Unify the voice of clients

Have you ever thought about your client feedback programme as an orchestra? When you're using all your sources of client feedback – both formal and informal – you hear a performance that's in perfect tune and harmony. But if your feedback programme is a series of seasonal projects, then you start to get a cacophony of disjointed voices – it’s time to unify the voice of your clients.
Imagine a symphony orchestra playing to a packed house, where every note was perfectly in tune and in harmony. What’s more you’re the conductor, choosing when to raise the volume and when to highlight the strings of an individual violin. Can you hear it?
Now, let's bring this idea into the realm of client feedback for law firms. We all know that hearing the voice of the client is the key to building successful and client-centric practices. 
But what if I told you that there's a way to transform feedback from individual musicians playing their own tunes into a harmonious orchestra? Would you be intrigued, or are you still imagining yourself conducting at The Royal Albert Hall?

The Challenge of Collecting Client Feedback

Your clients are sharing their needs, expectations and experiences in multiple places - interviews, surveys, directories, complaints, meetings, emails, events… the list goes on. This abundance of feedback is testament to having engaged clients, but each feedback channel leads to its own silo of data, reports and assumptions. The result is a cacophony of disjointed voices across the firm. 
Managing and analysing this feedback becomes a frustrating game of hide n seek. Someone in BD or Marketing has to manually find, gather up, analyse and report on these various sources of feedback. By the time they've gone through the process, the results are out of date and they have to start again. 
It's like being stuck on a hamster wheel when you know there's a whole world to explore. When you spend all your time crunching data, it’s hard to do fun stuff like creating actionable insights.

The muffled voice of your clients

The reality is that no matter how robust your formal research is, it's not close to the full picture. It's a point in time view, based on the clients selected to take part (and the sub-set of those who agreed/responded).
And that's the guts of the problem. The biggest source of client feedback is informal. It's the client emails and conversations that get shared amongst the work of doing the work. Client’s are singing out everyday. But only one person is listening and they’re not sharing the headphones.

What happens to this informal feedback?

  • It gets missed, because the work of doing the work seemed more important
  • It gets filtered, because the feedback doesn't match the world view of the recipient
  • It gets remembered, adding to that person's assumptions about their clients
  • It gets passed on, in a selective email to someone in marketing
  • It gets stored, in a CRM

Why informal client feedback matters

Does it matter that this informal feedback either doesn’t get captured, or gets stuck in emails or CRM systems where it can’t be analysed? After all, this is biased data, the very opposite of a robust research study.
Informal feedback matters for one very important reason - this is the client voice that is driving day-to-day assumptions, behaviours and decisions. It’s the percussion section of the feedback orchestra. It sets the rhythm for everything else that happens. 

Put another way, this day-to-day feedback shapes the lens through which lawyers see the client experience.

In every business, it’s the anecdotal comments and water cooler stories that drive behaviour, not formal research reports. Why? Because formal research reports are static pdfs and powerpoint slides. While Marketing & BD will pour over the results, the rest of the business either select the bits that match their world view or remain oblivious to it having happened.

Client research is just a piece of the puzzle

I don’t say this to diminish the role or importance of research. It’s a vital piece of the puzzle - maybe even the lead violin if I keep the orchestra analogy going. But if that’s all you hear, you’re missing the story that the orchestra is trying to tell.

Worse than that, you’re missing insights about the biggest driver of client experiences - the assumptions of your fee-earners. 

If I could pick one phrase that most prevents firms delivering client-centricity it would be “I know my clients”. When someone pushes back with “I know my clients”, if often means:
  • They’re not open to hearing new or contrary insights about clients; and/or
  • They don’t feel insights about other clients are relevant to their clients; and/or
  • They don’t see the need to share what they think they know about their clients 
If you’re not gathering these insights and assumptions, then you can’t compare them to more formal feedback sources. 
If you’re not gathering informal feedback, you can’t change the day-to-day behaviours that drive the client experience.
If you’re not hearing the informal voice of your clients, you’re powerless to change any gaps between your brand promises and client reality. 
When fee-earners are operating under different assumptions about what great client experiences look like, they deliver different client experiences. As a result, clients have different experiences with your brand, and hence tell different stories when asked for recommendations. 
It’s like each client is only listening to one member of the orchestra. As a result your brand - as measured by what people say when you’re not in the room - becomes confusing and undifferentiated.

Goodbye old assumptions hello fresh intelligence

So how do you move on from old assumptions?

Listen to the whole orchestra. 

Combine your formal research data with your other client voices. Start with the data sources often not considered feedback - and hence managed elsewhere in the business. 
For example, directory testimonials will show you what aspects of your brand even the happiest of clients don’t mention. Complaints data will show you which experiences your highly engaged clients care most about. 
Then progress to capturing informal feedback. Make it very easy for fee-earners to share what they’re hearing, and then celebrate their participation. Internal competition is a simple way to gamify feedback.
Create a dedicated email address to forward feedback to. Or create a dedicated notes field in your CRM, just for feedback. Of course, CRMs and Inboxes can be a blackhole for feedback, but if you have an always-on client listening platform it will be able to integrate with these systems and extract the data into a centralised feedback source.

Live stream the performances

Surfacing the current assumptions is a great starting point. From here you need to make new client insights easy to find and use. When you have a unified client voice, that always reflects the latest views, you have the evidence to challenge old assumptions.
Imagine being able to see live feedback insights as they come into the firm. You can benchmark new marketing campaigns, and compare the experiences of new and existing clients. You have an ‘early warning system’ that helps fee-earners to see how their clients are really feeling, while they still have time to respond.
What’s more, if this source of real-time intelligence also contains the informal feedback, it becomes easy to show fee-earners how new client insights are at odds with old assumptions.

Unify your clients’ voice - discover and respond to client needs faster

As firms respond to market changes, the need for agile evidence-based decision-making becomes stronger. When it comes to listening to the voice of your clients, this evidence comes from unifying all sources of client feedback - both formal and informal.
Only when you can hear the whole orchestra can you create the evidence base for agile and client-led decision-making.

Further reading

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