Sometimes you have to dig for ideas.

Don’t ask clients for ideas. Do this instead.

How do you discover how to improve your service?

Client driven practices keep in touch with client needs, wants, and preferences and make adjustments as they change. So, it seems natural to ask clients what you can do better or what you can add to your business to do a better job for them.

One good reason not to do this is that it doesn’t reliably work.

We still ask the question in client advisory boards. Sometimes a board member will come up with a suggestion that turns out to be a great idea or may lead to a good idea. That is an unusual outcome, so we always go into it anticipating we will not get helpful guidance.

It turns out that question is pretty hard. Clients don’t know what’s possible. They may not realize how doing something differently may improve the experience. For that matter, you may not, either. They may not know how else your expertise can be employed.

There’s a great story about Henry Ford, almost certainly not true but repeated all the time in management and client feedback circles. When asked about the value of customer feedback, the legend goes, Ford is reputed to have said “if I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said faster horses.”

Here’s a more reliable way to discover how to add value. Come up with a list of ideas and have a structured conversation to critique them.

When you put a concrete idea in front of people, they have something to work with. It’s easier to say what you do and do not like about an idea that it is to have the idea in the first place.

And you are not necessarily evaluating just those ideas. Look for patterns in the responses. What kinds of benefits or advantages do clients find across the whole list of ideas? What similarities exist in the feedback across different ideas?

Add a few crazy options. Help participants release their creative energy and ask “what if?”. What if we sent a limousine to pick you up for each appointment? What if we took you all on vacation? What if we did away with portfolio reports?

By the way, each of those ideas has actually been proposed by some firms. Some firms have implemented them.

Being client driven is not necessarily as easy as asking what the best version of the experience of working with you would be. You will generally need to dig a little deeper. But discovering it will help make you the best possible advisor for that kind of client.


Have you asked clients recently about their changing outlook and expectations? If not, you run the risk of losing relevance. Download our free guide “5 Reasons to Listen to Your Clients (or Someone Else Will)” by clicking on this link:

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