How Can Institutions Listen and Learn from their Clients?

26 March 2013

Client-centricity is the latest buzz word in financial inclusion. Beyond the rhetoric, financial service providers have to figure out what it takes to listen to clients continuously and to implement what they are learning in the form of better products, delivery channels, or overall customer experience. A first step for providers is analyzing the value of understanding clients and how they can incorporate what they hear in ways that yield actionable insights. Some providers have client-centricity baked into their systems, operations, and human resources. For others, it is a bigger stretch to put clients at the center of the operational model. 

These issues and more were the topic of a conversation among participants of a Virtual Conference, co-hosted by MicroSave. Lively debates yielded four main sets of recommendations for how financial service providers can listen and learn from their clients. 

First, taking a holistic view of the client, understanding the complex reality and lives of poor and low-income people, including the informal and formal tools they already use, will help uncover their underlying needs. In this context, it is important to look beyond the product and its attributes and seek to understand the underlying need to offer relevant solutions in the specific context in which the client operates. This approach can generate higher value for both clients and the financial service provider.
Second, it is key to listen to clients systematically and continuously. Listening to clients may sound merely like the “right thing to do,” but there are real business benefits that can accrue to financial service providers that adopt this approach, ranging from brand loyalty to new product development and the possibility of opening up new market segments. The real challenge is designing systems that make listening to clients “business as usual” in a continuous, systematic and cost-effective way. 
Third, before jumping into a new client listening endeavor, asking the right question and then choosing the most appropriate methodology is important. One of the main challenges is how to go about listening to clients and what to do with the information. There are clearly a myriad of ways to listen what customers have to say: surveys, focus group discussions and many other market research tools. Following the information gathering, it is just as important to ensure that the client feels that the service provider is taking appropriate action based on the customer’s thoughts and opinions.  
Fourth, unfortunately, many financial service providers relegate the understanding of their clients to be in the sole domain of the new product development or marketing departments. But being client-centric goes beyond products: it means integrating client understanding throughout the operations. Providers must invest in the systems, processes and human resources to enable client information to reach management in ways that are easy to understand and can enable decisions.
The more than 600 comments from 64 countries that helped generate these four areas of recommendations during the “Client Insights: How Can Providers Listen and Learn from their Clients?” Virtual Conference co-organized by CGAP and MicroSave, are available here. An overview of the main findings of how institutions can listen and learn from their clients is also available here