The Halifax Global team has had a very busy summer talking with our clients’ customers, suppliers, funders and other key stakeholders.
It has been a summer of global and regional uncertainty, an environment where there is a tendency to agonize over exchange and future interest rates, the price of energy, the reliability of sales forecasts and so on. It has been and is a season of second guessing and often hunkering down staying the course, regardless.
But, it is the ideal time to assess the validity of strategic and operational plans to ensure that they reflect the realities of the current and future marketplace and most importantly to determine if your organization is meeting the needs and expectations of your customers and other critical stakeholders. You can benefit from their insights into future marketplace trends and what will be important for them and for you in the foreseeable future.
You can learn about and understand if your organization is meeting your major customers’ and other stakeholders’ expectations – your areas of strength as well as your gaps and weaknesses. This information can be obtained by having a third party undertake confidential consultations following an introduction from you, the client. When we undertake such assignments, we advise the interviewee at the outset that our conversation is kept confidential and what we share with the client is an aggregated summary of “What we Heard” from all stakeholders. Following this introduction, we then ask for them to be completely candid – and they typically are. The questions asked are predetermined and developed with the client and tailored to the specifics of the situation. There are often two categories of questions with the first set being performance and relationship specific and the second set more geared to the marketplace in general.
We have found this approach to be very effective with the following groups:
- Significant customers of private sector companies;
- Key suppliers to companies, particularly if the company is a value added reseller of suppliers’ products where the relationship is similar to a client relationship;
- Funders and donors of not-for-profit organizations;
- Fee-paying members of trade associations and similar organizations;
- Partners and collaborators of research and other academic institutions / organizations; and
- Board members of any organization or company.
Based on our experiences, the third party consultation process provides unbiased intelligence and valuable knowledge about the perceptions others have of your company or organization, including:
- Insight into how you are meeting or not meeting client expectations that then allows you to tailor initiatives and strategies focused on improving customer service and identified gaps and weaknesses.
- The ability to measure client satisfaction over time. We typically ask customers to rate the services provided by our clients on a scale of 1 to 5. We then provide rating details and averages to our client as part of “What we Heard”. We are currently undertaking the third bi-annual consultations for one client, a process started in 2007.
- Input into future marketplace trends that allow you to link to the needs of your customers, vendors, suppliers and other key stakeholders.
- The ability to ensure your programs and areas of focus are aligned with the expectations of your funders, fee paying members, and clients.
- The insight necessary to create valid economic models for not-for-profit organizations to create a bridge from start up funding model to one of independent sustainability based on unbiased stakeholder input.
- An understanding of key partners’ and collaborators’ perceptions of who you are and what you do.
We have been engaged to carry out stakeholder consultations in conjunction with employee surveys that then allow our clients to determine linkages and create client-focused action plans.
We have found that an ancillary benefit of this independent consultative process is a heightened sense of engagement between our client and the stakeholders interviewed. Customers and stakeholders truly appreciate the ability to provide input that will make a difference in the future relationship with valued suppliers, service providers, funders, partners and donors. We often receive comments at the conclusion of the interviews such as:
- “This process is great”
- “Appreciated the opportunity”
- “Great that ‘client’ is doing this. Their competitors are not.”
While you cannot plan with certainty what will happen in the future, you can plan with the certainty of knowing what your customers and other key stakeholders truly value from their relationship with you.