Client feedback can be an excellent tool to evaluate your practice. But you must be wary of how it's solicited.

People typically want to please others, says Sara Gilbert, founder of Strategist Business Development in Montreal. If you're asking for feedback in a face-to-face setting, clients might say "great job" simply to avoid confrontation.

"Whenever I help a financial advisor do a survey," Gilbert says, "we ask some questions in person. But when it comes to satisfaction levels, we use a written survey to get more honest and authentic feedback."

Here are some tips for conducting a written survey that gets honest answers:

> Don't rely on gimmicks
Often, companies will offer a chance to win a prize as a reward for survey participation. As a result, participants complete the survey with the prize in mind — rather than the business. 

"[The prize] increases the number of people who complete the survey," Gilbert says. "But it does not increase the quality of answers you receive."

Gilbert recommends advisors forgo prizes and instead clearly articulate the purpose of the survey in the introductory section. If people know the survey will improve their client experience, Gilbert says, they'll likely be happy to help.

> Allow anonymity
Clients might not share criticism on paper if they know their names will be attached. 

In your survey's introduction, explain that participants will have the option of providing their name at the end of the survey, Gilbert says. Another space for contact information is useful for clients who would agree to a follow-up discussion.

 > Encourage specific answers

Surveys often will ask participants to rate their level of satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10. This method can be effective for certain areas, but doesn't always provide the kind of detail you might be looking for, Gilbert says. For a more specific answer, you might ask clients what it would take to make a particular service offering receive a 10 out of 10 rating.

Another tactic is to ask your respondents to name the "one thing" that would improve their experience. It's subtle, Gilbert says, but participants will be less inclined to answer with "nothing." 

4. Don't overwhelm participants
To keep your clients alert and engaged throughout the survey, avoid asking too many questions.

If the questionnaire is too long, Gilbert says, participants might skim questions, answer them half-heartedly or fail to fully complete the survey.

This is the first part in a two-part series on client feedback. Next: Conducting informal surveys.

Photo copyright: kchung/123RF