Client Talk is a human-centred consultancy. We focus on the people elements that make or break strategies. We advise our clients where behavioural change is needed to support a firm’s growth. It might seem strange, therefore, that this blog is about technology. Don’t worry, we are not about to morph into a tech company, however, technology can be a great enabler. Professional services firms that are using it well are reaping the rewards, in all areas of their business.
Artificial intelligence is driving behavioural change and, ironically, enabling deeper conversations with clients.
In our opinion, now is always the best time to be thinking about client listening, but NOW really is the right time, for two reasons.
The first is Covid. Covid has demonstrated the truth of the assertion that we live in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world. What people (clients!) want is constantly changing. We need to make sense of what we are hearing fast. Another impact of Covid-19, has been the need for empathy. Listening is a way to build empathy and that has become an expectation from clients now.
The second reason is hybrid working. Business has lost its watercooler. To an extent, in bigger firms this was already the case. However, whereas pre-Covid people would share informal feedback at lunch, or over coffee, or in the lift, these “moments” are now more formal and fewer between.
We are entering another period of change for our clients: do we know what they want? Our teams will be working differently: how is that impacting our clients?
Triangulation of data
Triangulation of data is the use of multiple methods, or sources of data in qualitative research to develop a more comprehensive understanding. The idea comes from the social sciences but marketeers use it to.
Client listening is all about gaining a comprehensive understanding of our clients. We can see how the data (we are unapologetic about calling it that – see below) could be enhanced by triangulation. For example, by asking different stakeholder groups about the firm (clients, referrers, former clients, alumni); or by asking different people with the same client organisation for their views; or by using different people to ask the questions.
We can also triangulate our client listening by using and comparing different sources of data. We have written before about the need to think about informal feedback.
Relationship-based or strategic?
Client listening offers many benefits and these benefits can often be grouped into two: benefits which benefit individual client relationship; and strategic benefits.
When we focus on relationships, we think about individual clients (maybe many people at one organisation) but individual clients. The aim is to get as much information as possible and this tends to drive a qualitative approach (interviews/conversations).
When we think about strategy, our focus tends to be inward looking. On the firm. We want to answer a specific question. This tends to drive a quantitative approach (surveys/closed questions).
We believe that we can, and should, use qualitative data to drive strategy. Why? The information is richer and more nuanced. There is less room for bias. It’s available to everyone and can be analysed quickly.
Yes it’s data
And this is why we are unapologetic about calling feedback "data". Thinking about feedback as data helps mindsets to change. It helps to get professionals doing things differently with feedback. It doesn’t mean you lose the emotion or the sentiment. It means you open up your questions and find out more.
So where does technology come in?
If we truly want to make strategic decisions from qualitative data, we need to be able to analyse all the different opportunities that we have to understand our clients. We need to be able to link that back to the organization.
Feedback comes in from many places. What technology is great at is pulling information into one place and sorting it. Artificial intelligence can then go further and pick out themes and sentiment. Together this can help firms to answer questions such as:
what are the big issues that all my clients are facing?
how have our clients views changed on this topic?
what are the fees at risk if we don't do this?
how can I engage with my client better?
how can I be sure I have the most up-to-date information when I go and speak to my client?
Artificial Intelligence helps firms make sense of unstructured feedback data fast. This enables firms to ask more questions of clients. More open-ended questions. More informal questions. The answers become more focused on what the client wants to talk about, rather than the traditional approach of asking a list of questions. That is music to our ears.
We use coaches to conduct our client listening because coaches are trained to listen. They let the clients speak. They are non-directive. They think about what they are hearing and they don’t just rattle through a list of questions. This makes for a better conversation. It builds more trust. It builds more empathy. Ironically, technology means that this human-centered approach now also fits with firms who want to conduct interviews at scale and who need to read across hundreds of client reports fast.