The question that we get asked most frequently by firms about Client Listening is: “how do we get partners to buy in?”. We have explored that question before, however, in this article, we want to think about it a different way, by considering a different question, one that is not asked often enough, “what do clients get out of this?”.
The discussion about Client Listening, an exercise where you go out and seek feedback from clients is paradoxically often inward-focused. Firms think about what they want to get out of the exercise: they want to deepen and secure relationships. They want to cross-sell. Firms will also often think about what works best for them when considering who will conduct the interview and how and where it will take place. Firms will spend a long time thinking about which questions will generate the most revenue and opportunities.
In our client listening workshops, we often invite participants to share their views about what the “right way” is to conduct interviews. From the issue of whether to record or not, through to whether you bring in someone who is external to the relationship or not, almost always the answer we offer is:
“the right way can be found by asking the client”.
Yet, it is rare that we do. It is not surprising that we shy away from asking the client because all too often we see the exercise as something that is self-serving and think that the client is doing us a favour.
What do clients get out of this?
We often hear from our clients that they are pleased to have been asked to take part in client listening. They often sight this as a positive attribute of the firm. “They are listening.” Here we want to reflect on the typical themes that Client Interviews cover to understand why this might be so.
What did we do well and how can we improve?
Often client listening is focused on what a firm is doing well and what it can improve on. It is easy to see what the firm is getting out of this, what about the client? Well, most of the time the client has an advisor because they need one for their business to thrive. Even in B2C, the “Private Client” has an advisor to help with matters they cannot negotiate on their own and they play a vital role in dealing with matters that are often of utmost importance to them.
Clients will have spent some time choosing who to work with and if they have stayed with you they are probably happy with what you are doing. Maybe they aren’t happy, or not completely happy, but the thought of moving elsewhere might make them come out in a cold sweat.
Relationship niggles can be thought of as weeds in a garden. If ignored they can take over. Client interviews give clients the opportunity to put things out in the open and pull out any weeds before they take over. This makes the service they receive better. What isn’t there to like about that?
Now, you might be thinking:
“what about the positives? Surely there is no value for the client there.”
Well, if expressing what they like means they get more of it going forward, then again, it is easy to see why there is value for the client in having the conversation.
What is on the horizon for you?
Another big driver for client listening programmes is horizon scanning. What is the next big thing that is going to be keeping your client up at night? This falls into cross-selling territory. It sits in the opportunity bucket. You ask this question because ultimately you want to spot opportunities to sell. Yet, clients are happy to discuss this. Why?
Much like the issue that brought them to you in the first place, the next big thing is likely to be something that they are going to need some help with. Perhaps it is something you have seen before and you can make sure they avoid the pitfalls. Maybe they are entering into new territory and they need a sounding board. Perhaps an issue that the client is grappling with is one that you are also finding tough. Working together might be a way to resolve it. Seen from this perspective, it is easy to understand what the benefits are.
What about the competition?
Another theme that comes up in interviews is "the competition". Firms want to find out who else the client uses and how they compare. This is surely just for the firms' benefit. We think this is one where thinking about the client is particularly important. There are benefits for the client – which is why they will share - however, phrased in the wrong way the question can fall the wrong side of “self-orientation” and annoy rather than assist.
The truth is often clients will see value in this question. Maybe you are more expensive than the competition and they want you to understand that for certain pieces of work you just aren’t in the running. The benefit here is that you won’t try and push for it, making their life easier. Most people don’t like to be chased or have to say no.
Closing the loop
A theme is starting to emerge from this article, have you spotted it yet? When we think about client listening from the client's perspective and we ask what the benefit is to our client, we can begin to see that in order for this benefit to be felt there needs to be action. Not only that, the feedback loop needs to be closed.
If we go into client listening thinking client-first, firm-second, then whatever feedback is received can be evaluated in light of how it can be used to better serve that client. The feedback loop might be closed off by this action, however, more often than not, the best way to do this is to tell the client what changes have been made and make sure that what you have done aligns with their expectations. Do this and your clients will not only see and feel the benefits of client listening, but they will also be knocking on the door asking for more.
How do you get partners to buy in? You show them that it is less about them and more about the client.