By Kurt Keith, PE, and Arian Bloomfield, PE

How often do you ask your clients, “How are we doing?” Do you have a process to ask how your team is performing consistently? Most consultants will say “quite often” and “yes” immediately, but after thinking back, many will respond. “I think I am?” Openly asking for constructive criticism can be extremely uncomfortable. By default, assuming you are doing OK becomes easier because no one has complained.

Creating a great client experience requires an open dialog between you and your client through multiple paths. Everyone reacts to different communication styles. One size does not fit all.

Our playbook is not a top secret and is simple to follow. Here are our guidelines for client-feedback success:

  • Ask your clients how your team is performing throughout the project’s lifecycle.
  • Discuss your client’s feedback with them.
  • Make adjustments based on this feedback to stay in alignment with your client in a win-win way for both parties.
  • Repeat! That’s it.

If this plan is so simple, why do we have such a hard time executing the plan? We have heard several excuses over the years, including the following:

“Our clients would let us know if there was a problem.”

Unless you ask, are you sure your client feels comfortable telling you about possibly minor but irritating issues? Even minor criticism can be hard to deliver. Allowing your client multiple ways to communicate—email, surveys, phone calls, or in-person meetings—can help overcome these hardships.

For example, we had a great relationship with a client for over eight years. Multiple successful projects and many, many check-ins. After so many years, we learned to work very well together. We inquired with everyone from senior staff down to the new grads just starting their careers. There were a few hard discussions, but we always found ways to succeed together. A success story, right? Well, we never asked the billing person how we were doing. In a conversation one day, she expressed frustration that our bills were a certain way that caused her to rework how she had billed her client for all those years. A 30-second adjustment with our Accounting Department, and we were back on track. Ask everyone in the workflow, not just the front-facing client.

“I don’t want to bother my client with these inquiries.”

Oftentimes our clients are happy we asked for their feedback. They can give us a broader review of our performance by bringing in their entire team. The more who have the opportunity to give their opinion, the more our team can learn and adapt. Aren’t these results worth your and the client’s time and effort?

“We checked in on the last project, and we are doing good.”

Every project is different. Every team is different. Even if you ask and hear that all is going well, isn’t that a worthwhile message to communicate to your team, so they receive that positive feedback?

“I don’t have the time to do this.”

When we hear this excuse, we tend to answer with a simple question: How much time and effort will it take to replace a client who decides it’s worth the short-term effort to hire another consultant?

Why do we believe client feedback is important? Because we have seen it make a difference. Done correctly, requesting and responding to client feedback can set you apart from your competition which is important. But even more important is strengthening the relationship with your client by demonstrating that you will listen and take action to address their feedback.

Making the time to ask for client feedback and follow up on it will always be a prioritizing exercise, and for the reasons stated above, we truly believe it belongs at the top of all our priority lists. Creating a client-focused culture has been a game-changer for our teams.

Opening the dialog between your clients, their team, and your team allows all parties to adapt and deliver on all levels. Excuses are easy, but after many years of practicing what we preach, it is even easier to ask our client, “How are we doing?”