Can You Afford Not To Listen To Your Clients

Is your business consistently delivering value to its clients? How do you know?

With it costing up to ten times more to acquire a new client than to keep an existing one, can you afford not to find out which clients might be looking elsewhere and why?

Introducing a client listening programme to your business can seem like a daunting task. After all, it’s rather ‘Un-British’ to ask people what they think of us, but the business benefits of implementing a well thought out and robust programme to gather client insight far outweigh any discomfort you might initially feel.

What Is Client Listening?

Client listening is gathering insight from your clients by asking questions. It’s sometimes termed ‘client feedback’ but it’s also about looking forwards, so I prefer to call it ‘listening’. It involves not just looking at what’s happened in the past, but understanding what’s coming up for your clients in the future, as this could present opportunities for you.

There are many sources of client listening data – online surveys, Google reviews, other review sites, client interviews, or feedback given to your staff during calls or meetings, to name just a few. It’s important to proactively plan your client listening process so that it’s engaging for your clients and will yield the best results for you.

What Are The Benefits Of Client Listening?

 

  • It demonstrates empathy and integrity, shows your clients that they matter to you, and proves you are committed to building a relationship with them that goes beyond their contribution to your bottom line
  • You’ll be able to compare your brand promise against the client reality. You may say on your website and in your marketing messages that you’re responsive, proactive, add value to your clients, and are friendly and approachable etc., but how often do you ask your clients if that’s what you’re delivering?
  • Happy clients buy more from you, stay with you longer, and recommend you to others (which means free marketing!), so you need to identify your brand advocates and leverage their loyalty. Client listening exercises give you a goldmine of positive comments for use on your website, social media channels, and bids for new work – just make sure you have the client’s permission before using them!
  • Your marketing efforts will be more effective if you ask your clients what issues and challenges they’re facing in the coming year, and what topics are of most interest to them. This takes the guesswork out of developing successful campaigns
  • You can identify ‘at risk’ clients and bring minor niggles to the surface before they turn into more fundamental problems which could lose you the client altogether

 

But I Already Know My Clients Are Happy, I Have Low Client Turnover!

Do you really know they’re happy? I mean all of them. Not just the ones you’ve approached for a testimonial because you’re confident they’ll say positive things. 

Of course, it’s important to collect glowing endorsements of your business – they’re crucial for marketing purposes.  It’s also vital that you’re brave enough to approach the clients who might not be completely satisfied. It’s their feedback that gives you the best opportunity to grow and improve. As Bill Gates famously said, ‘your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning’.

This may be a controversial opinion, but low client turnover doesn’t necessarily mean your clients are happy. Looking for new suppliers is a time consuming and sometimes costly process, so many businesses will remain with their current provider for ease. 

You may think that’s okay, but ambivalent clients can easily be swayed by your competitors if they make the switching process easy. You need to find out how your clients are really feeling and turn what looks like passive acceptance of the status quo into a positive and ‘sticky’ relationship.

What Do I Do With The Insight I Gain?

Put simply, you should act upon it! 

It’s pointless collecting feedback if you’re not going to do anything with it, so you must close the loop – both externally and internally. Doing so will demonstrate that you do genuinely care about your clients’ views, while also showing integrity and empathy – both of which are crucial to developing strong relationships.

Closing the loop internally means acknowledging and rewarding people for a job well done – if a team member has been singled out for praise by a client, tell them! And if, as does happen on rare occasions, someone receives less than glowing feedback, you need to address that too – as uncomfortable as it may be. 

How Do I Get Started With Client Listening?

Set The Parameters

Decide how to seek feedback from your clients – online surveys might suit more transactional clients, but telephone or face-to-face interviews would suit longer-standing (and/or higher value) clients. Then you need to decide who will carry out the interviews, who will be able to view the results of the surveys, and how you will deal with any issues that are identified.

Start Small

Identify an area of your business to run a pilot from, and seek the views of the clients who have interacted with that part of your organisation. This will start to give you an idea of client sentiment towards your business, your areas of best practice, and those which might need some improvement. 

Manage Expectations

You need to establish a baseline. If you don’t currently survey your clients, you have no basis from which to measure improvement. Your pilot results will give you an early indication of sentiment towards your business, but to gain a fuller picture you need to expand your programme to reach more clients. 

Start With The End In Mind

Think about what you want to learn from the client listening exercise, and this will give you the basis for your survey questions. Use a mix of question types – quantitative questions are great for gaining data for statistical purposes, while qualitative, open-ended questions will help you gain a real insight into your client’s views of your business. 

It’s no longer enough for businesses to rely on their technical expertise to keep and attract clients. Buyers want an excellent experience and are often willing to pay a premium for it. You need to know what your clients are thinking and feeling, and regular, structured client listening can help you to achieve this.

Anna Lake is an independent consultant specialising in client listening programmes, she can be contacted via email at anna@annalakeconsulting.com 

Article by Anna Lake

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