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Don’t Ask Clients What They Think; Watch How They Behave

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Don’t Ask Clients What They Think; Watch How They Behave

It’s no secret that I love client feedback as a way to engage clients and grow your business. However, like any strategy or tactic, we also need to understand its limitations in order to use it effectively.

It turns out that most of the limitations, in this case, relate to the fact that those whose feedback you seek are human.

A Great Question for Clients

In a recent post I suggested you get a deeper understanding of what clients value by asking them to describe their one best client service experience. Further, I suggested that they couldn’t use you as the example, to help you understand what great service looks like outside the walls of your own industry.

I love this idea for two reasons. First it focuses clients on a real life experience so they describe something tangible. Second, because most people have a visceral response to this question they’ll likely tell you about an experience that had an emotional impact. If you can understand what created that emotional connection you’re on your way to a meaningful client experience.

The Limitations of Great Questions

Inviting clients into the conversation is also important when it comes to understanding what they think about the value that you deliver.  You might, for example, ask clients what is most important in the relationship they have with you. It’s a good question but it has its limitations.

The challenge is that people (being people) will often tell you what they think you want to hear without even realizing they’re doing it. In research we refer to this as ‘stated importance’.

Let’s assume, for example, you ask a group of investors what is important in a relationship with a financial advisor. From the outside, everything looks normal as the client responds to the question. On the inside, and at a completely unconscious level, something else is happening.

The brain is hijacked by good intentions and clients start to tell you what they think ‘should’ be important. If I’m rating my financial advisor, I might say that investment performance and expertise are most important. It’s less that clients are dishonest and more that they simply don’t always understand what’s driving their own behavior.

To understand clients at a deeper level, we need to focus on derived importance rather than stated importance. Instead of focusing only on the ratings that clients provide, you need to dig into the data and examine their responses in the context of the positive outcomes you’re seeking. You might want to know, for example, which dimensions of your client relationships are most closely correlated with engagement, loyalty or referrals. With that analytical spin on things, you might find out that working with an advisor who has shared values or takes the time to understand family dynamics is more closely correlated with engagement than investment performance or expertise.

Sometimes data tells a story that clients themselves cannot articulate.

Understanding Behavior

I do believe that there is – and always will be – a role for client feedback. It allows you to measure performance and gain deeper insights on what is most important to your clients.

I also believe that we’ll see real innovation in the way that we capture and use information from clients. Instead of asking clients what they want, we’ll watch how they behave. It’s that behavior that will highlight their real needs, concerns and challenges. And it’s that information that will allow you to support them at a deeper level.

Let’s take a simple example. Assume you want to create a client experience that includes some form of education. In particular you want to offer communications or activities that reflect the most important needs and challenges of your clients. You have, at a minimum, two choices.

  • You can provide a list of topics and ask clients which they would value the most. Not bad.
  • You can offer several topics and see which they actually register to attend. Now you’re talking.

There’s an important caveat with both of the above examples. The data is only meaningful if clients are presented a full range of choices.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that you work with families. One of the ways you support your clients is to write a weekly blog. Some weeks you focus educating clients about investments and you alternate with posts that focus on helping them create a vision for their life in retirement. If clients clicked more often on the articles that focused on their retirement, you could rightly draw the conclusion that a great client experience is tied to helping your clients envision a meaningful retirement.

What if, however, you didn’t realize that clients would have clicked even more often on articles that related to equipping their children to make better financial decisions had they been given the choice? You would have drawn a reasonable conclusion based on available information, but the most compelling information would have been uncovered by offering a broader range of choice.

How Will Client Feedback Be Disrupted?

This simple example is just the tip of the iceberg. You can see that client behavior (how often they click a link) can inform a meaningful experience. In future, however, I believe we’ll see a tighter integration of client input and a more personalized client experience. Further, I believe that we’ll the most innovative firms will find creative ways to gather and analyze client behavior to inform their offer.

United Capital is a case in point. That firm, in my mind, is an innovator in marrying client experience with data. For example, their Money Mind® Analyzer is an online tool that helps prospects and clients understand what money really means to them. Their Honest Conversations® exercise, similarly but at a deeper level, helps clients understand their views and plans for money.

In both cases, the firm is gathering in-depth information as part of a process that is engaging for clients. At the same time as they are adding value for clients, they are gathering a wealth of data on what is most important, how they think and, importantly, how they prioritizes. This kind of tool is infinitely more effective than simply asking clients about what they would value. If used with one client, the process would generate data to support an engaging conversation and a meaningful plan. Over hundreds of clients, however, the data provides the enterprise with a blueprint to drive deeper engagement. Smart.

While innovation in this space will be driven, to a large extent, at an enterprise level, you can begin to tap into these methods in your own business. At a minimum, your goal should be to gather input on what your clients see as important so that you can effectively tailor your client experience. As you do so, be conscious you aren’t limiting the value of the input by restricting the range of responses too greatly. One of the simplest ways to do this is to ask clients open ended questions as part of surveys or as part of your reviews. Track the information so that you can see the trends emerge.

For example, if your goal is to uncover the topics that would most resonate with your clients you might ask:

  • If you could solve one problem in your financial life, what would it be?
  • What is the one thing that you worry about most when it comes to your retirement?
  • What excites you the most when you think about retirement?

You get the picture. By asking questions that don’t limit response, you begin to paint a picture of what will be most valuable to your clients.

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