If you know it'll be rough, should you dive in?
I often get asked what happens if client feedback is harsh, so here's a wee case study about exactly that.
What Lies Beneath Case Study - Difficult Feedback Client: Juffermans Surveyors, May 2020 Service: Depth Sounder Feedback
IF YOU KNOW IT'LL BE ROUGH - SHOULD YOU DIVE IN?
I’ve had some of my best spearfishing experiences during sub-optimal conditions. Times where I could have been at home in bed with the electric blanket on, not submerged in freezing salt water, battling the forces of nature.
But life wouldn’t be rewarding if we weren’t brave every now and then, like our recent client Allen…
We crossed paths at a conference
What Lies Beneath has worked with a number of small and large businesses and councils in the surveying arena, so I was invited to speak at the Consulting Surveyors National Conference at the beginning of March.
Allen, owner of Juffermans Surveyors, a small surveying company based in New Plymouth with offices in Stratford and Hawera, was in the audience.
We didn’t meet, but later that day I received an email from Allen saying “I’ve had a tough year both personally and professionally; everything feels like a struggle. I want to know the truth about how our clients feel about us and what I need to focus on. Your service sounds exactly what we need”.
Gearing up for feedback is easy
Regional Partnership funding* which covered 50% of the total cost of our service was quickly approved and Allen smashed out the two tasks required to start his feedback. Wanting to get the maximum benefit from this feedback, Allen selected a number of clients whose projects had gone pear-shaped. This was incredibly brave and commendable on Allen’s part.
Feeling all the feels
Allen had an inkling that some of the feedback would be harsh and difficult to hear, and he was right. But he wasn’t left to deal with it on his own, we worked through the tough parts together. I understand the impact feedback can have and check-in frequently with my clients, I’ll happily call on the weekend if it feels like the right thing to do.
Despite feeling ‘all the feels’ initially, Allen quickly saw the feedback as a gift. Because the fact is, his clients feel the way they do, whether he knows about it or not. But knowing about it, in-depth, puts Allen in a position to act – that’s the gift.
Allen and I had some very candid conversations and there were fantastic breakthroughs. One breakthrough was around Allen's frustrations with his local council while working on consents for his clients.
Feedback helps you see things objectively
“I thought I was acting in my client’s best interests by taking council to task, but I wasn’t. I was making my clients uncomfortable with my combative approach and subsequently hurting my own business and reputation”
He goes on to reflect that “I’m worn out because I’ve taken my client’s consents too personally. I was boiling over with every hurdle the council put in our way”
The feedback has been a circuit breaker for Allen, he summarises “The feedback helped me realise that it’s fruitless trying to control what the council do. I have changed my focus to communicating the situation to my clients, offering my advice and having them decide the path forward. We have implemented a new, more constructive process which means I can step back, for the good of my clients, my team, my business and my mental health”
Short term pain for long term gain
Allen agrees that feedback is short term pain, for long term gain. He can see that his clients, past and present, have given candid feedback because they want to help him and see his business succeed. And by being brave and getting feedback he has set the scene for a refresh of his business in these client’s eyes.
It’s easy to focus on the challenging feedback, but there were many wonderful anecdotes and positive examples of what Allen and the team are doing right, in particular their technical skills and general likeability.
Bringing your staff in at the coal face
Allen chose to share all the feedback - the good, bad and the otherwise – with his team. This took guts but paid dividends.
Together, over two zoom meetings we spent 4.5 hours going through the feedback and creating the new ‘best practice’ JSL processes.
They are a committed and talented bunch (the feedback also highlighted this) and they revelled in understanding the intricacies of business from their client’s perspective. As GJ, Manager of the New Plymouth office said “Since reading the feedback, I’ve already changed and improved elements of what I do. It’s hard not to change because the feedback just makes a lot of sense”
Mark, Manager of the Hawera Office said “I’m looking forward to all of us implementing these changes, particularly around communicating with clients. It’s been eye-opening and positive for the team to spend this time working on the business together”
Turning actions into business as usual
I joined the team’s Monday morning Zoom meeting, to help them assimilate their agreed best practices into business as usual and they were nailing it. Allen and I continue to work together to address specific issues and communicate these changes to his clients.
It takes guts to ask for help
Life isn’t all sweetness and light, it’s the gritty times, where you’re struggling and have to push yourself out of your comfort zone that are usually the most transformational and feel like the biggest accomplishment.
Allen said during our catch up yesterday “After 20 years in business, fighting the council every day, I’d lost my way and was just going through the motions. Working with you has helped me take control of the business and to lead better. It has given me my spark back”
Many thanks to Allen for being willing to share his feedback experience, it was a real pleasure working with him and the team.
Tracy and I look forward to meeting them all in person eventually!
Ange Director, What Lies Beneath Client Feedback with Depth 021 636373 www.whatliesbeneath.co.nz
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What Lies Beneath is a small business consultancy based in Tauranga with clients across New Zealand. We specialise in Client Feedback – with depth. We help CEOs, GMs and owners of small, medium and large businesses get an objective view of the business at both the strategic and operational level. We work with their teams to turn the insights into best practice, and best practice into business as usual.