A little while ago I posted an article about what to do when a contract closes. One piece of advice I gave was to gather feedback, using a form if appropriate. The key to whether or not people will actually use that form depends on your working relationship, on how and when you ask, and, perhaps most importantly, on how well your form is designed. That means making a form that’s not only user friendly, but also meaningful and well-written.
Choosing the right format and delivery method for your feedback form will have a profound effect on how often you actually get it back filled out.
Personally, I like to use an Adobe PDF form because it’s easy for the client to use: simple, portable, compatible across platforms and distributable both online or off. If you don’t have a copy of Acrobat, you can use OpenOffice Writer to create PDF forms instead. An HTML form is a good alternative, though if you don’t have any HTML experience it might be more difficult to put one together. As a final option, be ready and willing to call and conduct your survey on the phone directly with a stakeholder, since this may be the only way to ensure you get some kind of feedback.
As for the questions you ask, you may first want to decide how many you’re going to use. For the sake of ease of use I generally ask between 10 and 20 questions, depending on the length and type of engagement. You don’t want to use too many, since you risk exasperating your client, but if you use too few, your results won’t be very meaningful.
The nature and wording of each question will also determine how meaningful the answers are. The most important thing to consider when composing your questions is to consider how you might act based on the answers you receive. If, for example, you ask, “Was the project I delivered what you anticipated receiving upon completion?” with the client answering on a scale of one to five, the answers will be meaningless without additional questions. Regardless of whether you score high or low, you won’t know how to change your practice based upon those results.
It’s better to ask more specific questions like, “How satisfied were you with any pre-project materials received?” since this points to a specific area that you can act to improve. As a rule of thumb, ask yourself what you would do following a positive or negative response to each question you come up with. If you can’t come up with anything, then it’s probably not a good question.
Breaking your questions up into categories (with subheadings) is also a good idea, as it will focus your client and, again, help make your results more meaningful. You also might want to ask for a general measure of satisfaction for the project as a whole, just to see if your client’s micro and macro observations are consistent.
Finally, always leave space for extra comments, context for answers given, etc. Whether or not it gets used, respondents will appreciate the opportunity to speak outside of your prescribed boundaries.
Form design is one area where you don’t want to get too far off the beaten track, because it’s a genre that people are already very much acquainted with. You can use that familiarity to your advantage. Using the typical answer scale of scores from one to five, for instance, will give your respondents instant, easy access, because it’s something they’ve seen in many different forms before.
Of course, that still leaves choices about how to use that scale. Personally, I use the one to five scale differently depending on what kind of feedback I’m looking for. If I want something that I will be using as a reference for future engagements, for instance, I might orient the numbers from highest to lowest, which seems to encourage people to choose higher numbers overall. If I want more criticism, because I’m using the survey results primarily for internal, professional development purposes, I’ll use the reverse tactic and order the numbers from lowest to highest.
Designing a good feedback form is not easy, and you’ll no doubt encounter many competing opinions on how best to do it. A good tip, though, is to always offer some kind of incentive to fill out the form, whether it be a discount on the client’s invoice, some kind of free service like a client-sector specific research report, or a charitable donation. Believe me, feedback is well worth the investment.
How do you gather client feedback?