If 2020 was listening for the moment and 2021 was listening for the new normal, 2022 is going to be listening for the future. Claire Rason explains why.
I regularly talk to firms about their client listening programmes and over the course of 2021 different trends have emerged that I think are going to shape what information is gathered and what client feedback programmes look like in 2022.
Trend 1: The use of technology
Firms that have wanted to read across multiple interviews to get big picture themes have always struggled. Either one person needed to do all the listening or one person needed to read across all the transcripts. This inevitably slowed things down and meant that the programme could not be scaled.
Yes, you could send a survey to multiple clients, but you could only listen to a few key clients. This meant missing out on rich qualitative data for many and risked missed opportunities to expand clients or sectors overlooked in the selection process for interviews.
Whilst this delay has always caused frustration, it perhaps historically hasn’t had an acute impact.
That was until 2020.
2020 caused in a shift in the way we listened. Client listening became more informal and ‘in the moment’ as firms tried to navigate the ever-changing client landscape. Waiting for answers wasn’t acceptable. And listening to a few big players didn’t cut it either.
At the end of 2020 firms were crying out for automation. The solution? Using technology to provide insight into those big picture themes and to enable scale. Namely Artificial Intelligence which allows for instant conclusions that adapt and shift as the data builds and is updated.
Trend 2: Constant feedback and a shift away from fixed questions
Technology enables this second trend. Rather than removing humans from the process, technology means that client listening can become broader in scope, and it means that those listening can move away from fixed questioning. Gone are the days where client feedback exercises mirrored a market research exercise. This has always been our approach, but we have been struck in 2021 at how firms are quickly adopting it for themselves internally.
Clients expect their professionals to listen. They have seen that this can be done quickly and efficiently, often using video conferencing to schedule calls out of hours, or at a time that works for the client. Checking in once at the end of the matter to see ‘how we did’ isn’t good enough anymore.
This has meant that many firms are using a combination of external and internal listeners. Listening as a skill has been elevated and we are doing more and more training of business development professionals and partners so that they can actively listen to their clients. We enable them to comfortably go into these conversations without a script and being mindful of the pitfalls that could get in the way.
Trend 3: More holistic feedback
Client listening and client feedback used to be terms that were used interchangeably. Often client listening meant ‘the qualitative bit’. The meaning of client listening has expanded. At the start of 2021 in our Future of Client Listening Report, compiled with My Customer Lens, we described it as “a culture driven by a desire to understand the client’s perspective”.
In other words, it is more than just sending out a survey, or doing a round of relationship interviews, it is about bringing together everything that a firm holds on the client to truly understand them.
Firms are starting to think about the totality of touch points they have with their clients and think about how to capture feedback at each point. They are also thinking about how informal feedback, often more honest in nature than the formal feedback, can be captured too.
Trend 4: Stakeholders
The biggest trend in the global marketplace is stakeholders and a move towards a more systemic way of working and delivering goods and services. It can be seen through ESG initiatives, it can be seen in specific initiatives such as B Corporations which elevate the creation of value to stakeholders to same level as creation of profit to shareholders.
As corporate clients change their way of working, as employees are driven to work for purpose-led companies, and as individuals question who delivers their services, professional services firms are having to expand their vision to include stakeholders.
This is something for which we have long advocated – we described it as being a client partner rather than being client centric in our Are We Listening? report. We are now seeing this spill over into client listening programmes. Questions are not just being asked about the firm-client relationship, but are expanding to think about the client’s clients, supply chain and beyond.
Trend 5: Future Listening
There is a trend in some firms towards being future looking in client listening programmes. This links to a couple of trends that have emerged over the past few years. The first is that strategic decisions need to be made from qualitative data. The second is that Covid has made firms see that change can happen quickly. It has shown there are other ways of doing things. It has meant that clients want firms that are future fit.
Whilst horizon scanning has always been ‘a thing’, firms are incorporating the future at different points in their client listening programmes. They are recognising that they need to move from looking at ‘how did we do’ to considering ‘how can we do what you need us to, going forward’. ‘How did we do’ has become a constant and ongoing question. ‘What do you need us to do’ has become the focus of the more in-depth questioning.
Claire Rason is a director at Client Talk, a consultancy created to change the conversations professional services firms are having with – and about – their clients. Claire can be reached by email: email@example.com. Visit www.clienttalk.co.uk.