TMF Group is a large global business services provider to multinational companies. They have established a strong international presence and continue to grow. Much of this growth to date had been inorganic, creating a diverse group with highly devolved management but that has global clients who expect consistency of service across offices.
When the CEO approached Ian Bennison, Marketing Operations Director, with the problem, it presented a significant opportunity. “We were in eighty countries, one hundred and twenty odd offices now, and we weren’t asking our clients what they felt about us.” The client feedback that did occur was on an ad hoc basis, and when problems were raised by clients, sometimes these were not being addressed by managers: “we had lots of anecdotal feedback that we had issues in certain areas but there was always a valid reason why that wasn’t true and everything was fine.”
Ian recognised the need for a consistent approach to client feedback and to help them to understand client sentiment across the entire group. In 2013 he implemented an international group wide client feedback programme. Here he shares some of the key challenges that he had to overcome to make it a success, and why it is becoming an ever more integral part of the business moving into the future.
Securing management buy-in
Engage the individuals
For a group-wide initiative like this to work, the individual offices have to buy into the concept and the goals. Before commencing the roll out of the project Ian contacted each of the MDs individually to brief them on the project. “It was a case of saying that we are happy to take your feedback, this is just a first step, and this is how we plan to implement it.” This conversation helped the MDs to feel involved and got them behind the programme.
“Keep it as basic as possible”
The MDs would have been deterred by a project that could be seen as burdensome to their clients and as adding significantly to their own already sizable workload. For this reason Ian positioned the client feedback system as a simple initiative that would require minimal time and effort to achieve; “We’ll keep it as basic as possible and simple for your clients. It should be relatively straightforward, I’ll give you a list of clients and really all you need to do is supply me their email addresses. I’m going to spend, five or six hours or maybe more pulling the data together off the back of it. I will just serve you the results.”
Preach the personal benefits
As any global organisation knows, localism can pose a challenge. In order to ensure maximum participation it was important to position the client feedback system as not only of benefit to the group as a whole, but first and foremost as of benefit to the individual office. “I introduced this is as both a group and local initiative; highlighting the benefits to both communities. They are our clients and we are interacting with them on a regular basis and it is important to know how they feel.
Bring in the professionals
“The professionalisation of it really helped to secure buy-in. While the interactive dashboard came at a later stage, just seeing the professionalism of the questionnaire that would be sent out helped get everyone on board.” Previously there had been a concern that questionnaires would be sent out in “Excel via email or at best a Survey Monkey type approach that wasn’t consistent.” It was important to reassure offices that the feedback experience would be a pleasant one for their clients that would reflect well on the relationship holder.
Knowing when to flex
In a group as large and diverse as TMF Group, finding the right level of flexibility in implementation was vital. Complete rigidity would not take into account the different busy periods across the different offices, too much flexibility and the initiative may have stalled. “It’s about being a little bit more flexible with the execution, ‘you’ve asked me to survey my clients in December but that’s a really bad month for me, can I do it in January?’ Looking at the fact that we got to 70 plus countries by the end of 13 months, we’re obviously doing something right.”
Putting the feedback to work
Use technology to get the most out of the feedback
A global client feedback programme generates significant quantities of data, but most of the value comes from being able to process that data in order for it to be put to work improving the client experience. At TMF Group this has been achieved with a client feedback portal that allows authorised staff to login in and get a quick ‘snapshot’ of the feedback on their office and the Group, as well as facilitating more complex analysis of the data. It was important for this to be professional and user friendly to ensure that the feedback is actually explored and used by individual offices.
Use rewards to drive behavioural change
Linking remuneration and appraisals to client feedback is vital to ensure continued focus and engagement; “I’m a great believer in a very simple statement: no consequence, no action. You can have the best will in the world but if you’re not held accountable for changing behaviour then why would you do it? In TMF’s Romanian office (one of the consistent best performers in client satisfaction rankings) all managers carry a KPI for client satisfaction. Across the Group, where possible, client satisfaction will be tied into remuneration, and where that is not appropriate it will be tied into the appraisal process.
Ensure engagement with the data
TMF Group have come a long way with their client feedback programme, but Ian recognises they are not finished yet. At the moment usage of the client feedback portal varies from country to country; in some countries the relevant people log in frequently and make use of the data, whereas in others it is not so common. The solution to this problem is to integrate the feedback reporting system with the wider CRM system “This way it becomes day to day business tool. Once everyone becomes more familiar with the system, I’m sure it will become a key application and the whole business will derive even more value.”
TMF’s group-wide client feedback programme is succeeding and delivering value because of its consistency. For Ian the key direct benefit to the business has been its empowerment of senior managers who can now quote the voice of the client. They are telling us where we need to improve and we have to listen. We cannot meet our growth targets with unhappy clients.
Embedding client feedback in the culture of the Group
The next step for TMF is to introduce training around the client feedback. The training will both make use of current feedback, and ingrain the importance of continuing to collect and make use of it in the future. Sessions will allow best practice to be shared around the Group and will help to ensure that everyone, at all levels of the Group understand the importance of learning from client feedback to ensure continuous improvement.