If you ask the right people the right feedback questions in the right way at the right times, then you have the key to a big fat world of market intelligence.
Involve the right people
Who to ask? Well, it’s not the junior factotum with no knowledge of the ups and downs of the project.
And it’s not the eminence grise figurehead so remote from the coalface that one little flick would knock her free from the project’s gravitational pull.
According to research by an American CX (client experience) company called Client Savvy, your best target is a relatively senior person with an intimate knowledge of the project. Someone you deal with on a frequent basis and where there is mutual respect.
Which brings us onto who should do the asking.
It’s not what you think. It should not be a ‘neutral’ third party. Again according to Client Savvy, respondees clam up in front of a third party because they worry about his or her lack of project knowledge and how he or she will communicate responses. The resulting data is bland and uncritical. Who wants vanilla when what you need is spice?
The asker needs to be relatively senior with an intimate day-to-day knowledge of the project. Where there’s status parity between asker and askee, there’s trust, and where there’s trust, it’s easier to give constructive feedback.
Ask the right questions
Should you ask about the beauty of your architecture? Counterintuitive as it may be, no.
RIBA research shows that, generally speaking, clients think that architects’ designs are just dandy. (Lucky, since that is what architects are trained to do.)
This means that it is harder to compete with other architects on the basis of your superior designs.
If clients can’t see the difference between architects’ design output then you’re on a hiding to nothing trying to differentiate yourself on those grounds.
“Yoohoo, market! Guess what? My clients say my designs are fab!”
“So do mine!”
“Damn. Is there an echo?”
Much better to ask about the stuff that, as a general rule, you don’t learn about at architecture school: project management, empathy, efficiency, business smarts, commercial awareness, good collaboration, communication, and so on.
This is where the paydirt is. According to RIBA research, clients are so often disappointed that they have very low expectations that you will be competent in these areas.
It follows, therefore, that if you can demonstrate that clients believe your project management skills (and a couple of others) are fab, you’re much less likely to get an echo.
From a market differentiation point of view, that is jolly good news.
All this explains why the Listenback feedback tool doesn’t ask about the beautiliciousness of your designs and instead concentrates on the factors where clients see inconsistent service.
Use the right method at the right times
Clients generally can’t be bothered to give feedback.
Your efforts to encourage them run the risk of you being seen as a nuisance, or worse, disrespectful.
Here are some of the complaints that an ill-thought-through request for feedback can provoke:
“I’m busy – stop interrupting me!”
“I’ve moved onto other stuff – not interested!”
“Why should I help you when there’s nothing in it for me?”
“I cannot believe you waited until after the end of the project to ask questions about issues that should have been fixed during our year-long project!”
“It came out of the blue, and you have to temerity to harry for it? Get real.”
“For the love of god, it is too long. Since you’re cadging a favour, don’t take the pee by suggesting I wade through page after page of questions.”
“Why are you asking me for stuff that you already know, like my name, position, company, etc. Bad form, in all senses of the word.”
Use the Listenback system
Listenback proposes a better way.
1. Sell yourself as a listening practice. (I know this is a bit cheesy, but I can’t tell you how many times I have heard clients complain that architects don’t listen. It is a gargantuan issue.)
Client thinks: Pigs might fly! On the other hand, at least they recognize the problem.
2. Acknowledge that construction projects need careful management and that you want to implement appropriate checks and balances to help this one to run smoothly – to the extent that it is in your control. Explain that you ask all your clients for feedback at regular intervals during projects.
Client thinks: Hmm, that’s confounded my prejudices. If they do this with all their clients, their baseline service must already be pretty good. Maybe pigs do fly.
3. Tell them that your feedback questions will be short, sharp and sweet. With Listenback, it is in plain English and takes literally no more than a couple of minutes online. (Have a look: sign up for free!) Plus, clients don’t have to fill in any spurious information.
Client thinks: Hallelujah!
4. Agree intervals when you will formally seek feedback – perhaps at the end of RIBA Work Stages – so that you can monitor how things are going. (You also want lots of data.) In a complex project environment on a tight schedule where large sums of money are at stake, it’s easy for misunderstandings to arise unwittingly, and you want to pre-empt them.
Client thinks: Sounds like they respect my risk, and that’s uncommon. Liking it.
5. Add feedback as an item on meeting agendas, as agreed. If using Listenback, send the client representative a Listenback link so that they can complete the feedback online before or during the meeting … as well as airing any other current project issues.
Client thinks: Oh yeah – I agreed to that. Sounds good.
6. Never send out requests for feedback without alerting the client first. This is especially important if you don’t plan to do it face to face.
Client thinks: Nice to have a reminder. These architects are pretty well organized. That inspires confidence.
7. Last but not least, act on the feedback. If the client airs pressing concerns, nip them in the bud. If using Listenback, check the scores and comments straight away. If there is any negativity, follow it up with the client – even if their negativity seems uncalled for.
Client thinks: Wow, they really do listen. Plus, when they said the feedback form was short, they really meant it. I could grow to trust this practice…
Client feedback is the proverbial low-hanging fruit. There are a few nettles in the way but with care you needn’t get stung. Meanwhile, there are sweet rewards waiting for those who pick often and cook up the resulting harvest into market intelligence jam. (OK – a strained metaphor but the Listenback household is making jam at the moment and I got carried away…)
UPDATE: Listenback, the free web-based client feedback benchmarking tool for UK architects, is adding considerable firepower to architects’ business development armoury.
We have listened to our wonderful users and updated Listenback feedback tool to add even more value.
Average scores: Listenback 2.0 – released in July 2018 – now automatically averages scores across all eight feedback factors and displays them on your dashboard. You can thus compare any piece of feedback against your mean scores to instantly assess whether you’re improving.
Downloadable data: It also allows you to download the data for further analysis. For example, you might want to analyse differences in performance across different sectors, client types, even in-house teams. One click gets you the data instantly as a CSV file.
Endorsements: Finally, the tool now allows clients to leave comments of any length. This uncovers nuanced qualitative feedback that can also be repurposed as marketing endorsements.
To find out more, get in touch with Matt Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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