Assessing client satisfaction

24th of May 2017
Assessing client satisfaction

Open and honest communication can be a challenge even in the best of relationships, but it can be make or break in commercial situations. Giles Wheeler, operations director at contract cleaning and soft services specialist Facilicom UK, explains how taking advantage of the opportunity for a new perspective is helping his company build its client relations.

Evaluation and client feedback are important to any business relationship, and it’s no different for contract cleaning. However all too often this involves a ‘tick box’ exercise relying on generic and task-based evaluations and reports. The results might therefore not always be that enlightening, and this could lead to some unpleasant surprises when it comes to contract renewal discussions (or the lack of them).

Of course relationship managers are supposed to know how things are going with a contract, but they may not always pick up on signs or ask the right questions. They may simply take the approach that the client would let them know if there was an issue.

A different approach

We have a focus on understanding our customers and building relationships, especially in the early stages of working together. Our contract managers also look to improve overall service and make a beneficial impact for our clients’ businesses, going beyond the basic elements of a cleaning contract.
However we were interested to know what would happen if we took a different approach and got someone new to talk to our clients, not only about the current aspects of the contract, but about future possibilities too. Would they get the same feedback as we do?

When looking for feedback, it’s often good to involve someone who isn’t directly impacted by the responses. This approach can lead to more honesty as people’s feelings won’t be hurt. Perhaps surprisingly, this can be even more important when a relationship is going well as people don’t want to fall out by being critical.

Management trainees

Our colleagues at Facilicom in the Netherlands and Belgium run a management trainee programme for recent graduates. One aspect of this programme is taking part in company-wide projects. We therefore had an opportunity to invite a couple of the participants to the UK to undertake the client feedback exercise for us.

The project was a win-win as it gave us access to valuable client insight, and the participants got the chance to develop their research and customer service skills. It also showed our clients that we value their opinion and are looking to continuously improve the way we work with them. We understood that, although we give our customers regular opportunities to provide feedback, this was a chance
for them to open up if they’d been reluctant to previously for any reason.

Being approached by ‘young professionals’ who weren’t directly involved in the contract meant any potential sensitivities were removed.

The trainees – Tessa Van Meerten and Nick Geutjes – devised the questions and then contacted several of our larger customers, covering FM, food services, property management and chemical manufacturing.

They carried out 20 interviews asking about why people  awarded the contract, what made them continue the relationship and what they’d be looking for in the next five years of working together.

They then produced a report and presented their findings to our operations management team.
The process was beneficial for both Tessa and Nick’s self-confidence in dealing with higher level customers, and having worked in the Netherlands and Belgium to get an insight into the variances between the UK and European markets.

It’s not all about the money

Although we’re not suggesting that clients have open chequebooks or bottomless pockets, Tessa and Nick found that, for the clients they spoke to, the cost of the contract was not the over-riding factor in deciding who to do business with.

When making that decision, the human touch (the relationship) and operational excellence were the decisive factors. Clients told the Tessa and Nick that: “the contract is only as good as the people you are working with” and that they’d heard “lots of promises from other companies, but we don’t believe them”. As they always say ‘first impressions count’. However it’s more than that. Successful relationships are cemented by the follow-up to meetings and calls.

Tessa and Nick found that price was even less significant at the contract renewal stage, after all if people have been getting the service they want at a price they are willing to pay, why would they change? The crucial factor is instead the amount of involvement we had with clients. “I want to be taken seriously, and I see the commitment of Facilicom and its management,” said one client. Another said: “I can’t say that Facilicom only has one USP, but familiarity was a decisive factor.”

Communicating well and ensuring the relationship is working is what turns short-term relationships
into long-term ones.

Get involved

When working together over time, clients expect to see a greater partnership with their contractors. They need to feel they are fully understood and that those working with them will look to innovate and initiate improvements. By this stage the client should be able to take communications, operational excellence and the like as read. They’ve been getting these for years, but they don’t want a relationship or service to go stale. The contractor needs to find ways to enhance the client’s business, not just its own.

“You’re our expert when it comes to cleaning, tell us what can be improved,” said one. Another client said: “The more initiative you use, the more confident we are about the future.”

Where next?

Our strategy is to preview rather than review operations and activities. To anticipate our clients’ needs and get to the heart of their companies, so that we offer that extra level of service that makes a relationship successful.

Thankfully there were no surprises for us among Tessa and Nick’s findings. It was a very useful exercise though, as it demonstrated our commitment to our customers and gave them an extra way of feeding back to us, so that we can improve the way we work with them even more. It also helped develop two of our management trainees, who now have a better understanding, and more experience of client relationships.

It’s not always easy to find out what your clients really think of you. Even clients giving high scores in satisfaction surveys can sometimes choose to move on. Our approach to assessing client satisfaction and identifying future requirements has helped us better understand and further develop our client relationships. We will continue to look for innovative ways to ensure those relationships develop, especially when it gives the opportunity for our future management stars to shine.


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