Preparing for client interviews

Before embarking on an interview program, here are some preparation tips that help ensure success:

  1. Select the clients that warrant a personal interview. Ideally, these should be your largest clients or the ones that have the highest future growth potential.
  2. Develop a profile for each client you plan to interview including details such as their type of business, management profile, any past problems or issues, and questions to be asked or avoided.
  3. If you have conducted any mail or telephone surveys with these or other clients in the past, review the results to determine which areas and issues are seen as particularly important.

Scheduling the interview
Once you have this information, clients should be contacted to review the objectives of the interview and to assure them of the confidentiality of results. The initial contact should be done by telephone or in person, and you may wish to give the clients a preview of the questions you will ask and the issues you will address to help them consider their responses before you meet with them.

It is not ideal to have the professional responsible for managing the client relationship do the interviewing. Clients tend to be less than candid with an individual they work with on a daily basis. Candor and objectivity are essential elements of a successful interview. So is the ability to note the nuances and non-verbal signals such as body language and facial expressions that are often true indicators about how a client really feels about a service issue. Also important is the interviewer’s credibility with the client, knowledge of the firm and its services, experience in interviewing, and ability to report honestly on findings and make meaningful recommendations.

Therefore, one or more members of the firm’s senior management, such as the managing partner or a practice group leader are usually the best qualified to conduct interviews. Unfortunately, many of these individuals are often constrained by other firm responsibilities. Some firms have overcome this difficulty by using retired partners for the interview work. Retired partners with the time to devote to the project can help ensure an effective client interview program.

Conducting the interview
Whether the interviews will be conducted by one of the firm’s senior staff, a retired partner or an outside consultant, the interviewer needs to do the following to ensure consistency and meaningful results:

  • Review the client’s profile and the services you have provided to the client.
  • Use an interview guide to ensure all areas of importance are covered.
  • Ask the questions as worded and in sequence to maintain consistency and reliability of results.
  • Maintain your objectivity when asking questions and avoid offering opinions.
  • Take copious notes and record the information as accurately as possible.
  • Complete your report on the interview as soon as possible while everything is fresh in your mind.

Acting on the information
Many firms will go through the motions of surveying clients and compiling the results but then fail to implement the changes needed to improve the service delivery issues raised by a client. The firm that is unwilling to learn from and act on client feedback should not be surprised when a long-standing client selects another firm as their professional services provider. A client satisfaction program is an opportunity for your firm to find out how it is performing in the eyes of your clients.

In addition, such a program shows that you are a true professional and care deeply about the quality of work you provide. And best of all, when your firm acts on the information received from a client satisfaction survey, you will be using one of the most effective tools available in the client retention process.

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