Performance reviews are a widely-used tool for running successful businesses of any size. While the most effective managers provide ongoing feedback and coaching, annual performance reviews also offer a valuable opportunity: to take a holistic look at each employee’s performance over the past year, compare it against expectations, recognize areas of success and identify, discuss and plan for opportunities to improve. It also allows both the manager and employee to track performance trends over time.
Similarly, client service-focused businesses can benefit from asking clients for annual performance reviews that rate their perceptions of the organization’s performance over the past year against their expectations for key metrics. Supplementing account teams’ ongoing client conversations and ad hoc and anecdotal feedback with annual performance reviews, using a numeric scorecard to gather measurable, actionable input, can promote continuous improvement and help protect those relationships against competitive threats.
Here are five ways that any small business can use annual client satisfaction surveys to strengthen client relationships, promote continuous improvement and build a high-performance culture.
1. Demonstrate commitment to delighting clients.
Asking clients to rate the company’s performance on its most important promises shows a commitment to fulfilling those promises to the clients’ satisfaction. At Greenough, we ask clients to score us on a scale of one to 10 for key metrics that inform our PR and integrated marketing agency’s training, staffing and client service plans. Examples include how well we have delivered against the client’s business goals; our demonstrated passion for, and understanding of, their business; the quality of our strategic advice and the value they have received for their budget.
We’ve learned from experience that asking clients to write comments for each rating is too great an imposition and results in a lower response rate. Instead, there is a single comment field where we ask client to share feedback to provide context for their scores.
We follow up with everyone who responded to discuss how much we value their feedback and the changes we are making as a result.
2. Identify at-risk business.
One of the most important benefits of surveying clients is identifying concerns that are more serious than the account teams might have realized and could put the relationship at risk. When we get a lower-than-expected score, we immediately set up a client meeting to learn more about the source of the dissatisfaction and discuss the improvements the client would like to see. We put together a specific action plan that we share with the client and schedule follow-up conversations to gauge our progress.
3. Inform business planning decisions.
After the survey responses have been received, the next step is to analyze the results. Using a numerical rating scale enables a view of year-over-year satisfaction trends by account and companywide.
At Greenough, we time our surveys so we receive the responses and can tabulate them just before we begin our annual planning process. Our senior account leaders present our annual survey results to our clients and discuss their scores to get additional insights to inform our strategic planning. Then the entire senior leadership team reviews and analyzes the feedback, incorporates significant areas for improvement into the agency’s annual objectives and develops specific action plans to address those issues.
For example, in 2016 our client satisfaction survey results led us to staff up and significantly strengthen our marketing team, institute weekly media best practices meetings with prominent subject matter experts as guest speakers, hire a dedicated senior healthcare writer and expand and improve our quarterly GMetrics performance report for clients.
4. Evaluate improvement initiatives.
A successful client satisfaction program is a structured, cyclical framework for continuous improvement. Like other successful continuous improvement frameworks, a key part of the cycle is evaluating the success of the previous year’s improvement initiatives to inform the current planning process and improvement initiatives.
5. Identify and leverage potential evangelists.
Invariably, the survey responses we receive each year include glowing reviews from delighted clients. From a marketing perspective, those are pure gold. We immediately ask for written permission to publish the comments on our website, in new business pitches, etc. Nine times out of 10, the answer is yes. Those comments, as well as survey responses with high ratings across the board, also help identify brand advocates who are potential sources for references and referrals.
The impact of a successful client satisfaction program
The Greenough annual survey-based client sat program, which we launched in 2000, has been fundamental to building a culture of excellence. It has allowed us to benchmark our performance and measure our progress toward our goal of delighting every client. For the past 17 years, our integrated client satisfaction program has played a key role in our business planning process and our agency’s success, and our deep commitment to this program has paid off in consistent growth and high retention rates.
The key to a successful client satisfaction program is understanding that the survey is not an end in itself, but rather a catalyst for a continuous cycle of feedback, analysis, action and evaluation. Having the courage to ask the right questions, take the answers seriously, and commit to taking action to build on successes and address areas for improvement can strengthen client relationships and pay big dividends.