Ask Your Customers the Hard Questions

The following is republished from The SitePoint Tribune #418.

Here’s a question for you. When your last project finished, what was the final communication the client received from you? Was it a bottle of wine and card, a “Thanks for the work, call me if you need anything,” or just an invoice in the mail?

It seems to be very common for us designers, developers, freelancers, and businesses to be keen to talk at the start of a project, but shy to speak at the end.

What we really need to do at the completion stage of projects is to thank the client for their business, and then ask them some hard questions.

Why do I say hard? Well, maybe it’s the human condition, but we as service providers don’t like to imagine that clients are ever anything but absolutely impressed with our work — but I have to tell you, the truth is that they often aren’t.

Think back to the last time you were out for a meal. When you paid, the waitperson probably asked you about your experience. In answer to “How was everything?”, you probably mumbled something like, “It was good, thanks” — even if you didn’t feel that way.

Why? Few of us like confrontation. We don’t like to give neutral or negative feedback (unless it’s within the relative anonymity of an online auction web site!) and we don’t like receiving it, either.

However, feedback is very important to us, as individuals and as businesses, in order to grow and improve — even if that does mean we open our ears to possibly negative feedback as well.

The next time a project wraps up, consider emailing your client a link to an online survey. I have found people are far more willing to be honest completing a form instead of speaking directly to you.

Ask them what they liked most about the project — and then ask them what they liked least. You really do want to know. It could be something really simple that you or your firm is doing over and over, with every project, assuming clients like it when in fact they don’t. This habit or process could be holding you back from success!

In my business, we’ve been seeking feedback in this way for a few years now. We get some great feedback, both positive and negative, which helps us tune our processes and our services to better suit the next customer. We’ve had some really crazy input, too — for example, our coffees were too strong, or we were so good that the client was going to miss our weekly meetings!

There are countless survey software systems available, many of which have a free plan. Alternatively, it’s a trivial matter to whip up your own web-to-email form. The trick is to avoid asking questions that are too leading: “Did you find our design team very enthusiastic?”, or that allow for only yes or no answers — keep questions open. Keep the form brief, too — if it goes on for pages and pages, clients will be hesitant to complete it.

The next important step is to act on the feedback. It may warrant a call or meeting with the customer for further details, or speaking to team members (or yourself) if there was something amiss. And remember to give praise where it’s due — we all enjoy a pat on the back from time to time!

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  • http://www.tyssendesign.com.au Tyssen

    Were there supposed to be links to survey software included?

  • http://www.bam.com.au Miles Burke

    Hello Tyssen, good point! The Tribune issue, linked at the start of the article, has the list of survey sites. I’ve removed the offending line from this article.

    Thanks for spotting it!

  • tmoney101

    agree very much with this article. feedback is crucial to a businesses success.

  • simsim

    One very sophisticated survey system which is completely free and not a hosted solution is UCCASS.

    Don’t let the name misguide you; it’s a fully-fledged system run on PHP & MySQL. It is the one being used by A List Apart for tow years now for their annual “Web Design Survey”.

    Unfortunately, it’s no longer under active development. I wish if someone would pick it up & continue its development.

  • http://www.magain.com/ mattymcg

    @simsim: You’re right. That project was definitely not named by a marketing guy.

  • lexiie

    i dnt tink we need to worry but tings lyk dis =}

  • plauditdesign

    Miles,

    I completely agree with you post. Its our clients, not internal discussions, when we learn the most. At Plaudit Design, http://www.plauditdesign.com, we send not only a celebratory thank you gift, but also a Client Satisfaction Survey.

    This has helped us take a look at our entire process many a time, and we strive to improve our organization and methods everyday. It is by far the best way to improve collaberation!

    Happy New Year!Charles Goodman
    Plaudit Design

  • plauditdesign

    Miles,

    I completely agree with you post. Its our clients, not internal discussions, when we learn the most. At Plaudit Design, http://www.plauditdesign.com, we send not only a celebratory thank you gift, but also a Client Satisfaction Survey.

    This has helped us take a look at our entire process many a time, and we strive to improve our organization and methods everyday. It is by far the best way to improve collaberation!

    Happy New Year!Charles Goodman
    Plaudit Design