Featured Article – 2013 July

Structured Interviewing

Survey says!

By Tom Beane

Whenever a business surveys its clients, it’s natural to feel some uncertainty while waiting for the responses to come in. You hope to find out that you’re doing well, of course, but you also hope that the replies provide useful information that can help you do better.

In surveying two separate groups — clients and referral sources — Beane Associates received the results we were hoping for: strong favorable ratings and candid comments that suggest areas of improvement.

The surveys had normal completion rates among both clients and referral sources (primarily bankers, attorneys and certified public accountants). Interestingly, when similar questions were posed to each group, the responses were similar.

Here are some examples of these parallels. (Most questions were graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating strong dissatisfaction or disagreement and 5 indicating strong satisfaction or agreement).

In overall level of satisfaction, we scored 4.6 among clients and 4.7 among referral sources. In meeting or exceeding expectations, we scored 4.2 among clients and 4.1 among referral sources.

Asked whether Beane Associates “exemplifies honest, ethical business practices,” our clients graded us a perfect 5.0 and referral sources scored us at 4.9. We are certainly proud of the responses to that question.

One area of divergence occurred in the question about fees. With a rating of 3 representing average fees, clients rated us at 2.6 while referral sources scored us at 3.4. The divergence is interesting, for it’s natural to think that troubled businesses would tend to respond negatively to consultants’ fees but they rated us below average. In fact, in response to another question, 90 percent of the clients agreed that “the value gained from our services exceeded the associated fees.”

In addition, all of the clients who responded strongly agreed that the consultant assigned to the job had the appropriate experience to handle the engagement. Also, for every skill that we asked clients to evaluate —financial/accounting, strategic planning, quick decision-making and operations expertise — scores ranged between “above average” and “strong.”

As one of our associates, Kevin Beane, noted in his recent article in this newsletter, it is important to include several open-ended questions in any survey. Open-ended questions help you dig deeper into what your customers are thinking; responses can provide warning signs or suggestions for improvement.

The open-ended questions in our surveys generated a number of helpful comments.

One client suggested that we have more direct communication with the client’s vendors in order to facilitate making new payment arrangements and agreements. That comment is interesting because in many of our engagements the client prefers that we keep a low profile while we help them work out their problems. If assuming a more vocal or more visible position would serve a client’s best interests, we will certainly consider doing so.

We received other comments suggesting that we create different levels of service packages at different price points and that we explore additional ways of maintaining a consulting relationship with clients after the original purpose of the engagement has been accomplished. These too are valuable ideas which we will strongly consider this year.

While many of the comments were memorable, this one in particular stands out: “You can’t put a price on being able to take a failing business, learn how to manage cash flow and turn around your business to be very profitable.”

When our clients attach such value to the work we do, it only increases our motivation to do as well — or better — on our next engagement.