The instability and uncertainty of recent years has compelled many organisations to re-evaluate where their business is going and take steps to anticipate how to survive and thrive in a changing and complex world. Having weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, economic turmoil and war in Ukraine, resulting in limited resources and higher prices, business leaders have had to be resilient and adaptable, while seeking new markets and new ways of doing things.
But how can organisations equip themselves to successfully adapt to changes in customer needs and behaviours? What can businesses do to gain the insights required to navigate change and uncertainty and prepare for the challenges of the future? Unsure? They should listen to their clients. Cultivating a strong client focused mindset can make a critical difference to business performance. Listening to your clients and others in your market, and gathering insight from your customers, suppliers, intermediaries, influencers and even competitors, will add an external voice and valuable insights to help you identify new opportunities, markets, competitive threats and support better business decision making.
Many executive boards suffer from like-minded and inwardly focused thinking. A cohesive team at the top enables clear strategic direction and a shared sense of purpose but, unless you practice client listening, you might be missing a trick. What insights can be gained from conducting qualitative interviews with clients? And how can it add value to a business? This article will explore the client listening process in more detail. What is ‘Client Listening’, exactly? What are the business benefits of embracing a programme of client listening to support business decisions?
Client Listening: Listen and Learn
Client listening is more than a measurement of customer satisfaction. Client listening is a key strategic tool that brings invaluable insight to the table. It involves having strategic conversations with your key clients and external audiences about their current and future needs, their priorities and challenges, what keeps them awake at night, what kind of solutions they are looking for and how well you are positioned as a business to meet their needs.
Client listening is all about the bigger picture, involving qualitative interviews with key decision makers by telephone, video call or in person, to develop a deeper understanding of the client’s strategic direction, priorities, needs and challenges. To get the best insight, client listening should be conducted by an independent person with the skills and experience to hold strategic conversations with business leaders. Having impartial, strategic conversations with your clients enables you as a business to listen, understand, anticipate and strive to meet and exceed client needs and expectations.
Commissioning an impartial expert or consultant to conduct a client listening programme enables your clients to be more open and honest than they might normally be with you, your business leaders or internal sales and marketing people. This is often the case particularly when giving feedback on their perception of your business, service delivery, areas for improvement, what you should do differently and benchmarking you against your competitors – and clients can request that their responses be treated confidentially or anonymously.
Listening to your clients is about connecting with them, paying attention to their needs and understanding how you can help them achieve their objectives. Client insight enables you to understand buyer preferences, anticipate client needs and identify your strengths and weaknesses in the context of market opportunities and competitive threats. It also allows you to identify what you can do better or differently and understand how you can add further value to clients.
Some Insights: The Benefits of Client Listening for your Business
Client listening can add more value and impact to your business than any website, sales campaign, sponsorship opportunity or event. Client listening is a key strategic tool that business leaders can use to help them make the right decisions, achieve business objectives and create a sustainable business.
Client listening is about asking the right questions, to the right people, in the right way. Listening to your clients will inform strategic decision making and, by exploring your customer’s strategic direction and priorities, you also strengthen your own strategic direction and choices. Listening to your clients helps identify any changes to their strategic direction, including plans for change in response to the current climate, uncertainty and anticipated trends in their specific market sector.
Listening to your clients will also help with collaboration, enabling you to work alongside your clients and customer groups to identify and anticipate their needs, priorities and challenges, partnering with them to develop sound solutions and become their trusted partner. It also helps to identify any problems and risks that indicate the client relationship is potentially breaking down and flag dissatisfaction that might cause key customers to go elsewhere.
In addition, client listening helps to identify potential product or service improvements or extensions and can help generate ideas for new products or services that resolve a problem and meet a customer need. For business start-ups, interviewing prospective clients will inform the critical business and concept development process. By embracing the client listening process, you can ensure that your brand, service offering and proposition resonates with the needs of your target customers and that you position your business as a credible solution to the issues and challenges that your customers are facing.
I have been delivering client listening conversations with business leaders for over 20 years and, in my experience, clients welcome a strategic conversation about their business successes and challenges and how you may be able to help. Client listening demonstrates a commitment and investment in your clients and communicates that you genuinely care about your clients and their success.
Consulting your clients demonstrates that they are valued, that you appreciate their perspective and that you are investing in the long-term relationship. Going back to your clients with a list of “you said, we listened” outcomes will deepen your client relationships and build long term value for both you and your clients.
Ultimately, building solutions to meet your clients’ exact needs and preferences helps to retain clients, protect against clients switching to your competitors and, in turn, will develop long term customer value and customer loyalty.
In Summary: Client Listening - An Invaluable Strategic Tool for Business Decision Making
As we have seen, client listening is an invaluable strategic tool that organisations should embrace to inform business decision making. Using an independent interviewer skilled in client listening is critical to helping translate insights into clear deliverables and taking action, promptly. Timing is also an important issue to consider. Client listening interviews are most effective periodically, often every 12 to 18 months. Conducting a client listening programme can provide invaluable insights around strategic direction and business challenges at key stages in your business growth and at the end of major client projects. Another useful application is to conduct client listening with potential clients, lost clients and unsuccessful tenders. Your harshest critics might hold the most valuable insights to help shape and transform your business.
Axentia – Lead, Transform, Innovate, Develop
Are you an organisation looking to gain valuable new insights that help inform better strategic decision making? Are you interested in developing a client listening strategy to build deeper relationships with your clients and help navigate uncertainty?
Axentia can help. Our team can deliver a client listening strategy designed to bring new knowledge and understanding that will help transform your business and drive growth. The Axentia team have experience in strategy, marketing and transformation and change leadership.
Whether you need help developing customer relationship management strategies, help attracting, converting, and retaining customers, or help delivering a comprehensive listening strategy, we will work with you to understand your challenges and develop solutions that drive demand and help your business thrive.
Jude Williamson is an Axentia Associate specialising in strategic marketing, business development, client development and client listening solutions to support business strategy, change and growth.