This is a follow-on to my post yesterday about using a neutral party to conduct general customer satisfaction interviews. I feel strongly that it is less productive (not wrong or bad, just less useful to the firm) for members of the firm, particularly partners/owners, to lead or even attend these sessions. I'll explain.
Candor was a key reason I pointed to, yesterday. Even if the relationship partner isn't there, the customer may feel that telling another partner (especially a senior partner) about an issue will somehow hurt their service partner or come back to haunt them.
But there is more to it than that.
I pretty regularly speak with firms' happiest clients, interviewing them for testimonials and case studies. Almost every single interview -- and these are under the BEST of circumstances, they have agreed to say nice things about the firm -- includes at least one or two, "so, this is off the record, right?" intros to a situation that developed.
The customer wants to know that this won't get back to the firm, or to a certain partner, and I absolutely keep that trust. However, as a pretty skilled diplomat -- when I care to exhibit that trait (disclaimer for those who know me most when I'm not holding back!) -- I will usually find a way to encourage the customer to raise the issue him- or herself with the firm and underscoring the value of getting it on the table.
That example is not in a service interview so maybe you're wondering where I'm going with this pertaining to satisfaction surveys. Well, two places, actually.
1) A neutral interviewer will hear more blunt reports about service because the customer doesn't have to slow down to be sensitive about feelings, or even to organize their feelings, before expressing his or her top of mind thoughts.
2) A skilled interviewer will be able to better manage the interview to stay on track, keep the customer comfortable (by never becoming defensive or reactive), and can be especially constructive by encouraging the client to broach the firm with what would otherwise have been unspoken concerns. Often times, just getting the words off ones chest helps a person realize a problem wasn't as big as s/he thought.
Further, a skilled interviewer is like a good journalist. He or she knows how to ask the really amazing questions, in just the right way, to get the good info behind the initial statement.
My lawyer readers are probably thinking..hey, we are skilled in cross-examination, we know how to ask the really good questions. Okay. But when someone is talking about your own business/company, it's near impossible to ask clarifying questions with absolutely no bias. Not to mention, the last perception you'd want to create is to seem like you are grilling a customer! :-)
Okay, so, moving along...
There was a great post/article today called "How Marketing Research Can Benefit a Small Business" on Small Business Trends' blog by guest columnist Joy Levin. The article talks about gathering customer opinions as part of good market research. Here is what the post says about it:
... There are various forms of qualitative studies, including focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and newer techniques called ethnography. What sets these apart from the user conferences mentioned above, are several factors:
- They are typically led by an objective moderator, so participants often will provide more honest and less biased feedback.
- A trained professional can also handle different types of respondents, from those who tend to be very vocal to those who are less likely to speak.
- They are in a controlled setting, and the moderator has a pre-defined script so that the most important issues at hand are addressed.
- A variety of techniques can be used, in order to get at the thinking behind customer discussions and behavior.
This is a really good article in general, but I thought it nicely substantiated the rationale behind involving a neutral as well as the importance of using someone skilled in these sorts of interviews.
There is still good discussion going on about this on Dan Hull's blog and Pat Lamb's blog. Pat says that he has "always believed that the senior members of firm leadership should do the surveys since their presence underscores the importance of the process." and, to that, I think that it is a good sentiment that can be accomplished equally by the senior leaders being the ones to call, on behalf of the firm, to request the customer's important feedback through the neutral person.
What do you think? Please, chime in!