Obtaining feedback from clients allows independent consultants to understand areas of their work that are highly valued, as well as provide insights into areas that need improvement. This resource offers strategies on how to solicit client feedback and how to use it effectively.
Client feedback can:
- Strengthen the relationship
- Identify things the client might tell others
- Address areas of concern
- Provide testimonials
- Set the stage for referrals
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What is Feedback?
Set expectations up front
It’s helpful to propose a feedback schedule at the beginning of the project — or even before it is confirmed, during the proposal phase.
In your initial discussions you can say:
“Client feedback is an important source of insight that allows me to improve the quality of service I offer my clients. I typically schedule a short discussion for this purpose periodically, about once per month and then at the project close. Will you be open to sharing unvarnished feedback? I typically ask my client what is going well and what are the opportunities to improve.”
Some consultants even include a similar statement in their written proposals.
This sets the stage for regular conversations by letting the client know that their input is important and what to expect.
Organizing and retaining feedback
It’s helpful to also set yourself up before a project starts by implementing a method of retaining and organizing the feedback you receive along the way.
It’s often difficult for a client to remember all the things you did for them, especially for long-term projects.
Capture client feedback
Anytime a client says “nice job” or makes a comment about your work, keep a log of it.
If they send a text or email with appreciation, take a screenshot and save that in a file.
Maintain an organization system
Organize your feedback files in some method that makes it easy for you to retrieve it. This might be in a folder on your computer, in Google Drive, or an app such as Evernote.
By doing this, when you sit down with the client for a feedback session you can share a reminder of the things they’ve already shared.
You can present a draft of this informal feedback you’ve collected along the way and say, “Here are the things we accomplished, and here are some of the things that you said went well during the course of the project.”
Check in throughout the project
Once the project is underway, you can solicit feedback via the regular, informal conversations you’ve scheduled up-front. These might be weekly for a short, high-intensity project or monthly for a longer-term contract.
Feedback can also be obtained during more structured sessions with the main contact or project sponsor. You might also schedule separate, one-on-one feedback meetings with other important members of the project.
Here is a sample email to schedule such a discussion:
When we started the project, we discussed that I’d be reaching out at the one-month point to schedule a short discussion for you to provide me with feedback on how things are going. We’re now at that point!
Would you have 15 minutes later this week for this session?
I’ll be asking what’s going well and what you’d like to see done differently.
The more specific you can get with examples, the more helpful it will be for me.
How about 9 a.m. on Friday morning?”
Certain approaches will help solicit specific, actionable feedback.
A key technique is to ask clients to describe how you have helped them. This helps avoid blanket feedback such as “I’m happy with the work.”
Guide your client to think about, and share, the specific ways in which you provided solutions and helped them meet their goals. These answers will provide you with information that’s more useful and impactful.
Ask open-ended questions
Avoid simple “yes” or “no” questions.
Instead, invite conversation by using open-ended questions. David A. Fields suggests this list:
1. What’s gone well so far?
2. What has been the absolute most value to you?
3. What went better than you expected?
4. What could have been done differently?
5. What would you like to have seen?
6. What questions do you still want answered? / Is there anything left?
7. Anything else you want to add?
The third question can help uncover concerns the client might have had at the beginning of the process, but didn’t voice at the time
Questions four and five might not result in positive feedback, though they provide valuable critiques you can use to improve future experiences.
Feedback at project completion
Conducting a more formal, structured interview as the project ends provides valuable insights and demonstrates to the client that you care about their experience. It helps cement the relationship and offers a chance for personal interaction.
Qualitative stories from clients provide color and nuance to quantitative feedback (the data). These personal experiences can help you better understand the feelings behind clients’ results and decisions.
When conducting a feedback session, it’s important to:
Start an open-ended dialogue
Using open-ended questions allows your client to take the conversation in the direction they think is most important, and to dig into their experience in more detail.
Get more specific as the interview progresses
Based on what the client has told you so far, you can then delve into more specific questions related to their feedback.
“Could you give an example of that?”
“Tell me more about that.”
Ask purposeful questions
Elicit meaningful responses with thoughtful questions about their goals and satisfaction levels.
“How specifically was that helpful?”
“What was the impact on your team?”
“How could I have handled that in a better way?”
“What would you suggest I do differently next time?”
Use the 70/30 squared rule
The client should do 70% of the talking, and you should do 30%. Of that 30% of the time you’re talking, 70% of that time should be spent asking questions.
Consultant David A. Fields conducts formal, standardized surveys of his clients, both mid-way through the project as well as after completion.
A survey might not be appropriate for every consultant, client, or situation — but if you feel it is the right method for you to obtain quantitative feedback, here are a few tips.
Fields suggests using 15-20 rating questions, broken into three areas:
- Output/outcome. Ask up to 10 questions about your client’s satisfaction with your work and its outcomes. The questions will depend upon the type of work your consulting firm does.
- Structure. These can be up to five questions about your client’s satisfaction with how you’re working together, including the approach and the team.
- Value. You could ask the client to rate the value of your services on a scale of 1-10.
Here are some examples of survey questions:
1. “Overall, how do you rate the work we’ve been doing together so far?”
2. “Based on our work together so far and your sense of how our work is proceeding, how do you rate the value of this project compared to if you had tried to tackle the work using internal resources?”
3. “Based on our work together so far and your sense of how our work is proceeding, how do you rate the value of this project compared to if you had not done the project at all?”
You can collect survey responses using an online tool such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey, or via live discussion.
Engage a third party to request feedback
There can be some benefits to utilizing a third-party solution for feedback:
- The client may feel more comfortable telling someone else, rather than you directly, about their experience — particularly when it comes to critical feedback.
- Clients often feel flattered that you value their opinion so highly that you’re willing to pay for it.
Independent change management consultant Jane Northcote says her clients are impressed that she’s paid someone to ask them questions about their experience.
How to use feedback effectively
Once you’ve received client feedback, you need to utilize it effectively. That could be internally, externally, or both.
This often depends on whether the feedback is negative/constructive criticism, or whether it is positive, glowing reviews.
- Decide if it presents an opportunity you can fix, or the client had unrealistic expectations
- Use it as an opportunity for growth
- Use it to make changes as needed (this might be to your business structure, working with clients, pricing, etc)
Constructive criticism offers an opportunity to learn and adapt, so that you can improve your client experience.
If you implement changes based on a client’s feedback, let the client know you took action and that you value the honest assessment.
When you receive glowing reviews, there are a number of ways this feedback can be utilized.
- Testimonials: Positive statements by a client that they are willing to make publicly.
- Letters of recommendation: Retain client feedback in a file to review over time.
- References: For potential clients who are considering you but would like to speak to a past client.
There are also some actions you can take to get the most out of the positive feedback you receive:
- Ask for a LinkedIn recommendation
- Ask permission to use the client’s words on your website
- Ask the client to record a short video recommendation
A testimonial can name the client, or be sanitized (“VP of Strategy at Fortune 500 Pharmaco”).
David A. Fields offers some suggested language on asking the client if you can use their feedback as a testimonial or reference:
“I’m going to write this down/record if that’s okay so I can share it with my team.”
“Quick favor, do you mind if I take your words and use them as a testimonial/reference?”
Make sure you understand if the client is okay with you using their name and/or the company name publicly, or not.
If the client does not give permission to disclose the company name, ask if you can use a sanitized version — for example, describing the client as “senior vice-president at a top pharmaceutical firm.”
Approach potential clients who turned you down
You don’t want to hear that you weren’t selected for a project, but this can often provide an opportunity to receive valuable feedback.
Some reasons may have nothing to do with you or your capabilities (the timing wasn’t right, things changed within the company, etc). Many times, however, this tactic can lead to actionable information.
For example, you could ask:
“It would be so helpful for us to improve if you’d be willing to share some insights on what we’d need to do differently to have a shot at winning your business next time. Would you be open to a short conversation to help us understand the gap we need to close?”
Generating high-impact testimonials
If your client agrees that you can use their words as references or testimonials, there are a few things you can do to solicit the best ones possible.
Seek testimonials that match your positioning
Your consulting firm has a positioning statement, or Fishing Line, as Fields calls it.
The most helpful testimonial quotes to have are those that echo this positioning. Open-ended questions about the ways your services have helped the client will elicit comments that reflect this.
Fields suggests asking one more question that yields incredible testimonial content — a tactic we refer to as “The David A. Fields Jedi mind trick.”
That magic question is: “If you were talking to a colleague who was thinking about using us for a project like this but was kind of on the fence — what would you tell them, and why?”
Make it easy for the client to supply a testimonial
The easier you can make it for the client, the better your chances of getting a high-impact testimonial.
Here’s where you can dive into the file of feedback you’ve been collecting along the way, and remind the client of some of their past comments about your work.
You can also help guide the client by letting them know:
- The clients you’re aiming to serve
- The problems that you solve
- The types of concerns your clients have
Focus on clients that reflect your target audience
Rave reviews from any client are nice — and if they match up with the type of client you’re actively targeting, it’s even better.
Sometimes your ideal client changes over time. Your practice may evolve, and particularly if you change your function or industry focus you want to solicit feedback from past clients who are most like the clients you hope to bring on board in the future.
Sara Kogon, founder of the marketing and sales consulting firm West 44, had several past clients in the real estate industry. However, she didn’t want to be pigeonholed in that market. So she specifically solicited testimonials from clients as diverse as a fitness center, a steel materials supplier, a corporate training firm and an advertising design firm.
Ask clients you know are highly satisfied with your work
While negative feedback or constructive criticism often provides actionable insights for you to use to improve your work, you of course want glowing testimonials.
Think about the clients who tell you something like, “You do such a great job for us.” Even better, consider those who actually say, “Let me know if we can ever do anything for you.”
These clients have actively expressed a willingness to reciprocate for the work you’ve done for them, and are nearly certain to supply a great testimonial.
Make sure the testimonial comes from the key decision maker
Kogon also makes sure she seeks feedback from the person who was instrumental in choosing her company or signing the check for her services.
The key is to be able to provide potential future clients with quotes or accolades from people in similar positions.