Client Listening: what to do with informal feedback?
For many years, the way that we listened to our clients fell into two camps: either we conducted some sort of survey, or we sent out someone to ask questions. Now, both of these approaches are valuable, and both can be used to fulfil different objectives. However, whilst the focus on formal feedback remains vital for an in-depth understanding of our clients, with the increased pace of change in all markets, firms have turned to supplement these formal approaches and started to think about how informal feedback can be used to inform decisions too.
In this article, we think about how best to capture and use informal feedback, and how it can help drive decision making, shift mindsets and supplement more formal programmes.
What happens to all the informal feedback?
Whilst firms have historically focused on formal feedback, there is a growing move to do more with informal feedback. Whether that be a conversation that someone has had at the start of a meeting, or a passing comment in an email, these informal snippets can be incredibly insightful, but often they go no further than the ears of the person that heard them.
If all these informal feedback nuggets were collected and processed manually, the volume of data would be overwhelming. This means that many firms just don’t collect any of it. However, in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world that we live in, having access to real-time data is more important than ever. It means that perhaps we should start making use of informal sources of feedback.
What informal sources of feedback are there?
Pretty much anything that we hear or read from a client outside of a formal “client listening programme” can be informal feedback. The key to knowing whether it is, or isn’t, something that needs to be gathered really lies with what we are looking to achieve and what we want to find out about. Sadly, so many firms don’t do this with their formal programmes, making the next step nigh on impossible.
How can we get on top of informal feedback?
Knowing what we want to gather doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with it all: here we give our top tips to dealing with informal data.
The starting point is to educate those people who are interacting with clients about why informal feedback is valuable and explain how it can supplement a formal programme. Perhaps you could create a traffic light system within your firm to categorise topics: from those you always want to capture information on, through to those that are less important. Once you are clear on where and how informal feedback could support your firm, you can implement a process to capture this information and to start to analyse patterns from it.
For firms to properly make use of feedback, they need to have a culture of gathering and acting on feedback. As with so many things, shifting from (or indeed to) a culture of formal feedback, to one of formal and informal feedback, can require significant behaviour change within the organisation. As with all change programmes, it will be important that everyone is brought along and that you have buy-in from the top.
There are things that you can do to create a culture where feedback is welcomed, and this is crucial if you move to a real-time model. Often the trick is to start small and work up. Start with the open doors. Use positive feedback, or reframe constructive feedback, to demonstrate how it is being used to grow the firm.
3. Use AI.
As we alluded to earlier on, the problem with informal feedback is that it isn’t self-contained. Even large formal programmes come with health warnings. The time it takes to read across numerous reports can slow down the process from gathering to acting. However, when you introduce multiple sources and large numbers of clients, it is easy to see how “real-time” might become an aspiration rather than a realistic target.
There are ways that a firm can use informal feedback without technology, and technology will only work if the data that is going in is any good. The age-old “rubbish-in, rubbish-out” problem of CRMs comes to mind. BUT, if your firm has done its homework, then AI can be used to make sense of the data.
Client Talk offers solutions powered by My Customer Lens. Here, using AI, it is possible to bring together different sources of informal data to produce real-time solutions for firms. This data can be used to help drive strategy in a way that a survey conducted 12 months ago can no longer achieve. It can also help give a voice to those clients that perhaps don’t, and who will never, form part of a formal client listening programme. Of course, AI has its limitations, but understanding early on what trends are, or what is perhaps on a downward trajectory, can enable conversations internally much sooner than might otherwise have been the case.
However, another health warning, whilst a fancy dashboard will impress some people, it won’t create change or support decision making if it isn’t something that people engage with. Professional services firms that value client feedback, and which make a concerted effort to collect it on a regular basis, have always come out on top. At the heart of this approach is a mindset and a culture that needs work and needs nurturing.
To find out how Client Talk can support you with your client listening programmes, formal or informal, click here.