October 1, 2020
Voice of the Client Research: A Tool for Uncovering Your Clients’ Pain Points
Advising business leaders in 2020 means helping them see through the fog of a pandemic, run their businesses from afar and keep themselves safe, not to mention sane. For the marketers who support advisors, it’s critical to stay abreast of those leaders’ fears and challenges, the shifting and often distorted market dynamics they’re facing, the opportunities they’re discerning, and even their personal travails.
Enter voice of the client (VoC) research, a tool for helping professional service firms get multi-faceted understandings of clients’ needs, expectations and most importantly, their pain points.
Built through client interviews, focus groups or surveys, VoC research arms marketers with a wealth of insights. It delivers individual insights that fuel business development, organic growth and client retention. And it produces broader qualitative data the firm can use to identify market challenges and opportunities.
The pain points unearthed in VoC research also fuel stronger thought-leadership research. After discussing their own business and professional challenges, interviewees generally get more candid and insightful on industry topics and trends. The resulting insights add depth, credibility and authority to a firm’s thought leadership – and turning it into a valuable business development tool.
Voice of the Client Research: Interview Best Practices
Research into client pain points aims to first understand what keeps the client up at night and where they seek guidance. The interview findings inform how the firm serves its client’s business, but the priorities and opinions of each individual interviewee matter too. Topics, for example, could be:
- Attitudes about where their business was, where it is now, and where it’s going
- Constraints that prevent them from accomplishing more, personally and organizationally
- What better outcomes would look like from both personal and organizational perspectives
- Assessment of the most pressing and emerging business and legal risks and opportunities
For example, when a law-firm client wanted to evaluate the ways it assigned and delegated work, we conducted interviews with clients that produced blunt insights on where the firm’s approach diverged from its clients’ business objectives. The firm responded by reconfiguring the project management process and tailoring roles and responsibilities according to project scope.
While pain points are the primary focus of the interviews, the conversations often lead to insights on where the advisor or firm have fallen short. The conversations can evolve into discussions of the subtleties that advisors can’t see from the outside – how a particular business’s needs are different than others in its industry, for example.
Clients may not be expecting those discussions. But business leaders always appreciate transparency and candor. And while the conversations occasionally get awkward, pushing through the awkward moments breaks down communication barriers. Knowing their outside advisors care enough to ask makes clients eager to open up.
Picking the right interviewer
It’s important to think about who’s asking the questions. Putting interviews in the hands of a trained researcher always pays dividends; aptitude in eliciting candor, probing for fresh insights and analyzing the interview content will ensure nobody’s time feels wasted. And interviewees tend to be more candid with a third party.
At the same time, the firm has to be a collaborator – connecting the interviewee with the interviewer, introducing the project and process through an initial email or phone call. The advisor or firm rep should also thoroughly brief the interviewer on any pertinent issues. For the interviewee to feel at ease, the interviewer should understand the relationship history and any hot button issues.
The right approach for your clients – and for you
There are several options for undertaking this type of research. Selecting one approach versus another depends upon the topics and objectives at hand:
- One-on-one, in-depth interviews often make the most sense for pain points research. There are situations where clients will dish frank insights if they feel they’re engaged in conversation with an audience of one and that person is a trained moderator who they can trust to report the conversation accurately – and with the right discretion.
- Focus groups, online or in-person, can reveal challenges and serve as forums for testing potential solutions. In some cases, it’s preferable to have a group of peers weigh in on business pain points in an iterative discussion, particularly if a firm wants to get a sense for differing priorities among executives in different roles. The CFO and CMO may be thinking about the same problem with very different levels of urgency, for example.
Working on behalf of a financial institution, Greentarget moderated an online discussion between attorneys, claims administrators and the judiciary regarding pain points in class action settlements. Each group provided a different level of awareness about our client’s capabilities (and letting them interact with each other enhanced the discussion). Our findings gave the client a road map for determining which of their services and audiences – clients and prospects – deserved greater focus and attention.
- Online surveys can also foster pain point conversations. Greentarget sees stronger data sets overall – with more decisive opinions – when we kick off a survey with a series of thoughtful questions around how respondents are feeling and where they are most desperate for guidance. In a recent survey about business operations in Latin America, we uncovered a business challenge that had not been directly addressed in messaging by any of the respondent’s outside counsel. It was easy for our law firm client to address the issue – but they didn’t know about it until we asked the right questions in the right setting.
Turning interviewees into advocates
Finally, engaging clients in one-on-one or small-group interviews, even surveys, can generate advocacy. There are a couple of important considerations for professional service providers here – and they should be considered in advance, lest an interviewee feel his or her insights were wasted or commoditized.
First, the firm should have a clear follow-up plan. Keeping in touch with the interviewees through individual outreach, even with just a summary of the interview content, can prove important in generating their long-term advocacy. Second, in cases where VoC research is part of a thought leadership initiative, the firm should have a clearly defined role for interviewees in the resulting article or report. In some cases, it may have an opportunity to quote them as experts.
Steve Jobs once urged companies to get as close as possible to customers, “So close that you can tell them what they need before they realize it themselves.” Getting to that level of intimacy takes more than treating clients to the occasional dinner – especially in the social-distancing era.
Asking the right questions, in the right moments, knowing how to process the answers and acting on the results helps a firm stay a step ahead of its clients’ needs.