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Reaching new heights in client listening

By Bertie Heppel

Reaching new heights in client listening

By Bertie Heppel
Client listening
Reaching new heights in client listening

A new Client Experience Maturity Benchmark from Meridian West allows firms to compare their client listening programmes against their peers. Bertie Heppel shares some of the Benchmark’s findings. 

In the ever-evolving landscape of professional services, client listening is a strategic imperative for any firm looking to keep up with shifting client expectations. Clients are after more than just technical knowledge – they expect the professionals they hire to have the wisdom to apply knowledge in a manner that is thoughtful, discerning, commercial and empathetic. 

As any seasoned marketeer or BD professional knows, getting fee-earners to wise-up can be no mean feat at times, and a good client listening programme can play a vital role in acting as a mirror that a firm can hold up to itself. 

But how common are fully embedded client listening programmes? What exactly is it that the most advanced firms are doing in this space, and what drives them? What are the common pitfalls faced by firms looking to conduct research about themselves? And is there even a benefit to all this?  

To answer these questions, Meridian West has undertaken an extensive survey of senior leadership and BD professionals from over 70 professional services firms. Using the results of this, we have created our Client Listening Maturity Benchmark (CLIMB), exploring how advanced firms are in their client listening journey in five key areas: 

  • Research: use of research techniques across different touch points. 
  • Analytics: Use of statistical models and analytical techniques. 
  • Technology: Use of technology and AI to automate, analyse and visualise insights. 
  • Integration: The research is used by stakeholders across the business. 
  • Impact: The programme is achieving commercial impact. 

What we have uncovered is that there is no one-size-fits all approach to client listening. Firms are using a variety of approaches and have myriad motivations when it comes to their client listening programmes. Nonetheless, there are three distinct phases in the journey to the top, with specific challenges to overcome at each stage. 

The ‘why’ of client listening 

Overcoming complacency and inertia can often be a challenge for firms before they even set out on their client listening journey. For some, a significant crisis like a poor Chambers ranking can spur the adoption of client listening. For most, however, there are three things driving firms forward in client listening: 

  • The risks. 64% of firms have a centralised, coordinated approach to client listening; 51% collect post-pitch feedback, and 53% focus on future needs and opportunities in great detail. When more than half of firms are conducting research in such a coordinated, commercial manner, those who don’t listen cede a competitive advantage to those who do. 
  • Falling costs. Cost was once a barrier to entry for smaller firms, but with enabling technologies such as dashboarding software and AI, more and more firms are investing into advanced programmes.  
  • The benefits. Above all else, there is a clear benefit to client listening. This extends beyond just improving client experience to recognising commercial opportunities and informing brand strategy. Most crucially, we can see that the most advanced firms in our maturity model are also the ones growing their businesses the fastest.  

Scaling the summit: the journey to client listening maturity 

It can take years to fully embed a culture of client listening. No two organisations are the same, and challenges and motivations differ depending on what stage they are at in the journey.  

Foundational firms articulating the value proposition 

Around 30% of firms are in an early phase, collecting feedback in an unstructured way but with an ambition to scale up their activities. The top challenge for these firms is reluctance from partners: 65% say internal stakeholders are reluctant to put forward clients for interview, while 47% of say internal stakeholders see feedback as a compliance exercise and don’t understand the commercial value. 

Getting stakeholders on board is a key concern for these firms, as without buy-in they lack the foundations upon which to scale up their activities. Often, this is a slow process, starting with friendly fee-earners first, and communicating the benefits to the rest of the firm as they happen. 

Intermediary firms - making sense of the data 

Roughly 50% of firms are in an intermediary phase. These have scaled up their programmes and begun using technology to help them aggregate and synthesise feedback insights, but often have started to become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of feedback they have to digest: 61% report finding it difficult to integrate all the data they are collecting, while 53% are finding the process manual and time consuming.  

Overcoming these teething pains means innovating on process and technology. Outsourcing or implementing AI can free up time to focus on high value analysis, while using dashboarding software can help bring together the insight into a single, segmentable view.   

Advanced firms - taking action to drive outcomes 

Roughly 20% of the firms in our survey have overcome these growing pains, fully embedding client listening into the way they operate. These firms are characterised not only by the way they have overcome these challenges, but by the way they have shifted focus to asking about future opportunities as well as past experiences. However, even these firms can struggle to close the loop, with 50% reporting finding it difficult to check whether fee-earners have followed up on action or opportunities arising from the feedback.  

Closing the loop means deeply embedding client listening into the culture of a firm – and this can be difficult. Tech solutions only go so far: the most successful firms are those who ensure responsibility for client feedback at the executive level and provide regular training and development to their staff to help them hone their client experience skills. 


The Client Experience Maturity Benchmark 

For CX professionals, it can often be hard to gauge whether they are ahead or behind their peers when it comes to the maturity of their client listening programmes. Our research has uncovered a lot more about how firms operate their client listening programmes, the metrics they collect, and the opportunities they have uncovered. 

We have consolidated this knowledge into our Meridian West’s Client Experience Maturity Benchmark – a free, simple to use online tool that helps you rapidly and visually understand the maturity of your client listening programme and the key areas of focus moving forwards.  


A version of this article first appeared in PM Forum Magazine.