The act of asking clients for feedback is, at first blush, an entirely selfless act, a demonstration that you care deeply about your client relationships.

    Despite your best intentions, however, there is a time and place for client feedback.  And right now, I’d suggest we need to ask for client input instead of client feedback. 

    Suggesting client input over client feedback is a bit like saying you love one of your children more, because Absolute Engagement is actively involved in helping advisers do both. However, I think it's important to distinguish between the two to help you choose the right path for your business.  

    Let's start with a definition. 

    • Client feedback is all about how you’re doing. Are your clients satisfied? Are they loyal? What's the Net Promoter Score?   
    • Client input is all about how your clients are doing. How are they feeling? What are their challenges? What do they need right now? 

    Client feedback allows you to measure your progress over time but doesn't always tell you how to improve. Client input, however, allows you to intentionally design a client experience that is truly engaging, profound and meaningful.  
     
    Let me use a rather extreme example to make a point.

    Scenario One: Feedback 

    • A team member comes into your office and asks this question. "How am I doing?"  In the spirit of support, you say, "not bad, but there’s room for improvement." When asked how, you point out some issues with punctuality or attention to detail. The scene repeats itself and the team member is reassured that the response is more positive the following year. 

    Scenario Two: Input 

    • A team member comes into your office and says this. "I can see how much pressure you’ve been under recently. It can’t be easy. Do you mind if I ask you something? What are your biggest challenges right now? What worries you the most?" On the basis of that conversation, the team member comes back with suggestions to help you overcome those challenges. On some items, there is direct support offered, but for others, the support you need is beyond the scope of that individual’s job. Instead, the team member sends you an article or recommends another team member to help. 

    Neither scenario is bad.  In fact, both are important for different reasons. So, let's apply the same thinking to client experience.  

    If you're focused on gathering feedback, you might ask clients to rate their level of satisfaction with the relationship. If it's high, you'll pat yourself on the back (as you should). But if it's lower than you would like, it's hard to know what to do about it.  

    If instead, you ask clients for input on their needs, expectations, concerns and challenges, you have everything you need to design a client experience that will actually lead to higher satisfaction. More than that, you have what you need to drive deeper engagement. 

    So, with that as context, here's my thinking.  

    At a time when things are uncertain, when emotions are high and when change is constant, client input is more helpful and more meaningful than client feedback.  

    But remember, it’s not your clients' job to offer their input; it’s your job to ask and respond. Maybe then we earn the right to ask for their feedback. 

    Julie Littlechild is the Founder & CEO of Absolute Engagement, a firm that helps advisers use direct input and feedback from clients to drive engagement and growth.  You can learn more here. 

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