> FACTS

By Jennifer Goupil, P.E.

Understand client satisfaction

According to the Engineering Business Institute, 96 percent of employees responded positively when questioned about the quality of work they provided for clients. Specifically, when asked to rank how much they agree with the statement, "I feel that my company provides high quality work for clients," on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 being strongly disagree and 6 being strongly agree, the median rank was 6 with a standard deviation of 0.61.

This is extremely convincing from a firm’s perspective, but how do you know if clients are satisfied? You need to ask them.

Research from ZweigWhite’s 2005 Project Management Survey—which is based upon data collected from project managers in architectural, engineering, planning, and environmental consulting firms—reveals that 43 percent of firms have a formal method or process to solicit ongoing client feedback regarding their firm’s performance. Of those firms that solicit client feedback, 72 percent use written questionnaires, 55 percent conduct phone interviews, 45 percent host follow-up meetings, and 10 percent leverage technology for online feedback through their web site. (Note that percentages from this question total more than 100 because choices were not mutually exclusive.) Additionally, this survey revealed that of the firms that seek client comments, 34 percent of the firms share this feedback with all staff members.

> FIRMS

By Jennifer Goupil, P.E.

RAND Engineering & Architecture, PC, benefit from client feedback

Franceen Shaughnessy recently reported on client satisfaction in the Zweig A/E Marketing Letter and she interviewed Peter Scallion, the marketing director at RAND Engineering & Architecture, PC, a 50-person consulting firm in New York. Scallion believes that a client satisfaction survey is a valuable source of information. His firm looks to the responses for ways in which they can improve, but also to recognize successful practices that they want to continue.

"Over the past few years we’ve conducted a handful of client satisfaction surveys by asking clients to fill out performance evaluation forms, which we included with their final bill for the project. We later put the form online and emailed the link," explained Scallion. "Our usual response rate was one or two out of the fifteen or so that we would send out. Although the few comments we received were overall positive, the comments weren’t very specific." Scallion said that the firm realized that they had been only sending out the surveys sporadically and to a small number of clients. Consequently, the firm incorporated a new strategy.

"We decided to include the performance- evaluation survey form in the closeout letter that our project managers send," he commented. In addition, the firm is considering making a follow-up call to those clients who have received the form.

"Not only do we expect the calls to increase the response rate, but they will also give us another opportunity to talk with the client.We hope that by making the performance evaluation survey a regular part of the project sign-off, we’ll get a greater number of responses and more insightful feedback."

> FEEDBACK

By Anne Scarlett

Create a client-specific action plan

Industry standards indicate that 80 percent of your annual revenue should come from existing clients.

The more repeat business you can generate, the more strategic (picky!) you can be about finding new clients.

Providing quality results and excellent service is the bare minimum needed to grow business with existing clients. They expect nothing less.

It is the extra effort that will likely guarantee future work. To maintain client relationships for the long-term, encourage your project team to think strategically. For each key client, create a client-specific action plan.

This straightforward plan addresses every angle regarding your client—the relevant "story;" history with your firm; structure and decision makers; details on buyers, influencers, and informants; preferred project delivery or construction method; your competitors; challenges; needs and opportunities; client-specific information (priorities or criteria, capital spending budget, terminology, and standards); differentiators; and message.

Most important, this plan must detail step-by-step actions to strengthen the relationship, such as the following:

  • holding special functions such as a training seminar or a group outing;
  • probing the client to learn of potential projects;
  • introducing additional services; and
  • creating an on-call contract where projects are negotiated rather than competitively bid

Preparing a client-specific action plan will help uncover—perhaps even create—every possible opportunity to grow business and increase your bottom line.

Anne Scarlett is the director of ZweigWhite’s Marketing Consulting Group. She is located in the firm’s Chicago office and can be reached at info@zweiggroup.com.

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