As a target-driven business developer, understanding why so many professional service providers (accountants, consultants, lawyers) resist client feedback programs continues to be a puzzle I am unable to solve.  Simply put, client feedback is the easiest, most cost effective, highly targeted business development you will ever invest in.

Perhaps it harkens back to report card days or embarassing talent shows or being chosen last in the pick-up basketball game. But whatever the cause, a perspective that views client feedback as judgement is askew. The most effective client feedback programs are more accurately characterized as Conversation Opportunities.

Put another way, client feedback should insure a different kind of dialogue.

This is certainly not a novel idea, and the thinking is simple: with most clients, a service provider has one level of communication. It is likely task, project or initiative oriented, with intense focus on learning everything necessary to deliver success in this particular instance.

You know the drill. You work through a project or initiative, submit an invoice . . . and accept payment as an indication of satisfaction with the job, and ample feedback.

Here’s the rub.  There are multiple facets to every relationship. Failure to communicate in any one of these areas means that communication with the client is limited in scope. It results in partial understanding of the client’s reality. And here relationships with your client differ little from those that are strictly personal — the failure to have conversations that explore every aspect of a relationship inevitably leads to surprises. Often unpleasant ones.

On the other hand, find a way to engage in a dialogue outside the context of a schedule or specific process, and you’ve tapped into the stuff that is foundational to relationships that grow, and endure.

Effective feedback programs make it possible to:

  • measure satisfaction with a specific work product;
  • measure intent with respect to future engagements; and
  • facilitate a dialogue around a) any sore-spots with the client; b) the things most important to the client; and c) the client’s key success factors for the coming year.

A natural byproduct of feedback is marketing and business development of the highest order. Given the forum, clients (external and internal) will tell you what bugs them, what they value, what will be critical to their success in coming months, what they wish service providers would offer — and often, specific and immediate opportunities.

And while new opportunities are nothing to be sneezed at, the most valuable result of dialogue with your clients is that the mere act changes the nature of your relationship. It broadens perspective, and adds dimension to each subsequent communication.

This kind of dialogue is the fabric of lasting relationships.