet, a carefully executed client satisfaction system can lower marketing costs, and increase both profitability and working comfort.