Regardless of the project’s scope or your company’s size, product development requires client feedback.
This applies both to external customers who are buying from your company or other teams within your organization that have requested the product. Without involving these stakeholders in the project, the design and development teams will inevitably double their workload when the prototypes — or worst-case, the finished products — are returned for adjustments.
Not only does client feedback create a better experience, but it saves your company money. By developing a product correctly the first time, your teams won’t have to extend timelines to backtrack changes.
Here is how you can incorporate client feedback into your development process to create products that your clients — whether these are internal teams or external customers — are satisfied with the first time.
Feedback is the Basis of Agile Management
Top companies use client feedback as a roadmap to complete a project on time. While a statement of deliverables contract process allows companies to compile the necessary directions, client feedback works to navigate and assure the company that they’re going the right way.
“Your team might be equipped with skills and creativity, but without regular feedback from a client, their efforts will be applied based solely on assumptions,” Simone Zecchi explains at ZappiStore. He has had multiple clients create a list of functions and admit that not all of them are realistic — at least not on the set budget or deadline.
Without regular client feedback, his team is left guessing which elements to prioritize and must often rush the job to meet the client’s needs. Through communication, both parties can have realistic expectations of what will be delivered.
Even the best companies struggle to incorporate client feedback throughout the production process. Agnes Roche, producer for Warner Brothers Games, says that many agile teams follow all of the steps in management — from sprint planning to daily standups — but seem to forget to loop in the client.
Yet agile management is based on the idea of including the client more, which means companies that fail to incorporate feedback are still managing a waterfall-style project, just with more internal meetings.
Even if you’re not transitioning to an agile management strategy, your current plan needs to be adjusted to build client feedback throughout the development process.
“Client-centric management is about continuously engaging stakeholders, and forgetting the post-implementation review process as the only way to review success,” Elizabeth Harrin writes at a Girl’s Guide to Project Management.
Regardless of your management style, modern companies need to make the client an integrated part of the production process in order to succeed.
Soliciting The Right Feedback
Once you understand the value of client feedback, it’s time to develop strategies for collecting useful and actionable information.
Many professionals still believe that face-to-face feedback is best. In an article for Intronis, Courtney Steinkrauss admits that it’s certainly more expensive to meet in-person instead of sending a feedback form or setting up a conference call, but doing so allows team members and product managers to read their clients better and ask necessary followup questions.
It’s harder to keep a poker face in-person than over the phone, and clients who attend in-person meetings will be less rushed and distracted than if they need to wrap up a call for another meeting.
Once you have a plan for soliciting feedback through select channels, you need to create a plan of action for collecting it. Soliciting feedback on its own isn’t enough. If all of your post-delivery thoughts get tucked away in a report and never reviewed, then you’re just wasting the client’s time collecting it.
Peter Leppik admits that sourcing feedback from large B2B clients isn’t always easy. In the same way that your company has multiple departments, vendors and moving pieces, your clients likely consist of multiple decision-makers and influencers.
Leppik suggests pulling feedback from strategically planned sources and documenting them in a way that’s easy to track (like sorting them by topic or category). This will also help your team prioritize solutions based on the number of complaints or the source of the criticism.
These steps ensure that the data you’re collecting is useful and actionable. Not only will you be able to better respond to your client’s needs, but your team members and vendors will have concrete information on how they can improve.
Quantifying Your Client Feedback
As you expand your feedback strategy, consider adding quantifiable metrics and mini-surveys to the production process. Quantifying your feedback allows you to set goals for improvement, track problems with client satisfaction early on and prevent clients from falling through the cracks.
Gregory Ciotti explains that this process can be as simple as including a one- or two-question survey each time the client signs off on something. This micro feedback will help during major meetings or check-ins, as well as during the postmortem. It also makes it easier to identify problems in your overall production process as the client sample-size grows.
Jeremy Chase at Struck highlights the concept of micro-feedback. He presents his clients with one question: “How likely are you to recommend us?” In the case of your project, this question could easily be changed to: “How satisfied are you with this feature?”
Interestingly, Chase doesn’t distribute the feedback evenly. He holds his team to a standard of nines and 10s (on a scale of one to 10) and sounds alarm bells if the client selects anything below a seven. This lets the team know they should schedule a meeting or call with a client before moving on to the next step.
Setting Guidelines for Client Feedback
It is important to have a system for client feedback, but companies also need guidelines for scalability, transparency and accountability. These three principles will guide your feedback collection and action steps afterward.
Scaling Your Feedback Collection
As you establish client feedback protocols, it’s critical to keep scalability in mind.
Sara Aboulafia at UserVoice cautions companies against developing feedback funnels that might work in the short-term, but that your team will outgrow in six months as your company or department expands. This is particularly true if you are planning to test your feedback system with one department and then expand to the rest of the company. What works well for a small team of people might not scale well.
Aboulafia offers one particular piece of advice for scaling: Make sure your feedback process makes it easy to locate the original source. This will make it easier to follow up with more questions and even involve the client in the process.
Creating Transparency Within Your Company
Transparency is also a core value for successful client feedback. If possible, try to save the exact feedback and conversations with a client in your system for your team to reference in the future. If you hold meetings in-person or through conference calls, create and save the follow-up emails reiterating the conversation.
“The amount a firm keeps its employees in the loop directly relates to the success of the company,” Saima Qureshi at Manhattan Construction Company writes. “It is vital that the team knows what went down in that conversation.”
Keeping Clients and Account Managers Accountable
Finally, your feedback guidelines need to explain what clients are able to request changes or improvements on — and what your management team can approve.
For example, there’s a significant difference between client feedback and revision requests. Heather Muety, senior project manager for Viget, offers three key pieces of advice for limiting the number of changes and revisions you make during the course of a project:
- Don’t look back once part of the project is approved. If a client signs off on something, they forfeit the right to ask for changes to it later in the process.
- Make sure all revisions correlate directly to the original goals. This prevents changes from getting out of hand.
- Prioritize mission-critical revisions over “nice-to-have” add-ons. While these small changes aren’t time-consuming on their own, they can add up and push a project over budget and past its deadline.
Setting up the feedback process is fairly easy. The challenges come when your management team starts sharing the feedback and requiring action on it.
Using Client Feedback for Process and Product Improvement
Organizations that are struggling to make a switch in their management protocols or that want to improve their delivery processes can utilize client feedback, as well.
Your feedback program should be designed to understand how the client views your company and internal processes, Bawa Grover writes at Hexagon Consulting. When they understand how your company works, they can provide more details into what they like and don’t. This will help your team narrow down the source of the problems within your company while highlighting areas that are performing well.
By understanding the client journey, you can see your production process as the client sees and experiences it, not just how you wish your process was structured.
Crystal Shuller at Review Trackers also believes collecting client feedback isn’t just useful for improving the finished product and keeping the project on time. It’s also an opportunity to review your operational policies, vendors and procedures.
This is particularly true for companies that hire multiple external vendors or have siloed production departments. One bad experience within this hierarchy can leave a bad taste in the client’s mouth.
Collecting feedback throughout the process makes it easier to see which vendors shine and which ones are more trouble than they are worth.
Conducting a Useful Retrospective
After delivery, the project isn’t closed until your team has completed a post-mortem or retrospective meeting.
Elise Keith, co-founder of Lucid Meetings, admits that retrospectives and feedback incorporation is a process. As with any system’s implementation, it will take time and practice for your team to learn what feedback is useful, what needs to be prioritized and how it should be shared with the rest of the company.
However, as long as both your team members and your clients feel they have been heard and steps were taken based on the feedback, you should be able to overcome the bumps in the road in starting this process.
Furthermore, there is no such thing as a project that is too small for a retrospective. And team members or vendors who worked on tiny parts of the bigger picture should be included in these meetings.
Kyle Eliason at Portent has found that meetings for smaller projects can highlight process flaws or issues just as often as large-project post-mortems. In fact, solving these problems early on with a small client can set a company up for success when a large contract is on the line.
Soliciting and evaluating client feedback should be an integral part of any employee’s or vendor’s work within the company and should no longer be siloed to the client care team.
Gunther Verheyen writes that there is no better risk mitigation than feedback from your clients. By setting up regular approval checks, client satisfaction questions and milestone sign-offs, you’re decreasing the risk of delivering a project the client is unhappy with while increasing your chances for success.