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Friday, April 04, 2008

Client surveys -- additional observations

Here is another observation on the value of customer satisfaction surveys from SMPS member Marcy Steinberg of Cynosure Communications in Denver, Colorado.

My experience with client satisfaction and other kinds of customer research for my architecture and engineering clients confirms both Frank's and Jim's experience. Definitely have had positive reaction from most interviewees, including one who said "no one has ever called to ask my opinions or feedback before." And the client who said that regularly hired many A/E/C companies!

Like Frank, I have also found that the letter in advance, from an owner/principal,
makes for a very high participation rate, and I, too, had one interviewee contact its lawyer first. I also had one facility manager say, "I've been waiting for XYZ to call me personally -- I have a file of complaints to review with them on this latest project. Are they afraid to call me themselves? Tell them if they want to know what's going on, they have to talk to me personally."

In that case, the architecture firm was in the middle of a project with the client in question, and I had advised the firm that it would get the response it did. So -- for specific, current projects, don't use an outsider. Be in the communication flow from start to finish and get to the problems fast. For general satisfaction research, however, outside interviewers often get you the most information, if for no other reason than it is what they know best how to do, while designers know best how to design. SOME designers are excellent at doing their own customer research -- usually in smaller firms. Those who are good at it in large companies are the ones who take their clients with them when they set up their own firms!

I certainly respect Mary's perspective, and that of the others who have joined in with their observations.

But something is nagging me here, and it is this. All the people speaking about the value of the surveys are in the business of administering/giving the surveys -- they are not at the receiving end of the survey process!

Many people are polite and courteous about the survey exercise, either because that is their natural approach, or there are previous or future possible business relations with the surveying organization. And, conceivably, some businesses could be so blind to their inadequacies that the best way to find the negative responses outlined in some of these survey calls is through an objective third party's initiative.

My perception the person on the receiving end of the survey process. Intrusive phone surveys now rank in irritation level to me equal to telemarketing calls especially if they are scripted exercises administered by drone-like surveyors. A personal call and follow up survey from a truly trained and knowledgeable person (at the conclusion of a large contract/project) would of course not be so bad, but I have to wonder why this follow up couldn't be handled more effectively by someone within the organization with seniority and sensitivity. (I know, the survey proponents say, people won't be so honest unless an outside opinion is sought -- and that may be the case, but I hope companies using these outside consultants for this sort of validation don't abrogate their own responsibilities to check in and follow up with previous clients!)

In other words, I'll accept that high level, personal surveys have their place -- but please keep your phone room callers away from me!

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