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What if You Let Your Clients Build Your Business?

Scott's Column

You think you know what clients want, but do you really?

We all shake our heads vigorously in agreement when someone says that to have a more successful business, you need to design an excellent “client experience.”

We might not know exactly what that means, but with a little digging we learn that client experience is the sum of a client’s perceptions of your business.  It encompasses the cumulative impact of every interaction a client has with your firm.

We further learn that to design an excellent client experience we must map the client’s journey.  This entails stepping into the client’s shoes and imagining their reaction to every touchpoint.  Then fine tuning every touchpoint until we get the reaction we want from the client.

Who could argue with that?  Seeing ourselves through our client’s eyes could only be a useful exercise.  But what if, in addition, we step out of our client’s shoes and just listen to them?


Let Your Clients Do Some of the Work

When we try to design an excellent client experience, we bring with us all our experiences, beliefs, habits, perceptions, and, of course, our egos.  We think we know what our business should look like, and we think we know what our clients want, or should want.

When we step into our clients’ shoes, we bring all our preconceptions with us.  When we imagine what they want, we interpret and filter everything in terms of the picture we have in our minds of how things should be.

There are two problems with this.  Things change, and not everyone sees the world the same way.  Maybe your view of how things should be was right at one time, but not so much anymore.  And there probably never was a time when your view was right for everyone.

What if you just let your clients build your firm?  If you suspend your own beliefs about how things should be and truly listen, your clients will tell you how they want things to be.

In effect, they will remodel your firm to suit their needs.  They won’t do the heavy lifting, but they will give you the blueprint.


Capturing the Information

There are a few ways to capture the information about what clients like, don’t like, and would like to change about your firm.

One way is to ask.  Surveys can be useful, but I find them more suited to collecting yes/no type responses and getting reactions to specific ideas you might have.  I find them less suited to stimulating open-ended responses, which is where the valuable information lies.

A better way is to have a direct conversation with the client.  Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their feelings in this environment, especially if those feelings are negative.  But if you seem genuinely interested and open, most clients will provide valuable insights.

Another way is to form an Advisory Board consisting of a cross-section of your clients.  Advisory Boards can produce great results, but you need to be willing to put in the time and effort.

The best way is what I call “capturing the buzz.”  This entails actively collecting questions, comments, complaints, requests, and feedback from clients in the normal course of business.  If your team documents and shares the buzz, you will find a wealth of actionable information.


What Do You Do with It?

You can’t react to every bit of buzz you capture.  That would result in chaos.  You need to develop a way to organize it and find the nuggets.  Here’s a framework we use at our firm.

First, look for patterns.  Are there certain ideas or themes that appear frequently?  If so, you may have found an opportunity to satisfy a broader client need.

Then ask if the opportunity is one you are well-suited to capitalize on.  If the need and your firm’s skill set don’t line up well, you should pass on the idea.

Then ask if the opportunity is consistent with your firm’s vision.  Just because clients want something doesn’t mean you have to provide it.  Stay focused on your mission.

Then ask if you have adequate resources and bandwidth to pursue the idea.  There is nothing more frustrating for your firm and your clients than half-baked execution of a new idea.

Finally, ask if you are enthusiastic about the idea.  If you don’t approach your business with passion and energy, implementation of the new idea will be poor, and your clients will notice.


Let the Renovation Begin!

Encourage your clients to share their thoughts and desires about your firm.  Suspend all your preconceptions, truly listen, and document what they say.  The gap between their wish list and what your firm looks like today is your to-do list for 2022.

Get to work!