August 2008

todd herman web

What is performance feedback? The process of sharing observations, compliments, and suggestions between persons working together.

Why do you want and need feedback? Course correction – to ensure what you're doing keeps you on track to hit your target.

Why is feedback a good thing? To help everyone feel good about their performance, so they can maintain what is going well and improve in areas for growth.

What's the value of feedback? To remove doubt about performance.

Two recent experiences have reminded me of the value of feedback:

  • Attending an AICPA seminar – The discussion about "5-Star Client Service" included a comparison of what CPAs think their clients value versus what clients say really mattered to them. What were the three most important areas to clients? Service and attentiveness, reputation of firm, and quality and accuracy of work. What were three areas where CPAs consistently underestimated the importance to their clients? The same three.
  • Reading the book Formula 2 + 2: The Simple Solution for Successful Coaching – The authors describe how to simply give employees periodic in-person feedback, by making it regular, timely, and limited to the two most important compliments and two most important suggestions for improvement, at that time.

These two areas – what's important to clients, and what's important to employees – came together recently, as I conducted a large number of employee performance reviews. In conducting these reviews, I shared my perception of their performance – and I had plenty of anecdotal evidence indicating our clients believe we're doing a great job for them.

A consistent theme from my employees – especially the consultants – was they wanted to know, without a doubt, how our clients think we're doing. It was not enough for them that our clients signed engagement letters, paid our bills on time, and kept coming back to us with additional needs – they wanted validation. This was no surprise, because it ties in perfectly with our culture of client service and our philosophy about quality – quality is conformance to expectations, and the client sets those expectations.

Expectations are set early in the client relationship. Expectations are formed by a prospective client as we:

  • Describe our services in clear, concise, benefits-focused language in all our marketing communications.
  • Briefly introduce ourselves when we meet prospects and then move on to their agenda – because we are there to talk about them and not about us.
  • Work with prospects to understand their wants, needs, constraints, and other items relevant to a project.
  • Ask questions to draw out any assumptions.
  • Demonstrate our understanding in communicating our proposed approach and working arrangements.

All these initial interactions and deliverables, or touchpoints, contribute to expectations. Author and sales consultant Mahan Khalsa describes it this way – "How you sell is a free sample of how you solve." Prospective clients get to see how we analyze their issues and how we work with them in person, all the while forming their expectations of how we will actually perform the work.

As we perform the project, every interaction we have with client personnel and every deliverable we produce is a touchpoint affecting our clients' perceptions of our service level against their expectations. And my folks want to know – with certainty – how the client viewed their performance. We all want to ensure expectations set during the project definition are validated and met during the project delivery.

In June 1998, we launched our initial "Service Quality Questionnaire" – or ServQual, as we call it internally – and it provided excellent client feedback for a number of years. Beginning in 2003, it became harder for us to get clients to return these questionnaires, so we eventually stopped sending them. The problem? The initial ServQual was paper-based and asked a large number of questions, making it cumbersome and time-consuming for clients to complete.

We have recently begun overhauling the entire ServQual process – including streamlining questions, and offering this as a web-based survey. We will launch ServQual 2008 by the end of this year. Will this take an investment of time and effort to do this well? Yes. Is it worth it to us to get feedback we can use and do an even better job of meeting and exceeding our clients' expectations? Without a doubt.

Todd L. Herman

Todd L. Herman

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Client Project Update:

I am pleased to provide you with an update on our client projects. Projects we have completed over this period are...

Unified Threat Management Implementation

Enhanced system security for this construction-related company by implementing a unified threat management (UTM) solution, providing comprehensive threat security at both the network edge and individual computers.

Plan & Design Offshore System Changes

Planned and performed high level design for system changes needed to support a new offshore manufacturing plant, enabling this company to simultaneously support domestic and offshore processing of all manufacturing operations.

Technology & Business Requirements Review

Completed evaluation of technology issues and key business processes for this construction products firm, recommending short-term and long-term options to better equip its sales force with information from the AIX-based business system.

Develop Electronic Billing Statements

Completed development and deployment of a custom web application permitting secure retrieval of monthly client statements via the Internet, streamlining the billing and collection processes to speed customer payments.

Preparing for Business System Integration

Worked with this client on prerequisite changes to their main business system to enable transaction journaling, laying the groundwork to integrate their business and accounting systems.

Green IT: Virtual Server Migration

Worked with this professional services firm to plan the migration of multiple physical to virtual servers, enabling this firm to quickly deploy VM Ware, reducing heat, noise, and energy usage, and improving system stability, utilization, flexibility, and management.

Identifying Process & Technology Improvements

Documented and evaluated the repair-related business processes in the stores, repair center, and central office of this specialty retailer, identifying potential process improvements and technology applications to streamline this growing line of business.

Future projects we are planning include...

Optimizing the Quoting & Pricing Process

Evaluated the business implications of the current data accuracy and business processes for quoting and pricing, enabling key executives of this construction products firm to better appreciate the value of business process standardization and other improvements necessary to optimize these areas.

Integrating Business & Financial Systems

Install, configure, and deploy a new middleware package integrating the main business system with the financial system, allowing this property and casualty insurance company to generate accounting transactions from day-to-day business transactions.

System Modifications for Offshore Plant

Work with key process owners to analyze current system modules, review proposed inventory flow for a new offshore plant, and determine the necessary system modifications, enabling this manufacturer to minimize system changes and meet an aggressive timeline, while still producing accurate accounting transactions.

Improving Rejects & Denials Processing

Develop a system to extract rejected and denied claims from the main billing system of this medical services company, and then route these to the appropriate billing representative to research and resolve, eliminating the previous paper-based approach, and yielding time and quality improvements in these areas.

Mobile Quoting System

Use Rapid Application Development (RAD) and iterative development techniques to develop, review, and refine this Lotus Notes-based custom mobile quoting system for sales representatives, simultaneously developing the application and revising the process in a highly efficient manner.

Training for Non-Profit Officers & Executives

Develop and conduct training on not-for-profit accounting and finance concepts for this organization to explain these concepts in layman's terms, enabling officers and executives to better fulfill their fiduciary duties.

Designing an Estimating System

Work with this client to design and generate technical specifications for a new estimating system, allowing enforcement of company-stipulated controls, and applying a single estimation methodology to simplify and improve bid analysis, accuracy, and competitiveness.