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Grant Thornton – The power behind the client voice

Client listening programmes have the potential to create long-lasting cultural change. At Grant Thornton, the client voice is central to the firm’s overall strategy. It is a journey that accelerated five years ago when Shaendel Hallett joined to lead the firm’s client listening programme.

Client listening programmes are instrumental in many firms, providing the insights needed to direct change. But all too easily they can become task-orientated, report-driven, focused on the negatives and less on successes.

When that happens, client feedback reports often languish on IT systems unread and ignored. Clients quietly wonder why they bother to give up their precious time as what they say is unlikely to drive meaningful change.

Grant Thornton has long been an early adopter of client listening programmes, running a programme for over a decade. It had, says Hallett, become a “bit of a beast” and was time for a rethink and reset.

The appointment of Hallett, previously Head of BP and easyJet’s insights team, working collaboratively with her Markets & Clients colleagues was key to support the firm on this progression. It is a journey that has seen client listening move from a service function push to one that is owned by the firm, delivered by Markets & Clients, putting the client voice front and centre of the firm’s strategy. 

So, what changed?

A major hurdle every client listening programme needs to address is the fear of sharing feedback. Professional services, unlike the sale of airline tickets or fuel, is based on relationships, and feedback can all too easily be misunderstood as criticism.

“A cultural shift is needed… one that demonstrates the value of feedback,” explains Hallett. “And the key to unlocking that shift is engagement and sponsorship from the senior leadership team. We spent a lot of time in discussion with them.”

It made the decision to turn off the old programme a little easier, even though there would be a nine-month gap before the new client voice programme went live.

“It was the right decision,” says Hallett. “Nobody asked ‘where is the client feedback programme?’. That was proof alone that change was needed.”

The starting point in designing any new programme is to ask, ‘what do we want this programme to achieve?’ and ‘who do we need to involve?’.

We knew for it to be a success it had to be owned by all teams, both fee and non-fee earning colleagues – we all have a part to play in delivering a great client experience” explains Hallett, “with the Client Insights team acting as enablers and helping to drive value.”

The programme today is balanced 30% towards understanding client service delivery and 70% on future needs and wants. It aims to give clients a voice at least once a year through online surveys alongside in-depth interviews for high-value or potential high-value clients.

A crucial element of the programme is the celebration of successes – it builds trust rather than fear into client listening. Careful use of language is adopted, moving from a passive to a more encouraging language.

The role of client voice champions across the firm – from partners to PAs – has been instrumental in creating a wider sense of ownership and importance, with the senior leadership team taking the time to explain their role and why it is important.

And as the programme has developed, Hallett and her team have created a data powered Client Insights Hub enabling teams to access feedback, opportunities and training needs in real-time.

The programme now informs strategy, maps out the client experience and shapes client decisions. So important is the programme that it is now referenced in Grant Thornton’s client engagement letters.

The client voice programme is also creating new opportunities for the team, with regular ad-hoc client surveys driving content and thought leadership programmes.

“This of course did not happen overnight,” says Hallett, “and is not entirely down to my terrific team. The responsibility rests with the firm, and that represents a major cultural shift.”

The Meridian West touch
Meridian West has been long recognised as the industry leader for designing and implementing impactful client listening programmes, and “have been invaluable,” says Hallett.

“Grant Thornton is my first role in a professional services firm, and it is very different to previous roles, such as easyJet and BP. Ben and his team have been able to explain the quirks of an accountancy firm, and shared challenges faced by other professional services firms – this alongside the support from my colleagues has helped me realise we are not alone.

Meridian West top tips

  • Invest in advanced survey tools to automate time-consuming manual analysis. This will free up your team to focus on high-value activities such as running workshops for the leadership team.
  • Don’t be scared of starting again. It is a mistake to keep tweaking out-of-date questions and technology. Start afresh with a new approach and new software.
  • Work with fee-earners to overcome the fear of feedback. Focus on opportunities for growing client opportunities.
Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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