AI - changing the face of client listening
Professional services is transforming. And - even before the pandemic, forward-looking firms were grappling with three significant trends. Over to Paul Roberts of My Customer Lens.
I’ll dive straight in. Our sector is being defined by certain irrefutable trends and, make no mistake, revenues and reputations depend on how we address them.
- The speed of business is accelerating - shifting expectations are putting pressure on firms to be faster and more agile.
- Services are being digitised - cloud-based technology is making advanced solutions available to businesses of all sizes.
- Business models are shifting from time-based to outcomes-based - new digital solutions are breaking the link between outcomes and the time required to achieve them.
Finding competitive advantage
Future relationships, revenues and reputations will depend on how firms embrace these trends. The firms that can anticipate change and respond quickly, have a competitive advantage.
PwC’s 2018 "Future of Customer Experience" report concluded: "If experience isn't your strategy you're doing something wrong. Customers are willing to pay more for the experience qualities that matter most to them". This principle applies whether your ‘customers’ are consumers, staff members or in this case, clients.
The client experience is not about what your firm does. It's driven by how you make your clients feel. If they feel frustrated by their on-boarding process, how invested partners are or how quickly their enquiries are handled, then future work may go elsewhere.
That’s because every B2B client is also a consumer whose expectations of good experience transformed during the pandemic. Two years ago, we were happy if online orders arrived in a few days. Now it’s frustrating to wait overnight!
These expectations of speed and flexibility are creeping into B2B relationships. Welcome to the experience economy.
The problem with traditional client listening
Professional services marketers are telling me that to keep up, their firms must listen to more clients more often and then to do more with the data. However, existing process and systems make that hard:
- Feedback is exploding - interviews, surveys, email, conversations, reviews etc.
- Data is all over the place, in different formats and in different places.
- Busy fee-earners aren’t consistently sharing informal feedback.
- Manually tagging unstructured text comments is tedious and subjective.
- Reporting on client needs and experiences takes a long time.
Opening the door to AI-powered feedback intelligence
Regular client listening is vital for keeping your finger on the pulse. The firms that are always listening stay ahead of the curve and differentiate themselves from competitors.
Client and market feedback is available from a wide range of formal and informal sources. AI enables firms to automatically collect, analyse and report on feedback at scale. This means data from traditional client listening activities like client interviews and surveys can be combined with informal feedback, operational data and research. Marketing and BD teams with access to this combined feedback intelligence can focus their time on making decisions - and taking action.
The World Economic Forum looked at this opportunity and concluded: "Professional services companies have an unprecedented opportunity to harness the power of artificial intelligence to augment people's ability to "do", "think", "learn" and "feel". By automating routine tasks, technology is freeing people to focus on higher-order problems."
“The client experience is not about what your firm does. It's driven by how you make your clients feel. If they feel frustrated by their on-boarding process, how invested partners are or how quickly their enquiries are handled, then future work may go elsewhere.”
Five ways AI is transforming client listening
1. Hear the real voice of your clients
Have you ever struggled through a long customer survey, full of multiple-choice questions that didn’t let you share what was really on your mind? In the past, these questions helped firms avoid the cost and time-delays of manually tagging unstructured text data. The trade-off was that firms only heard about the things they chose to ask about.
A form of AI called Natural Language Processing (NLP) has changed this game. You’re now free to ask open questions, just like in a conversation, and the text comments get analysed instantly and automatically.
Just two questions - “what do we do well?” and “what could we do better?” - can shorten most client surveys while giving clients the space to share their experiences and what’s currently on their mind. The NLP algorithms scan every comment looking for thousands of relevant themes, emotions, and keywords so you can keep up with evolving client and market expectations.
2. Measure all stages of the client journey
With AI automatically analysing the growing feedback volumes, client listening becomes a continuous process, rather than a periodic project. From pitch debriefs and on-boarding experiences, through to reviews and relationship interviews, feedback flows from all stages of the client journey.
Why is this important? It means feedback can be gathered and acted upon before it’s too late. This sends a powerful message to clients, showing you’re always listening and willing to act on their feedback. Compare that to the impression clients get if you only ask for feedback when the work has finished… when it’s too late to do anything about it.
3. Expand your sources of intelligence
Once your text analysis becomes automated, you’re able to reimagine what “feedback” looks like. We’ve seen marketing and BD teams discover additional feedback sources in client portals, email inboxes, market reports and now face-to-face events. Each can discover the ‘pulse of the market’.
The key to transforming all this disconnected and unstructured data, is having a single place to collect and analyse it. A place where you can quickly find the client insights you need, when you need them.
Achieving this single source of truth requires modern cloud-based databases that can handle unstructured data. CRMs and survey tools can’t do this job because they’re designed to handle predictable data and formats. They can’t aggregate or analyse the text data, which is where the big nuggets of intelligence are.
4. Benchmark performance within and across firms
NLP and modern databases provide the foundation for a holistic programme of internal and external feedback. The ability to instantly capture and make sense of any form of feedback, opens-up opportunities for real-time benchmarking.
Imagine seeing a real-time view of how your client feedback compares across practice areas, client sectors and offices. Seeing insights in context enables more agile decision-making as well as the ability to quickly identify improvement areas and internal best practices. Now imagine you can also see how you compare to the averages across similar firms. When data is instantly processed in a consistent way, decision-makers always have access to the latest client and market intelligence.
5. Track your brand and reputation in real-time
During lockdown, many firms had their BD teams calling clients to get the pulse of the market. They asked about evolving needs, how well new services were meeting those needs and how the firm’s response compared to their competitors. Sustaining this manual process became too expensive. But it gave decision-makers a glimpse of where, and if, their firm was standing out from competitors.
An AI-powered feedback intelligence system enables firms to monitor their brand and reputation but without the cost of constant phone calls or bespoke research projects. When firms are listening to clients across all stages of the client journey, it becomes easy to track whether brand promises match client reality. AI enables you to use open text comments to track how clients feel about your responsiveness, expertise, innovation etc.
The competitive advantage
Applying AI and related cloud-based technologies to client listening, can help firms gain a competitive advantage. By instantly transforming unstructured data into actionable insights, AI can help firms address three significant market trends.
They can accelerate their speed of business by keeping their finger on the pulse, improving decision-making agility, and listening to clients across all stages of the customer journey.
They can digitise their listening processes to expand their sources of client and market intelligence and then bring the real voice of the client into the heart of the business.
They can embrace outcomes-based business models by spending less time understanding client feedback and more time using the insights to drive thought leadership, new business opportunities and process improvements.
Paul Roberts is CEO and cofounder of MyCustomerLens, the always-on client listening platform for professional services firms. Starting his career as a direct marketer at MBNA, Paul has worked across professional and financial services, helping firms use customer experience to drive revenue growth.