How to build a successful client listening program
Understanding your clients requires a lot more than a feedback form, writes Sue-Ella Prodonovich.
Formal client feedback programs are a vital part of client listening, not least because they can underscore your firm’s commitment to clients in a very tangible and personal way. But they should never be where your client listening program begins and ends.
Instead, client feedback programs make the most difference when they are just one part of a series of processes that work together to promote an overall culture of continual client listening.
A transactional and relationship-based approach
Over the past 20 years, I’ve helped professional service firms gather intelligence about the sentiment of their client base. This includes intelligence about the overall relationship, as well as insights into individual transactions or projects.
My experience has shown me that by establishing a series of listening posts at different stages of a client’s engagement with your firm, you will be better able to pinpoint bottlenecks in your processes, identify small but impactful changes you could make, and monitor any changes in the relationship.
The 10 rules every firm should know about
So, along with formal face-to-face client interviews, here are my top 10 rules for gathering valuable client insights at different stages of a client’s relationship with your firm.
- Set the tone from the start. Welcome new clients to your firm within the first 30 days of your engagement and let them know you value feedback as part of your continuous learning. You may like to use this opportunity to include or reinforce your ‘client induction’ information.
- Interrogate your referrers. Ask referrers of work for any feedback they have from the client they referred to you. Again, for best effect do this within 30 days of receiving an introduction.
- Follow up on cross-sales. When you introduce a client to a new service or practice area within your firm, always call them to find out how things are going.
- Get feedback at every milestone. Get feedback on your deliverables, processes, communication and the lessons learned. In my experience these conversations often springboard into opportunities for future work or referrals.
- Involve credit control. Accounts payable staff can provide valuable intelligence about your client relationships by detecting any changes in how quickly you’re being paid. Ask them to expand aged debtor reports to include any verbatim comments clients make.
- Attack informal events with a formal approach. Casual conversations at client events often reveal great nuggets of information. To give yourself the best chance of getting these, arm all client-facing personnel with a kit of standard questions to ask in informal conversations.
- Debrief. Conduct team debriefs the day after client networking or social events. Gather and compare responses to the questions you’ve asked.
- Bring out the big guns. Give your managing partner or chairman a list of valuable clients they should also get to know and cultivate. But always ensure they have the intelligence they need to make a valuable contribution to the relationship, including a working knowledge of the client listening processes you’re following. Start by giving them five contacts and prioritise clients whose business has been consistent or growing in past 12 months. And, if you need help with exactly how to do this effectively, don’t be afraid to ask for outside help.
- Swap notes. Ask clients how they source feedback from their customers and what they find most useful. Client feedback programs shouldn’t all be one-way traffic and they probably have some decent insights about their own clients they can share with you.
- Don't be tacky. Never attach a feedback questionnaire to your invoice. EVER.
Sue-Ella Prodonovich is the founder of Prodonovich Advisory.