by Sarah Warlick, content director
Ever wonder what it’s really like to be a client working with your firm? That’s important information and try as you might, you’re simply not going to find out by looking at your own experience or that of your staff. The solution is simple: engage professional help to conduct client interviews that will give you the inside view.
“But why can’t we just ask them ourselves?” you may ask. The reason is that you won’t get a real answer. The rules of etiquette and social dynamics will override the urge to give a completely honest response to any direct questions you ask clients about your own performance, or even that of others within your firm. Human nature forbids giving a thorough treatment of minor criticisms – or even major ones – in this context, no matter how strongly you encourage honesty. It’s also awkward and uncomfortable for your clients and damages the relationship going forward, which is the last thing you want to do.
“What about emailing or mailing out a questionnaire?” Better, but still not a whole lot of value there. The inherent limitations of that sort of survey will leave you with a general idea about how well you’re doing, relatively speaking, but not with the nuance and detail that provide the actionable insights you really need.
Client interviews conducted in person or on the phone have the advantage of total flexibility. A talented interviewer can elicit far more information than any survey, following up on areas where there seems to be reticence or hesitation and providing help to hone in on issues that the client may have trouble articulating easily (without influencing the outcome). Done by a third party, the opportunity to vent or delve into your clients’ real feelings about your firm is a welcome one that ends up affirming what’s good about the relationship while bolstering the knowledge that you really do care about how well you’re serving their needs.
You have policies in place that are designed to create a great client experience, of course. Your goals are noble. They probably include:
- Building a strong relationship
- Being accessible and responsive
- Letting clients know you’re there for them, whatever they may need
- Answering questions and providing proactive suggestions to help them grow
- Delivering valuable advice that reflects a true understanding of their goals, needs and individual concerns
- Adding value to every engagement, with every service you offer, and charging a fair price for your work
- Relieving stress and replacing it with confidence that you are on top of all the issues your clients need to be aware of
That’s all theory, though. An experienced interviewer can uncover how well you’re meeting these goals in practice. It’s possible that the client experience is something different than your best intentions in one or more of these areas. It’s also possible that you’re doing well in areas that may surprise you. By selecting a handful of clients, both new and old, you can get a good feel for how your firm’s personality and performance comes across in the real world.
When you get a client’s-eye view, you position yourself to craft marketing messages that align with what you’re actually delivering, which leads to happy clients. You’re also able to shift gears and correct things you may not be doing as well as you had hoped. Sometimes the news is great and sometimes it’s a mixed bag, but either way, you’ll gain valuable knowledge that allows you to improve both your service and your marketing.