How to listen better than your competitors: tips and techniques for obtaining deeper insight

Understanding your clients’ wants and needs better than the competition is a source of competitive advantage.  So how do you generate this insight and do more with it than your rivals?

In this article we explore the most effective techniques for collecting and analysing the client voice.  We share with you our distillation of what really works; and pitfalls to avoid as well as the perspectives of the client feedback teams at leading professional firms.

Five top tips for building a best in class client feedback programme

1. Ask powerful questions

It may sound obvious but you need to ask the right questions to get insightful feedback.  Many questionnaires are too simplistic and clichéd to deal with the complexity of their client relationships and the result is superficial answers. The best questions should intrigue and at times challenge clients. It is always worth road testing the questionnaire with a handful of ‘friendly’ clients. This will give you a good idea of what you can hope to expect and how you can change things to make the process smoother and the insight deeper.

Understanding the emotional factors that drive the relationship with your client is key to improving their satisfaction. To truly grasp this you need your questions to explore your client’s personal needs as well as the business needs. As Julieanne Wilde, EMEA Senior Client Development Manager at Baker & Mckenzie explains “that’s something that I’ve had a lot of success doing, speaking to clients about what is important to that individual, and how we can support him or her to look good in that organisation. Because these are ambitious people that want to succeed in their organisations. And often we have tools that can help them to do that, that are very easy for us to share.”

A best practice questionnaire:

– Combines quantitative and qualitative questions

– Explores past performance and future opportunities

– Allows you to benchmark yourselves against internal past performance data and external data sets.

– Explores business, marketing and client service KPIs

– Explores personal views and needs, as well as those of the business they work for.

2. Use a variety of listening techniques catered to specific clients

The best programmes use a variety of techniques to get feedback, including face-to-face, telephone and online interviews.  The precise mix used will depend on the culture of your organisation, budget and ultimately what your clients are comfortable with.

If you are piloting client feedback, it is best to start with your Crown Jewel clients (we would recommend 20 to 40) who you should interview in-depth, either face-to-face or by telephone. We define ‘in-depth’ as a longer form interview (usually 45 minutes to an hour) that is much less structured and therefore more discursive.  Once this pilot has worked well you can roll out the programme to a much wider number of clients (ideally using a more easily scalable telephone or online system).

If you are looking to establish a fully comprehensive client feedback programme, we recommend combining annual reviews with post-assignment and mid-assignment feedback. Annual reviews should focus on the business issues facing clients and how to deepen the relationship. Shorter, sharper reviews after major projects or transactions can be a great way of taking the temperature of the relationship on a more regular basis.

3. Take a 360 degree view of your relationship with your client

imageFor considerations of time and cost, on the surface it seems logical to do one relationship review with an individual representative of the client. However, this is not necessarily the case, especially for large or priority clients. We have found that firms who are willing to dig deeper and speak to those at various touch points on the client side, are rewarded with a much more rounded understanding of the relationship. Ann Macleod, Global Client Listening Manager at Allen & Overy has experience of doing these wider reviews and the benefits that they bring “If we were doing a relationship review we could do anything between twenty and sixty interviews within one client organisation” This allows Allen & Overy to not only develop an overall strategy for that client but as Ann explains “with the right number of interviews, we can develop strategies for developing our relationship and business with particular product lines”.

4. Conduct innovative analysis

In order to maintain the momentum of a client feedback programme and get firm-wide buy in you need to be able to make the data relevant and interesting to a variety of parties. Three great ways of doing this are:

Segmentation. Cut the feedback data so the implications are analysed by each relevant sub-group, for example: client, fee-earner, service line, office, country, and sector. This enables fee-partners / management to see the results for the clients for whom they are responsible and to take the appropriate steps.

Regression analysis. Use regression analysis to identify the real drivers of loyalty.  This is a more powerful technique than asking people what is important to them.  They often don’t know or over-state the importance of hard, technical factors over softer issues.

Using technology. Technology such as online portals take the unnecessary time and cost out of analysing results. Meridian West’s Compass portal gives a fully comprehensive view of the health of client relationships, providing vital business development information to all employees.

5. Linking client feedback to employee feedback and financial data

Linking client and employee feedback can be incredibly useful when trying to find the root cause of particular service issues.  Client feedback will tell you the symptoms but not what is behind it from an operational point of view. A client may complain that their adviser doesn’t spend enough time at their premises. As an isolated piece of feedback this seems to have an obvious solution.

However, if your adviser reveals that the client is never there or too busy in meetings when the adviser does visit then the required response may be different.

It is also very powerful to link client feedback with financial data on the profitability of the client or a particular assignment using metrics such as  profit margin, charge out rate and level of write offs. This enables you to assess how to manage assignments in a way that delivers value to the client, but also delivers value to your firm through a good charge out rate, leverage and minimum write-offs.

If both of these are done you have an incredibly insightful data-set.  You can establish the link between good employee morale, satisfied clients and rising profits.  This really helps the marketing and HR departments demonstrate their contribution to the bottom-line.

By Ben Kent