Eat this and you will be a true champion

In Andre Agassi’s fridge lies the answer to the type of diet we need to feast on if we want to be the best we can be. I find it hard to swallow. Do you?

A friend once asked the guy next to him on a plane what he did for a living.

“I’m one of tennis player Andre Agassi’s three backhand coaches,” the man replied.

WOW! Three backhand coaches! Agassi was clearly a guy who feasted on feedback. And they say feedback is the food of champions. The lesson is clear. We need to become feedback gluttons if we are to reach our full potential. Just as Agassi did, over many years.

Now- I love feedback- so long as it’s positive. If it’s not, then I spiral into a series of emotions- from outright rejection, to anger, to depression, to resentfulness, and then finally, to revengefulness- all leading to proactive action… to my embracing the feedback and doing something about it. And then being grateful for it. But it is not an easy path.

I wish I’d been more proactive and persistent in seeking feedback during my career. I would have grown, learnt and achieved more. And made more friends along the way.

Don’t make my mistake. Please. Become feedback junkies. Don’t look for praise. Look for honest, ‘warts and all’ feedback.

Feedback is also critical to keeping and growing client relationships and building key internal stakeholder relationships if you work within a corporate. Existing clients are your fastest route to more revenue. Treat them like gold. Listen carefully. Ask often- “How are we doing? How could we do better?”

Here’s a simple feedback process that works.

It’s a simple Traffic Light system. Green- all good! Amber- caution. Be on the alert. Red – Woah! We have a problem. Take action- NOW!

Here’s how the system works. Identify 10 questions. Have someone not working on the account team meet with the client for half an hour every four to six months. For each question, the client (or internal stakeholder) needs to simply score their response Green, Amber, Red. Your colleague can then probe on the Amber and Reds….“Why do you say that? What’s the issue? What needs to be done to move that back to a Green, and fast?” Here’s a sample 10 questions:

1. Are you happy with our service?

2. Do we deliver good value for money?

3. Do we understand your business well enough?

4. Do we have the right account service team working with you?

5. Are we reliable?

6. Do we provide the right level of new ideas, thinking and creativity to the work we do with you?

7. Do you consider us a Trusted Advisor?

8. Would you recommend us to others?

9. Are we proactive enough?

10. Do we regularly exceed your expectations?

This system works. Try it. Share your stories if you do- please. Do you have some good ‘feedback’ war stories already to hand? Again- share them- please!


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9 Responses to Eat this and you will be a true champion

  1. Anne Miles September 14, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    I couldn’t agree more – great list and an essential concept. Feedback gives you the secret to what your products and services should be to sell to a wider crowd too. It also gives you the key to your unique offering – what is it that makes you different from others in order to leverage that for your wider market.

    I’d add a couple of other questions to this list too (respectfully) Chris:

    – What do we do better than others? or What makes us stand out from our competitors?
    – What do you need next for your business?

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. Anne

    • Chris Savage September 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

      Thanks Anne- I like those additional questions and will add them to the list! Chris

    • John Chaplin February 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

      Hi Chris,

      I love the questions, we have used 360 degree questionnaires before with Clients and learnt a lot. Anne I like the questions that move the questioning from “are we doing ok” to “where can we go next”.
      Some ones in that line we have used are:

      What are the three most important things we can do to improve the overall value you receive from us?

      What do you consider are the three most important aspects of our organisation’s relationship with you?

  2. Carl Sherriff September 14, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    Thanks for the thought provoking article Chris. As freelancer it really made me think.
    I wondered how I’d go about getting the feedback, as it’s so personal. Should I create a multiple choice form and email it to clients, or have a coffee and keep it casual?

    Cheers Carl.

    • Chris Savage September 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

      Carl- I’d always favour the personal route and build the conversation as all part of a sincere, open, transparent and ‘all about the’ type dialogue. Chris

  3. Jeff Estok September 14, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    Another excellent article Chris.

    At Navigare, we find that Agency evaluations are generally looked upon with the same fear and trepidation that accompanies employee performance reviews. No one likes to think their performance is less than perfect, but denial is not a good strategy.

    Embracing the feedback in the spirit that it is intended—continuous improvement—enables the Agency to move beyond “Trusted Advisor” to the place that all Agencies seek to be—”Irreplaceable”.

    While doing something is better than doing nothing, I would make a few suggestions to maximise the value of the time and effort required for such an exercise:

    1. Involve as many client stakeholders in the process as you physically can. We find quite often that the opinions and issues identified with the senior client relationship holder will naturally differ from those one of two levels below him or her. It is as important to know what the people at the ‘coalface’ think, as their feedback up the line ultimately shapes the opinion or your senior client counterpart. Eradicating the ‘mosquito bites’ (those things that are highly annoying but won’t kill you) is often as important as going after the ‘cancers’.

    2. Involve the client in the development of the questions to assess. Unlike others, we don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to assessing relationships. Each relationship has its own unique set of needs and requirements, and the assessments should be tailored to reflect that.

    3. Make sure you also probe for importance of the assessment criteria. You may take solace in the fact that you exceed your client’s expectations on “9-Are we proactive enough? “, only to later find out that of the ten items asked, it the least important. And addressing those of highest importance will generate better returns for you.

    4. Ignite the passion in your client for a similar assessment of THEIR contributions. Clients tend to be the leading indicators, and Agency performance a lagging indicator. The Agency’s performance typically rises when the Client’s input and management of the Agency is ‘exceptional’, and conversely, poor Agency managers tend not to get the most out of that same Agency asset. Once they understand the link, what reasonable client wouldn’t want to maximise their own performance, if it means allowing you to maximise your contributions?

    5. Have each party self-assess as well. It would be interesting to see how the client’s evaluation of your performance varies from your Agency’s self-assessment, on the same questions. We quite often find that the ‘gap analysis’ is more useful than the actual assessment itself. It leads to interesting discussions about needs and expectations, and why there is misalignment on these. Which is a useful entrée point for a CEO discussion with that client. Showing the client the degree to which you value the discovery.

    We could argue the toss over whether such an exercise is best run truly independently, as opposed to through an Agency person not working on the account. You can guess our opinion on that one!

    But, as I said, doing something IS better than doing nothing. I hope some of the above points are of value.

    Keep up the great work. Your articles and insights are excellent fodder for an industry in need of mentoring!


    • Chris Savage September 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

      Thanks Jeff. I appreciate the depth and thought of your input. For many services firms, where in many cases a $100,000 per annum client is sizable, using an outside resource to conduct a feedback process is just not viable. It’s in these circumstances that I always found the simple traffic light system, conducted by a ‘non involved’ colleague, to work just fine. But in larger engagements, where the feedback needs to be more formal and in many cases the process can be more dangerous, an outside independent middleman type role is often key. All the steps you outline make tremendous sense. Thanks again. Chris

  4. ugg December 5, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve really loved surfing around your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing on your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

    • Chris Savage December 5, 2011 at 10:18 am #

      Thanks so much for the feedback. Appreciate it. Chris

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