The Big 'If' in Client Surveys

Read more by Kristen Rampe here.

One of my client service webinar participants asked in the Q&A, "Do you suggest the use of client satisfaction surveys?" This one hit a hot button with me, as evidenced by my ensuing five-minute monologue. My short answer is: "Yes!" However, the long answer is a little more complicated, and starts with an "If …"

Client surveys are a great way to get insights into what your clients actually think and feel. That may sound obvious, but most organizations come to conclusions and make decisions based on what they think their clients feel. "Our clients love us because we have great client service … because we have low turnover … because why wouldn't they love us?!"

So, Should You Survey Your Clients?
Here's the "if" part: You should do it if you can handle the fact that, most likely, not all of your clients love you; if you are willing to have a true sponsor of the project who is invested in obtaining and acting on the feedback; and if you want to improve your client's experience by adding real value from your client's perspective!

I have clients who have surveyed their client base and received some overwhelmingly positive results, and I've had some who have heard things they didn't want to hear or weren't expecting. The clients who were most successful with their surveys were those deeply enough invested in the value of real client feedback to expect the bumps and address them well.

How to Successfully Survey Your Clients

  1. Establish a project owner. This person should be interested in client feedback and be able, willing, and empowered to present results to all stakeholders: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Tone-at-the-top also plays in; if top management isn't on-board, it may be hard to get the visibility the project needs to make a positive impact.
  2. Have a plan for change. You don't have to make all of the tweaks or seismic shifts your clients suggest in their replies, but if you're not willing to make any changes, leave the survey in your draft folder.
  3. Pick a format. For a large volume of clients, web-based surveys make a lot of sense. There's also great value in doing face-to-face or phone surveys if you have the resources; you get a lot more feedback when you can hear and see people give their reactions.
  4. Design your survey. What is the purpose behind your survey? Is there a specific service line or aspect of service you're looking to improve? Is it more general feedback to get a feeling about overall client sentiment? New services you might offer? A specific segment of your customers you want to target? Be sure to keep it short and sweet.
  5. Follow up with clients after the survey. There's nothing worse than giving feedback and getting the feeling that the organization did approximately nothing with the information. Plan to send out an announcement at the conclusion of the survey about themes you saw come through (positive and negative) and what you plan to do with the information (even if it's just "consider it").
  6. Make that change. Remember your commitment in number 3? Now is the time to take action!

It's normal to feel a bit of trepidation when considering client surveys. If you have the right motivation and support, it can create tremendous goodwill with your clients – and staff members. Most of the feedback will make your day, even more than a cold beer (or two …) after busy season.

About the author:
Kristen Rampe, CPA, loves helping CPAs and professional service providers get a better understanding of what their internal and external clients need and want. They use this information to develop an exceptional client experience, driving higher client retention and increased margins. Check out her blog for great ideas on how to improve your practice.



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