Here’s a basic difference between products and services. The level of satisfaction of a product often has a direct correlation to sales: you offer a good product that’s well-liked, and most likely sales will go up; for bad products, sales dip.
That relationship is less transparent with services like the kind usually offered by freelancers. Freelance clients buying a service like web design or editing, will usually complete the sale unless you completely botch the deliverables.
In fact, there is a more nuanced spectrum of satisfaction when it comes to services than products, but the consequences are significant: clients that are dissatisfied with your freelance services will just opt for another provider. What’s at stake? A repeat project with the client and the opportunity to aim for bigger, better projects by improving your performance.
Unfortunately, gathering feedback can lead to some skewed results. If clients were a generally satisfied with your work, but not wowed, they may silently opt for another provider, and not bother giving you any feedback at all, even if you solicit them directly.
It’s frustrating: you probably only hear back from the joyously enthusiastic clientele and the ones with the biggest gripes. Small gripes usually get reported less.
Still, there are several benefits to spending the time getting a sense of what your clients think of you and your freelance services:
- It makes clients feel important. Clients appreciate you asking them to share their thoughts. It shows that you aren’t looking at them as just a one-off opportunity, but that you’re trying to establish a relationship. That inspires loyalty to stay with you on future projects.
It makes clients more apt to recommend you to others. Referrals are a major stream of business for freelancers so it’s vital that you cultivate good customer service. One way to do that is asking for feedback, especially from clients who you know were truly satisfied and thrilled with your work.
Soliciting feedback will let them re-live feel-good experiences with you. And if you botched a project, talking it out with clients can provide a wonderful way to staunch any bitterness that might haunt you later (word-of-mouth is a powerful thing).
- It provides you testimonials to impress future prospects. A quote or two from a happy client gives you marketing material for your website, collaterals, and other media materials. Ask for permission, of course. Many clients may be effusive in their private praise of you, but have policies against committing testimonials publicly.
Here are proven ways to obtain and use client feedback to improve your services:
Ask clients directly during one-on-one meetings.
Commit to meeting with your clients (over Skype or in-person) on a periodic basis to find out how you’re doing. This is especially important for your regular clients. Strong relationships can always be strengthened, even by notches, and your clients will appreciate the attention and care you’re showing.
You can keep these meetings informal: a conversation over lunch every six months. On your agenda, touch on areas of improvement, ways to improve the efficiency of current services provided, and new services that your client may not have thought he or she needed.
Conduct a web survey.
Use a tool like Survey Monkey to generate simple surveys (keep it under 10 questions) and e-mail clients. Surveys are easy ways to generate feedback and they provide clients the anonymity to be brutally honest about your services.
The downside is that it’s easy to ignore e-mails and many requests just fall by the wayside. Expect a return rate of maybe one out of five; for every five surveys you send out, you’ll get one back.
Review feedback with a grain of salt, and ask follow-up questions.
Satisfied clients are more likely to respond to giving feedback than unhappy ones, so take your positive responses with a grain of salt. Celebrate those successes, but don’t let it lull you into a sense of complacency either.
Always follow-up with questions. The more specifics they can give you, the more you’re able to fine-tune your performance and do better with future projects. You also may need to read between the lines.
Some clients are just not as forthcoming as they should be out of professional courtesy. Maybe they are just kind-hearted people who can’t give pointed critiques for fear of hurting your feelings. Show your professionalism and tell clients their feedback is invaluable for you to improve your services.