Gathering feedback from your clients can help you improve client loyalty and the profitability of your practice, says Julie Littlechild, CEO of Advisor Impact Inc. in Toronto. But, she warns, not all feedback is created equal.

If you aren’t asking the right questions, you might not be getting the information you need to help you build your business.

“Client feedback is about what you ask and how you ask it,” Littlechild says. “It also involves the way you analyze the data and then use that analysis in your business to produce real change.

“It is a process,” she adds, “not an event.”

Littlechild offers the following advice on avoiding common feedback-gathering mistakes:

> Ask clear questions
If the questions you are asking are vague or unclear, it is likely you are going to get equally murky responses from clients. If people can interpret your question in different ways, Littlechild says, it isn’t a good question to ask.

And when it comes time to analyze your data and draw conclusions, you will not be able to accurately interpret the data you have.

To avoid any uncertainty, the questions you pose — orally or in a survey — should be clear and concise, so your client knows exactly how to respond.

Be sure each question covers one specific topic. For example, don’t ask clients to rate the “efficiency and knowledge” of your team. Those two qualities should be addressed in separate questions.

Have someone else on your team vet your questions to make sure he or she understands exactly what you are asking.

> Go beyond averages
When you are analyzing feedback, remember that the averages or final grades you compile tell only half the story.

While the averages will give you a big-picture idea of the areas in which your practice is strong or weak, it is important to isolate client comments in order to get the full picture of your clients’ ratings.

For example, perhaps your clients have given you a mediocre grade on financial planning. If you are looking only at the numbers, you might think you have to make significant changes to your financial-planning process.

In the comments, however, you might find consistent negative comments about the readability of your plans. In this case, perhaps only a simple software modification is necessary to satisfy your clients. It’s an insight you wouldn’t have garnered from averages alone.

This is the sixth instalment in an occasional series on how client engagement can benefit your practice. Next: How to maximize your return on investment with client feedback.