Adapted from the original article written by Graham Munday, Global Head of Marketing, WSP Environment & Energy; edited by Mary Flaherty, Director, Content Strategy & Development, RainToday.
In its Environment & Energy business, WSP—a global design, engineering, and management consultancy—had an objective with each client to go beyond helping them manage their environmental issues, reduce risk, achieve regulatory compliance, and prepare their business for the future. The WSP team set an objective to delight each individual contact at a client organization.
The company's worldwide client feedback program covered the basics, such as establishing the client's opinion of service delivery, benchmarking, understanding what good looks like to clients, and understanding the roles and challenges facing individuals.
During the past two years its client feedback program informed the company on what really mattered to its clients. Beyond implementing the feedback program, Munday and his team had the challenge of leveraging this knowledge across all staff, worldwide, and delivering tips on how to deepen relationships with clients.
The client feedback program was focused on qualitative telephone interviews with targeted clients across a regional footprint.
"I believe we will gain more value from a small number of 30-minute conversations each quarter than issuing an online tick box survey to hundreds of clients that generates an industry average response rate and some basic metrics but no explored insight," says Munday.
While WSP's global and national key clients participated in dedicated briefings face to face with senior directors, structured feedback from other clients was done through telephone interviews. The objective was to understand how the company was performing, learn where value was added, and engage in a conversation that expanded to examine other opportunities.
The process was targeted to include:
"Ultimately we are assessing how we can elevate the relationship we have with a client," says Munday.
According to Munday, "Every interview I have conducted or reviewed has at least one golden nugget. We learn something about an aspect of the way we work. We uncover a frustration about a particular administrative process that can be easily fixed. We discover why we are better than the competition for a particular aspect of technical delivery. We uncover knowledge on the client's sphere of influence. We find out the client contact is moving on!
"If the interview is approached as a conversation, and not a series of structured questions, golden nuggets will emerge."
This required an approach that was both professional and relaxed. Interviews were conducted by senior individuals who could handle unexpected twists in a conversation and also recognize sign-posts that enabled them to divert and explore issues and opportunities that were suddenly revealed. In addition to a small number of senior leaders, interviewers included Munday and an external specialist, Sarah Reavley of Remark Consulting.
There was, of course, some structure to the approach. The key components the interviewers focused on included:
The process required patience. Clients received a short polite email outlining the value WSP placed on feedback and asking them to take part. Some clients responded instantly, others responded after a follow-up call, and others never responded.
If there was no response after two messages, the interviewers moved on. Interviews ranged from very chatty calls of 45 minutes to short calls of 15 minutes, which demanded focus on key questions, clear understanding, and respect for being given the time. However, time-short calls could open up into lengthy, in-depth and insightful interviews once a conversation and discussion started flowing.
Use the Knowledge
Interviews were carefully recorded. Poorly written notes or no write-up at all would render the whole process pointless. The analysis and interpretation of the output was as fundamental as committing time to pursuing interviews.
At WSP follow-up included:
The Client's Shoes
In order to share the knowledge gained from the client feedback program, the team created an e-campaign targeted to staff worldwide and developed in collaboration with the company's external marketing and brand advisors, Balloon Dog.
"It was called 'The Client's Shoes' because of the importance of seeing things from our client's perspective," says Munday.
The goal of the campaign was to deliver simple advice on how to develop client relationships in different situations. The email series included 10 downloadable factsheets to provide hints and suggestions for handling relationships with clients (see samples below).
In a humorous twist, the team literally put shoes center-stage in a scene where the worst approach is illustrated. Each image has a supporting factsheet providing high-level tips on different scenarios, such as building a deeper relationship with a client, starting a conversation with a new prospect, developing a client plan to build a relationship, and how to become a trusted advisor.
While the firm's income with many key clients has increased, it's not solely due to this campaign. But, "The Client's Shoes" campaign has built on the fundamental criterion of the company's client feedback program—to confirm that it is delivering value to their clients and to give it the best chance possible of successfully and profitably deepening relationships by standing in its client's shoes and understanding issues and needs from their perspective.
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Graham Munday is the Global Head of Marketing & Communications for the Environment & Energy division of WSP Group. He has worked in marketing for over 15 years, starting in the insurance industry and then specializing in professional services marketing. You may contact Graham through his LinkedIn profile.
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