Innovation and Client Listening

When we hear the word innovation we often think of big things. Words like change, technology, or disruption come to mind. However, what is innovation really all about and where does client listening fit? Find out below in the article that Client Talk’s Claire Rason produced for the PSMG Magazine Centrum.

To write this piece, I did some searching for a good definition of innovation. The one I aligned with the most came from a Forbes article written back in 2019. That article bemoaned the overuse of the term, which the author felt had decreased its usefulness. They went on to remind us that innovation is,


“something different that creates value”.

In other words, it doesn’t have to be something new. It can be incremental. Innovation is about service delivery, but it’s not necessarily about creating new services. It’s about creating value. Ideo is another good place to turn for inspiration on innovation and it defines it as


“the ability to generate and execute new ideas—incremental, evolutionary, or revolutionary—and it starts with creativity”.

Again, we see that whilst innovation can be about disruption, it can also be something smaller. It can be baby steps.

Design thinking – is legal design on to something?

Legal design is often held up as an example of innovation in the legal world. It brings together design thinking with the provision of legal services. The end result is something that delights stakeholders. The much-talked-about Juro Privacy Policy or the Tony Chocolonely Employment Agreement (both worth a Google!) are great examples of how contracts can be elevated and made user-friendly.

Legal design is about a shift in mindset. It’s about design thinking, but it’s also about moving away from a fear of failure and embracing the imperfect. It is about realising you are on a journey and that you don’t have all the answers.

Design thinking is at the heart of a lot of what you can find on Ideo’s website too. It is human-centered and about putting people first. It is a way to problem solve and be creative.

What can we learn?

The first stage in design thinking is to ask questions. It is about empathising with stakeholders. For professional services firms that means clients, but it also means employees and others who are touched by your business. This is where client listening comes in, and it’s not just at this first stage. The need to bring in diverse thoughts and perspectives is present at every stage. So, what lessons can we learn from design thinking that we can carry across into our client listening programmes?

1. Recognise that it isn’t just clients we should be listening to

Who should we be speaking with? As someone who works with firms to deliver (or build) client listening programmes, this is a question I am often asked. My response is always the same:


“What are you trying to achieve?”

Of course, once that has been established, it is common for clients to be high on the list of people to include. BUT, who else can shed light on what you are looking for perspectives on? People who chose not to work with you, referrers, and target clients are often relevant. What about those closer to home? What insights could your employees give you that you aren’t listening to?


2. Remember that asking questions is just the starting point


There are five stages to design thinking: empathise, define, ideate, prototype and then test. These stages can be used to approach a myriad of problems and opportunities. They also provide a model to get the most from client listening.


It is important to ask questions. It is even more important to act on what you have heard. Action might be simple. There might be a “quick fix” that means you do things differently and create value (we have seen this is innovation) without needing to go through the steps.


However, it might be that you need to do more. You might need to go away and think about what you have heard. You might need to brainstorm and come up with different solutions. If you come up with a “fix” then you might not get it right first time. You need to go back and speak to your stakeholders again.

3. Remember that we learn from failure


This simple truism is why design thinking has revolutionised the legal industry. It is the mindset of


“We might not get it right first time. Tell us. Help us get better.”

This ties in to learning above but it also goes deeper. We need to create cultures where feedback is continuous and where negative feedback is seen as something to be cherished, rather than something to punish or penalise. It is about not being afraid to go back and continue the conversation.


Innovation has become a buzzword. It has led many firms to look for the newest piece of technology, or to overhaul systems and ways of working. For the firms who truly get innovation though, it has led to something more powerful than that. It has led to increased curiosity, increased questioning and – more importantly – increased understanding of what those affected by our firms truly want.


Design Thinking: some useful questions


Client listening is all about curiosity and a big part of it is asking questions. Here are the five stages of design thinking, with a question that you might like to ask at each. Who should answer them? Remember the obvious and the forgotten.


1. Empathise: What are the needs of our stakeholders?

2. Define: What are our stakeholders looking for us to achieve here?

3. Ideate: What options are available for us to solve the needs of our stakeholders?

4. Prototype: What does a solution look like?

5. Test: Who can we go out to now and ask questions of?

This is an exercise you could do in your teams, or you might consider bringing someone in to facilitate. To find out how Client Talk can help you facilitate strategy sessions or to go deeper with your listening, why don't you book an introductory call.