Good relationships between business partners have always mattered and will continue to do so. A few companies today even engage their clients in a review of the quality of their relationship.
Tools used vary greatly. Some send out a questionnaire with every invoice and believe this signals care about their partners’ attitudes. Some require their employees to conduct personal interviews with a questionnaire that reflects what they consider important. And yet others use online tools such as Survey Monkey to obtain a quick check on a client’s opinion. All such attempts are laudable at a time when relationship management becomes more and more important.

But these self-designed studies easily miss out on one or more of the five basic criteria that any meaningful assessment of a strategic relationship should fulfil:

1. To be conceived in a manner that obtains a maximum of truthful feedback from the partner – It is questionable how honest responses will be if the employees of an enterprise are soliciting answers that are supposed to evaluate their own quality. Not many people will tell the truth to the face of the individual who is implicated by their response. Conversely, they will be open and totally clear when asked by a neutral third party.

2. To ask the right questions that deliver meaningful answers – Most people are happy when customer satisfaction looks good. But what is this worth when studies show that between 65% and 80% of those who had fired a service provider had previously said they were satisfied or very satisfied? Clearly there are other more important questions than satisfaction that need answers so that the owner can markedly improve its business performance.

3. To enable comparison with industry norms – Some form of scoring seems common in surveys used today. But what guidance does a score of 3 or 6 provide when you don’t know how that compares with your competition? If you don’t have access to their scores how do you know where you are on a league table? Effort going into the construction of a relationship survey should produce more than guesswork on results – the outtake should be actionable intelligence that improves the value and competitiveness of the business.

4. To be measurable over time – A one off study is easily decoded as an attempt to quick fix a problem that has raised its head. But all businesses are founded on the principle of providing long-term customer satisfaction. Measuring how committed your customers are should not be seen as a panic tool when things go wrong; instead you should strive for benchmarking ability overtime.

5. To know what to look for – If you run self- designed studies you may think all is fine as results come in. But the trained eye may see things that you’ve missed even when it’s there. Knowing what constitutes real commitment and to prove it with your survey could be two different things. A car Mechanic who epitomises knowing what to look for will always find something that the driver may have missed.

If you take your car in for a regular check up every 6 months – why not your business? As Tom Peters said in 1982 “In search of excellence”:

“Today’s wisest companies are those that are tops at consciously investing in relationships – steadily, over time with purpose and passion. But even the stellar, pioneering outfits don’t try to measure them and that is a mistake.”

It is conceivable that today he would add the word “properly” to his last sentence.