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From Where We Sit

The value of client satisfaction surveys to professional firms

Mailene Sigue-Bisnar Mailene Sigue-Bisnar

McKinsey & Company, a worldwide management consulting firm that conducts qualitative and quantitative analyses in order to help businesses evaluate management decisions, found that an unhappy customer tells between 9 and 15 people about his or her experience. In fact, 13 percent of unhappy customers tell more than 20 people about their experience.

The challenge for us then is: how do you get the pulse of your customers before they tell others about their bad experience? The common method used to measure such pulse is usually the client satisfaction survey (CSS). But how effective are these surveys, especially for professional services firms?

Chances are, you have been asked to respond to a customer survey. You see these everywhere—as pop-up on online sites, in restaurants and hotel rooms, as part of a conference or training kits and many others. Honestly, have you answered one? If yes, how often do you respond to these surveys? Many of the forms given out to respondents are usually left unaccomplished. Customers always have an excuse not to do it: “I’m in a hurry,” or “I have nothing to say,” or “I just don’t believe in it.”

Getting a survey done by patrons of restaurants and hotels, where the experience is common, immediate and, as they term it now, atm (at the moment), is difficult enough. More so if the survey is done by clients of professional services firms such as ours.

Besides, restaurants, hotels, retail shops or online sites can draw survey participants from a bigger population, while accounting and audit firms and law firms, by their service portfolio, usually have to contend with a smaller pool of possible respondents. Thus, professional services firms have a smaller set of data for the analysis of their survey results.

And yet, we believe and advocate the use of CSS in the professional services industry. We do conduct CSS yearly and we have seen its value in our service delivery and overall customer satisfaction experience. It helps us focus on our commitment to deliver quality service and alerts us to reach out to clients with potential problems.

The value and importance of client feedback is non-debatable. There are two imperatives that we assess: one is the quality of the outputs that we deliver and the other is the relationship we build with clients in the course of delivering the outputs.

Assessing the quality of output is quite straightforward. Our questions are geared toward the client’s actual experience against their expectations, their current experience against their experience in the past years (for recurring clients) and even relative to the professional fees paid. Since professional services firms are delivering services—which are intangibles—the survey tries to capture the ‘client experience.’

The second component refers to relationships. As a partner in a professional services firm and a business a dvisor, I build and nurture relationships through every client touchpoint. I believe that relationships are based not only on our sincerity to help clients find solutions to their financial and business concerns but also through a consistent showcase of professionalism in every aspect of client interaction, enriched by the firm’s collaborative mindset. Relationships should also mean having shared values and goals, supplemented by an honest and open feedback mechanism.

Another important measurement we look for is the net promoter index. This index tells us who among our clients will potentially recommend us to their friends and colleagues, who are passively or neutrally happy and who are unhappy and at risk of leaving.

Today’s clients demand and expect more from professional services companies. Amid stiff competition and the evolving world of the services sector, client relationships could make or break a firm’s chances in acquiring or retaining accounts. It is not enough that the outputs and results are excellent; the client experience in achieving the said results also equally matter.

Thus, in parallel with CSS, we should be able to create windows for dialogues and conversations that will allow both parties to discuss issues and concerns at an institutional and strategic level. We should establish ethical, open, and regular discussions with clients on how the relationship (and not just the ‘work’) is performing. Results of the CSS could serve as the kick-off point in exploring other aspects of the relationship.

Relationships, however, are two-way streets. Partnerships with clients will only be meaningful if both parties are open to communicating with each other; and also if the clients are willing to provide honest and constructive feedback. As I challenge professional services firms to conduct CSS and analyze the results and act on the issues raised, I also call on the clients, especially when answering the CSS, to evaluate their engagements and relationships with professional services companies and respond to the CSS in a straightforward manner. Are the services you are receiving up to your standards and expectations? Has your partnership evolved into a productive one? What should be done to improve the relationship?

We challenge you, the clients, to be candid with your assessment of your professional firms. Maximize the feedback channels they give you. These provide valuable feedback to your professional services firm for them to deliver the great client experience you deserve.

Mai Sigue-Bisnar is Partner, Audit & Assurance, and Head, Markets Group, of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 20 Partners and over 700 staff members

As published in The Manila Times dated 27 April 2016