The only method to find out what your clients really think that never fails

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What are our real chances as leaders and organisation managers to find out what our key stakeholders really believe about our performance? We send them satisfaction surveys questionnaires, you might say! Email questionnaires with as many questions as possible. The more questions the better!

Right?

Wrong!

Throughout the corporate and employer branding projects that I delivered in the last couple of years, I detected a recipe that never fails in relevance, astuteness and insightfulness: the 360 perceptional audit.

What is a 360 perceptional audit? An in-depth qualitative research on stakeholders perception performed on a large spectrum of clients, partners, collaborators using one to one in-depth interviewing methodology, and preserving the interviewee anonymity.

Here are below 7 reasons why the perception audit performs highly efficient when it comes to understand what stakeholders think:

  1. Objectivity: it is carried by an external consultant with no stake whatsoever in the organization or any link with projects or people who are subject to discussion
  1. Insightfulness: it is carried following an interview guide with precise indexes but it also lets people browse freely through their thoughts to unveil aspects that usually do not show up in an organized thread.
  1. Total transparency: interviews take place one to one, at client premises or in a place of their comfort. The importance of eye-to-eye contact is immense as the non verbal behaviour might reveal cues about what has never been said.
  1. Full honesty: the mention about anonymity is made upfront. For some people – declaratively at least – it makes no difference versus a signed statement, but for others it increases the comfort zone and generates openness.
  1. Quality feedback: preserving a one-hour discussion (max) with each client allows people to thinks deeply over a subject, focus on the key aspects and bring in arguments and even new ideas. Not at all rare are the cases when clients and partners brought in ideas that never occurred to the company. Because people are provoked to think they generate spontaneously valuable content.
  1. The 360 view upon one matter: perceptions related to the performance of a company are a puzzle made of a zillion pieces. There are aspects of consensus among interviewees and aspects of profound disagreement (as a sign that performance perception in that area is not consolidated). The combination of small data is what brings clarity to any future business and brand strategy.
  1. A professional thanksgiving. The personalized approach towards every stakeholder on the list functions both as a message of genuine interest towards the client and as a thanksgiving– a simple courtesy gesture that increases goodwill.

The perception audit is a sine qua non instrument in any branding consultancy process. Unless well researched at the perceptions level, a company might miss self-understanding of capital importance. Current perceptions are the very reality of a brand and in the same time the starting point for any future strategic shift.

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Mihaela Rădulescu

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