Client Audits

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Client Audits

Over the past year or two, interest in what’s become known as “Client Audits” has been growing.

  • What are they, exactly?
  • Why are more firms doing them?
  • And … what’s the bottom-line benefit?

A “Client Audit” is a form of Mandeville interview. It’s a hybrid variation from the Mandeville feedback instrument … tailored for each firm and each client situation.

Typically a firm lists the client organizations from which they’d like to learn how the clients view them. In a way, it’s a form of “Client Perception.” A firm may wish to know, if it’s a current or past client, how they’re seen – based on past performance. A firm may want a client’s awareness of their different services, or their perceived strengths. In some instances, a firm may want a sense of what the clients expect in the way of issues and projects over the next, say, ten years … as well as what the clients may see as the ideal firm to meet their needs.

For each client organization from which a firm wants this feedback, they need to list every individual in that organization whose opinion counts and whose perceptions may, due to their role, vary. For some municipal clients, just the Public Works Director may be sufficient. Some municipal clients, however, may have directors for water, for wastewater, for roads, for solid waste management, etc. And in some, the opinions of some elected officials may be important. The idea is to obtain as full and detailed a picture as possible of how your firm is seen.

The Client Audit must be done by a third party – someone who has not personally worked with anyone in that client organization. In some firms, a firm leader (with Mandeville skills) can do an excellent job. In many instances, an outside consultant serves an excellent third party. The idea is: the interviewer must have no axe to grind or bias of any sort … just the desire to listen and learn – as thoroughly as possible.

When Trina works with firms to do Client Audits, and when the firm creates the list of client organizations and individuals within each whose perceptions they want, the firm notifies the clients that they’re doing a “Client Perception Study,” explains the process, and indicates that they’ll be contacted to arrange an appointment.

Most interviews take an hour. Some only take 30 to 45 minutes. And some may take nearly two hours. Most interviews are done face-to-face.

Clients tend to welcome being interviewed, as the outcome could be greater responsiveness from consultants on whom they depend.

Why are more firms doing them?

The reasons vary. Some examples …

  • A long-term repeat client starts hiring other firms.
  • A firm is pursuing a major project with a client they know and wants to be sure there are no hidden obstacles – “ghosts in the closet.”
  • A firm is pursuing a major project, is thinking of teaming with other firms, and wants to be sure those firms are seen in positive ways by the client.
  • A firm hears rumors that the client doesn’t like the person they’re considering using as project manager.
  • A firm would like to do work for a new client – usually a major client that awards a lot of work, year after year. They want to know if the client is actually open to other firms, and, if so, what they’d have to do to become the “apple of that client’s eye.”
  • A firm has been trying to get work from a client, has submitted many proposals, and keeps losing. They need to find out why.
  • A firm has “an inkling” that a client is unhappy, but can’t pin down what’s going on. Is it true? If so, why?
  • A client likes a firm and their people – but – they have to be open to competition. We’ve actually had clients suggest that the firm do an audit, so they could tell the firm precisely what to do so they could hire them. (Better responses are also in the client’s interest.)

The marketplace is competitive. Firms want to know the lay of the land before they commit time, energy, and dollars to pursue clients.

What’s the bottom-line benefit?

The information a firm secures as a result of the Client Audit enables them to:

  • Make internal adjustments that increase their chance of winning new contracts … their “hit rate”;
  • Increase retention of repeat clients; and
  • Gain a picture of the issues and projects and client expectations that will be surfacing in coming years.

A Client Audit tends to be very cost-effective. For example, an interview of a client individual, with write up, might run about $500 – whether it’s a senior member of the firm or a consultant. If an audit identifies, say, four individuals that should be interviewed, that’s $2,000. If a firm identifies, say, four client organizations to include in their audit, that’s roughly $8,000.

If the information helps a firm win just one contract they might not have won without the new information, the cost is a fraction of the profit from just that one contract.

The actual costs and benefits varies with the scale of the effort. But the Client Audit process has proven to be very cost-effective.