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“I laughed.” That’s what Forrester CEO, George Colony said he did when he saw the “instant customer feedback buttons’ at Heathrow Airport. It’s not as if a frowny face, a smiley face, and a straight face are exactly sophisticated. In his post, Real-Time Customer Experience he went on to share that he quickly realized he was wrong.

According to Colony, what’s missing from most company’s feedback strategies is the ability to stand out in real time. In the world of B2C experience for example, he writes, “If there is no hot water in room 3424 at the Hilton, a guy with a wrench knocks on the door in three minutes to solve the problem.” Real-time CX does two things: 1) It delights customers now, and 2) it shows sophistication and agility — which enhances a company’s brand. Plus, as Forrester analysts have shown, companies with the best customer experience increase revenue at two times the rate of those with the worst. Money is on the line.

This concept intrigued me, and I wondered if it was possible to translate the example of the guy with the wrench knocking on the door of room 3424 to the world of professional services. How does a professional services firm live up to that bar? The reality is that it probably shouldn’t. Delivering on a commitment that may take 3 months to 3 years (or more) to execute is complex. However, that doesn’t mean there is no place for real-time feedback.

A Voice of the Client (VoC) program lets you solicit feedback from your clients in real-time – right after the interaction.  Just have an important meeting with your client? Ask for feedback. In explaining to your client why what they want is not possible? Ask for feedback. Recently submit a draft report to a new client? Ask for feedback. With so many professional services firms doing an autopsy at the end of the project with “how did we do on that project that is done and we cannot change,” asking clients throughout your interaction with them IS real time.

How real-time feedback works

Asking is the critical first step. Now that you have asked, your commitment to following-up has an important impact on your client’s experience. In the Forrester example, it wouldn’t have helped Hilton earn points for their real-time feedback if the plumber hadn’t shown up with the wrench providing a solution.

When your clients share their feedback with you, acknowledging that you received that feedback demonstrates both responsiveness and gratitude for their openness. Even if you have no solution immediately or you

believe the client is mistaken or has misunderstood something, follow-up lets them know you’ve heard them. Especially if your client provides challenging feedback, the quicker the follow-up the better the result.  Put yourself in your client’s shoes. If they have given you a low score on how well you met their expectations on some part of the project, they are putting themselves out there. Responding without being defensive lets them know how much you appreciate their honesty and willingness to make the relationship stronger. A good rule of thumb on any low score is to follow up within 48 hours. That initial follow-up might simply be when you set a time to have a deeper conversation to discuss their feedback and come to a mutually beneficial solution. Another best practice is to ask for feedback again after some time has passed (about six weeks) to see how things are going.  This allows you to gather feedback to make sure that the solution you agreed upon is working as expected.

When having that deeper conversation, it is important to acknowledge not just the issue they have mentioned, but also the additional problem it has subsequently created. Think of a restaurant getting your order wrong

– not only did they not properly listen and provide what you asked for, now you are sitting with your hands in your lap while your tablemates enjoy their meals. That’s just awkward for everybody. When a waiter says, “I am so sorry for this problem AND I

am going to bring a basket of fries for you while you wait,” they are not only acknowledging the initial error, they are also addressing your more immediate need.

So how does that work in a professional services context? It’s as simple as thinking a few steps down the line, down the chain of reactions that happens when the first domino falls. While you are correcting the plans or waiting on the correct materials to come in, what can you be doing in the meantime? What does this individual need to help them handle this wait time more smoothly? Sometimes the simple recognition of those ripple effects is all the client needs to feel like you have absorbed, understood, and heard their concerns. It shows you aren’t simply reacting to a complaint, but that you are thoughtfully and intentionally addressing a need.

Not only do you want to pay attention to the challenges your clients identify, you also want to follow up on particularly high scores.  With high scores, your clients are telling you what you do well.  Discovering more about those parts of project delivery can help you deliver more of the same to this client AND perhaps identify other projects where you might take the same approach.

The 3-face system in the Forrester poll may lack the proper context to direct action and resources to be feasibly deployed as a strategy for a professional service firm. However, real-time feedback can start an important conversation. Learn more about using real-time feedback with your clients, read Getting Started with Electronic Feedback.