Hi everyone. To close out my series on market and client research, I want to share with you one case study and two anecdotes that, over the course of my career, have left an indelible mark on me.

Case Study: Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back

We’ve all heard this platitude during infomercials for the latest skillet that makes 500 different meals in a jiffy. But should this apply to professional services? I recently conducted a phone interview on behalf of an ENR 100 firm. The interview — with one of their key clients, a Fortune 500 company — was conducted to elicit opinions on a number of topics and assess their satisfaction with my client. The interview did not go as my client expected, as their client was quite displeased with both the quality of services provided and value imparted. It was clear that this organization would not be hiring my client any time soon (in fact, we learned that they had already engaged another consultant).

What would your firm do in this scenario? The actions I observed my client take upon hearing this were nothing short of spectacular. To be fair, nothing they did was “rocket science.” But in my experience, far too few firms put their money where their mouth is when handling negative feedback and dissatisfied clients.

Here’s what they did:

Step 1: The feedback was immediately shared with the CEO and the project team, and the interview text was uploaded to the firm’s intranet for everyone to see.

Step 2: The CEO immediately contacted the client to discuss the interview data and to gather even more information.

Step 3: Following the CEO’s discussion with the client, the firm refunded the full fee ($44K) for the project.

How the client reacted speaks volumes about the unanticipated benefits and ROI of full transparency and doing right by the client:

Result 1: The client remarked that, in the many times they’ve participated in these types of interviews, they’ve never seen such a swift, powerful response. Their trust in my client was renewed — including a belief that going forward, the mistakes would be rectified and not repeated. Wanting to give my client another chance, the contact person not only shared the story internally, but proactively introduced the firm to other parts of their organization in the hopes that they, too, could find opportunities to work together.

Result 2: Prior to this interview, my client was on the verge of investing $50–$75K in specific business development initiatives directed at this large company. Without the benefit of the interview data, in all likelihood, this money would have been wasted and my client would have been left scratching their heads.

At this point, it would be fair to ask, “Well, why didn’t the PM or PIC recognize how dissatisfied the client was?” The CEO added, “We’ve found that when it comes to bad news, most of our clients won’t tell us the truth directly. In fact, our PM suspected something was wrong and inquired directly. They were told, ‘The economy is bad, and we just don’t have anything for you now.’ The client was willing to tell a third-party, which is why we outsource this most important client feedback function. Conflict avoidance exists on our side, too. Our staff might realize the client was upset, but don’t want to ask because it is ‘uncomfortable,’ or they’re concerned how our management might react. We want our staff to see problems as ‘gold,’ — a perfect opportunity for learning and improvement. We all make mistakes and we can all learn by dealing with them head on.”

Anecdote #1: Did He Really Just Say That?

This anecdote goes under the category of, “If you don’t ask, you’ll never find out.” As part of a client/prospect perception study I conducted for an ENR 200 contractor, I had the opportunity to interview a construction project coordinator at a regional medical center. While conducting this interview, I learned through a probing follow-up question that the reason why my client wasn’t being selected for projects what that another contractor was getting first dibs at reviewing construction documents. Why? Because their president sat on this organization’s Board of Directors — not what I was expecting to hear and certainly not what my client wanted to hear, but an invaluable piece of information nonetheless.

Anecdote #2: Time to Turn Down the Volume on my Headset

Years ago, as part of a client study I conducted for a large engineering firm, I had the pleasure of conducting what I affectionately refer to as the “90-minute interview from hell.” My interviewee was from a utility that had previously been served by an engineering firm recently acquired by my client. For an hour and a half, this individual went on a tirade about the poor service and lack of attention they’d encountered at the hands of my client. While it may not have been pleasant, for me, this was one of the most successful interviews I’ve conducted. Providing your clients the chance to vent and be heard is an often-overlooked benefit of conducting client research.

I’d love to hear your market research war stories, so please contact me (508-276-1101; rich@friedmanpartners.com).