It’s all about relationships
Professional services firms thrive on strong relationships. Those who discover and respond to client needs quickly, have a competitive advantage.
So our recent research asked firms how they would future-proof their client listening programmes. Managing Partners, Marketing Directors, and Client Listening Heads told a similar story. They want to listen to more clients more often and do more with what they hear. In short, they want more feedback intelligence.
The delivery of professional services is changing
According to McKinsey’s Global Survey of executives, in just a few months, the COVID-19 crisis brought about years of change in the way companies in all sectors and regions do business. It shifted customer needs and expectations and how firms deliver on them. As a result, professional services firms are now competing on the quality of the entire customer experience. Expertise alone is not enough.
In response, forward-looking firms are moving on from traditional customer feedback processes. Sporadic research and annual surveys are being replaced by an ‘always-on’ model of customer feedback. Behind the scenes, firms are shifting from a disconnected “I know my clients” model to a holistic “we know our clients” model. This shift is unifying the multiple sources of client-related feedback. It’s also making fresh and relevant insights available to all decision-makers. Ultimately, continuous feedback intelligence is fuelling future business growth and differentiation.
What is feedback intelligence?
Feedback intelligence is the shared actionable insights created by listening to your customers. These customers could be your clients, employees or partners – this page focuses on clients, but the same principles apply. The insights tell decision-makers what clients are experiencing now, and what they need and expect next.
So feedback intelligence is the output of a client listening programme. Raw feedback goes in the top, actionable insights come out the bottom.
But what firms are discovering, is that the traditional way of doing this doesn’t meet the demands of the post-pandemic world.
The barriers to scaling up client listening
So what’s stopping firms from listening to more clients more often?
Our recent law firm benchmarking study identified four common barriers that currently prevent many firms from scaling up their client listening programmes
Barrier 1 – disconnected feedback data is stuck in different silos
Client-related feedback is being shared in many different places and formats. As a result, it gets stored in silos scattered across the firm.
Barrier 2 – analysing and reporting on feedback is a manual process
Many firms are still having to manually review verbatim comments, which is a slow and subjective process.
Barrier 3 – Requesting feedback is a subjective process
Feedback often doesn’t get asked for because “now’s not the right time”.
Barrier 4 – Experiences are only seen in the rear-view mirror
Manual feedback analysis takes time. When it’s combined with periodic feedback, the insights lose their impact.
The business benefits of always-on client listening
While these barriers are commonplace, they can all be overcome. The solution requires a change in culture and process. But the shift doesn’t need to happen overnight. Feedback intelligence creates a flywheel, that over time builds momentum across the business.
It starts with improving the efficiency of the insight creation process. Creating richer and fresher insights makes reports more compelling. With a stronger evidence base, insight starts to replace assumption. As teams get on the same page, it becomes easier to align experiences across offices and business lines. Clients notice the change, and the volume of positive feedback goes up. This in turn adds momentum to the flywheel.
But what about the bottom-line impact?
In short, moving to always-on client listening helps firms protect and grow revenues. Having access to continuous feedback intelligence creates a competitive advantage by enabling faster and more informed decisions. These decisions lead to:
– stronger client relationships
– more sales and referrals
– a greater share of discretionary spend; and
– reduced complaints, and the protection of recurring revenues.
Benefit 1 – stronger client relationships
Always-on client listening gives you the opportunity to pick up and respond to issues faster. The same goes for discovering delightful experiences you can replicate. Furthermore, it provides the opportunity to learn across clients. For example, two or three clients in the same industry or business line mention the same thing. Now the other clients teams can hear about it straight away. All teams get an early heads-up, and the opportunity to proactively ask their clients about it.
Benefit 2 – more sales and referrals
People only refer services that have delighted them in some way. This delight comes from brands that consistently meet or exceed their expectations. This consistency is key. Before people refer a firm, they have to believe that it will deliver on their recommendation. To boost your word-of-mouth marketing, you need to see how often your firm delivers experiences worth talking about.
Benefit 3 – increase share of discretionary spend
Whether a firm is part of a formal or informal panel, the goal is to be the first choice for discretionary work. By combining feedback from across the client journey, you can see a bigger picture. Continuous feedback surfaces new needs faster. Not just the needs of that specific client. Trends can be spotted across business lines and client sectors.
Benefit 4 – reduced complaints, and the protection of existing revenues
In their future of CX report, PwC found that 1 in 3 customers will leave a brand they love after just one bad experience. 92% would completely abandon a company after two or three negative interactions. While it’s easy to dismiss this because “B2B is different”, that’s not entirely true. Every B2B client is also a consumer of B2C experiences. Post-pandemic, where B2C brands lead B2B buyers expect their service providers to follow.
To protect existing revenues, connect complaints data to your other sources of feedback. Analysing complaints data helps you to discover the root causes of a complaint. Overlaying feedback data then enables you to discover the ‘early warning’ signs. This makes it easier to identify and respond to issues before they become complaints.
“The Managing Partner and the Board have come to realise the importance of client reviews and testimonials. We’ve had a lot of clients mention that they’ve come to us because of our client service (word of mouth referrals) and because of the google reviews that we have.”
Marketing Director, Law Firm – Voice of the Client Benchmarking Study, June 2021
The Feedback Intelligence Flywheel
1. Always be listening
Traditionally, formal feedback has only been collected at the end of a client project. While this provides a valuable snapshot, actionable insights are being missed. That’s because feedback provides the richest insights when it’s fresh.
For example, the best time to ask about how clients found your firm, is at the start of the engagement. The best time to ask about how you can improve their experience, is when you still have time to change things.
Always be listening, means collecting feedback across the whole client journey using both formal and informal channels. This doesn’t mean sending lots of surveys. It means consistently asking 1 or 2 questions at different touch-points. For example:
While onboarding a new client – “what was it that made you choose us?
“When a project starts – “what would a great experience look like to you?”
Half way through a project – “how are we doing?”
You are probably asking these questions already. Future-proof client listening means asking all your clients and recording the responses.
2. Centralise the data
Clients are willing to share more feedback in more places than ever before. As well as surveys and interviews, they’re sharing online reviews, verbal comments and complaints. This isn’t just personal clients. Corporate clients are also getting used to rating services and writing reviews. Most likely your feedback data is ending up in different places, which makes it hard to analyse. Our recent survey across professional services revealed that feedback is most likely to be stored in:
– individual documents
– peoples heads and notebooks
– email inboxes.
To be able to spot emerging themes, root causes and new testimonials, you need all your feedback in one place. To start with this could be a shared folder, shared spreadsheet or Slack channel. Somewhere that everyone can save relevant documents, research and anecdotal feedback. From here, the progression is to a shared database that makes text analysis easy and scalable.
Future-proof client listening means having a single source of truth. One central place where everyone goes to find client-related insights.
3. Automate the analysis
Unstructured verbatim comments provide the richest insights. You discover what’s happening on the ground, in the client’s own words. But traditionally firms have had to trade insight against speed. Manually analysing text feedback takes time. It also becomes subjective and inconsistent as more people get involved. The choice became “a quick survey” or in-depth research. But not any more.
Automating text analysis enables firms to use the most appropriate feedback channel each time. Industry-specific algorithms can analyse large volumes of text instantly. Using AI significantly accelerates feedback intelligence. It also increases consistency and ensures new themes get spotted sooner.
Once firms are benefiting from automated AI analysis, they can scale up their client listening. They’re no longer limited by the people available to review or tag feedback. Removing the resource constraints means feedback can be collected from more clients more often. This frees up the client listening teams to focus on the high-value work. They spend their time defining ‘so what’ and orchestrating firm-wide responses.
4. Give results context
How do you know what insights are significant? By putting them in a wider context. Insights become actionable when they can be benchmarked over time and across sectors, offices and business lines. This comparison is not just about satisfaction ratings. Benchmarking text analysis helps decision-makers to see the full picture by highlighting:
– inconsistent experiences
– emerging themes
– emerging client needs and expectations
– whether past decisions are improving current performance
– whether client experiences align with the firm’s brand promises
Feedback intelligence accelerates when firms have the ability to compare insights in real-time. As new feedback comes in, the big picture evolves. Firms no longer have to rely on guesswork and assumptions. Continuous feedback and automated analysis enables faster and more informed decisions.
5. Close the loop
Having collected, analysed and summarised your client-related feedback, it’s time to close the loop. Report back to clients and employees about what you’ve heard and what you’re doing in response. For your clients, this could be creating a regular section in your client newsletter that has a ‘you said’, ‘we did’ table. This consistent transparency has two important benefits. It shows the clients who are sharing feedback, that you are genuinely listening. It also shows the other clients that their peers are sharing feedback and getting a response. Both benefits build trust and improve future response rates.
Secondly, you must close the loop with employees. Share what you’ve heard from them and your clients, what you’re planning to do about it and how it may impact them. Also take the opportunity to celebrate success. Make sharing and collecting feedback a positive experience, by highlighting examples of great client experiences. Some of our more client-centric firms even have quarterly awards for staff who get the best customer or peer feedback.
Future-proof client listening means closing the loop with both clients and employees. This builds trust, drives up future response rates and creates a platform for celebrating success.
Summary – from disconnected data to shared feedback intelligence
Forward-looking firms are developing feedback intelligence by adopting an ‘always-on’ client listening process. This enables them to reduce decision-making blind spots by hearing from more clients, more often. They’re also able to do more with the data they collect.
To start realising these benefits, your firm can adopt 5 principles today:
– Always be listening
– Centralise the data
– Automate the text analysis
– Give results context
– Close the loop
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