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Client Surveys: Closing the Loop, Maintaining the Relationship

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Business and Management; Project Management

Date: December 2012

By Bradley A. Malone, PMP

When I talk about customer surveys with my AV company clients, I often hear, “We don’t use them anymore because people don’t return them.” Or worse, “We get some back, but nobody reads them.” And that’s too bad.

A client survey, when used properly, serves multiple purposes in the client relationship, but it must be part of a larger whole. AV companies and account managers should address the process of using surveys during the sales and proposal phase of a project. They should explain that surveys are an integral part of their firm’s project implementation process, referencing them in documentation, highlighting survey milestones in the schedule, and even showing clients past results.

Informing a client that the president of your AV company personally (and randomly) selects two or three percent of clients to survey shows executive commitment. And using survey data in the sales and proposal phase of a project establishes credibility with prospective clients; credibility that (1) your organization cares about and tracks what clients think, and (2) that it uses that information to improve itself and maintain long-term client relationships.

You can present survey data to potential customers around the time you discuss your company’s vision, as well as your values and ethics. Doing so demonstrates alignment between what your company says it stands for and how clients perceive you. Alignment among vision and strategy, consistent action, and a disciplined approach to improvement are compelling messages, especially when backed up by bountiful client data, spanning months or years.

In the end, the purpose of the client survey is to capture alignment or disparity between perceptions. It is not a tool to be gamed. I’ve sometimes heard people ask their clients, “Remember, you’ll be getting a survey at the end of the project. I sure would appreciate it if you gave us a good score.” How might that make a client feel? They’re probably wondering whether you really want their opinion or you’re just looking for data that makes you look and feel good.

Try this instead: “As part of our project-implementation process, you and other key stakeholders will be receiving a survey. We take your responses seriously and ask that you participate and tell the truth about your experience with us. Our goals are constant improvement and professional and lasting customer relationships.”

How might the client feel after that conversation?

How to Approach Surveys

After submitting a proposal and during the kick-off meeting with the client, it’s important to introduce all the key project stakeholders. It’s also important to inform them of the value of their opinions, both during the project-implementation phase and post-commissioning. As the project enters the commissioning phase, the project manager and/or lead technician should be securing sign-offs of the final checklists (substantial completion and service transition) and informing the client’s stakeholder’s that they will soon be receiving the survey, which is part of the close-out package. When all this happens in a predictable fashion — and you share data with the client — your company’s credibility grows.

Of course, being diligent about surveys can’t be the only thing your AV company is disciplined and professional about. It is assumed here that your organization has committed itself to increasing the level of sales, project, installation, and management maturity across all of its processes. Adding a survey is the culmination of these processes, not a short-cut.

Here’s an example of a client survey you might use. Ask key stakeholders to rate your company on a five-point scale, where 1 = poor, 2 = needs improvement, 3 = met expectations, 4 = exceeded expectations, and 5 = outstanding.

  • How would you rate the initial sales process and the sales support you received?
  • How clearly did the proposal explain the capabilities of the system that Company ABC was to provide?
  • How would you rate the communications you had with the Company ABC project manager regarding scheduling, coordination, etc.?
  • How would you rate the technical solution provided to meet your requirements?
  • How would you rate the technical knowledge displayed by the Company ABC installation team?
  • How would you rate the professionalism of the Company ABC project management and the installation team?
  • How would you rate the timeliness and professionalism of Company ABC’s handling of any problems that may have come up during the implementation of this project?
  • How would you rate the training and system documentation provided for the system?
  • How would you rate your overall satisfaction with the final system?
  • How was your overall experience with the Company ABC team during the life of this project?

You should also throw in a couple yes/no questions, such as "When similar requirements come up again, will you again select Company ABC as your solution provider?" and "Will you recommend Company ABC as a solution provider to others?"

Here’s another, shorter example of a survey. Ask stakeholders to describe each attribute as “poor,” “average,” or “good.”

  • Effectiveness of the Company ABC sales staff
  • Effectiveness of the Company ABC support staff
  • Quality of Company ABC’s products and services
  • Value of Company ABC’s products and services
  • Company ABC’s ability to meet commitments
  • Company ABC’s level of responsiveness
  • Company ABC’s billing accuracy
  • Your intention to continue doing business with Company ABC
  • Likelihood of recommending Company ABC’s to others
  • Overall satisfaction

An account manager can use the answers to these survey questions (particularly when they’re positive) in a number of ways. First would be to acknowledge the client for their partnership in making the project a success. Second, to inquire about what other areas the client may need help in, based perhaps on unsatisfactory performance by another AV integrator. And third, to ask for references to other potential clients who could benefit from the professional experience provided by your AV integration company.

In the event that survey results come back negative, or not the level your company would hope for, an account manager (or senior management) can use that information as an opportunity to show commitment to improvement and agree on a plan of action with the affected client.

Ultimately, there is measurable value in using client surveys as one more tool in the client relationship management toolkit. And those organizations committed to improving themselves in the eyes of clients are the ones achieving that value.

Bradley A. Malone, PMP, is an InfoComm University™ senior instructor and president of Twin Star Consulting, an organizational excellence and program management consulting company serving multiple industries worldwide. He holds the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of PMI’s and InfoComm’s highest-rated instructors. Please share your thoughts with him at brad@twinstarconsulting.com.