How Best Can We Listen to Clients?

Barring a few steadfast voices over the last two decades, the financial inclusion field as a whole has only started coming around to ‘client-centricity’ as compared to others in the development field or even commercial industries. There is an increasing interest from providers, funders, policy makers, and academics, to truly understand the financial service needs of clients and deliver services that respond to these needs. Financial service providers are beginning to appreciate that learning about their clients might make business sense. For example, in competitive markets, focusing on the customer and delivering services that are relevant to their lifecycle can help an institution create a brand that is distinct in the market.

Photo Credit: Sudipto Das

Everyone seems to agree that the starting point is to understand clients better. But these discussions become about methods very quickly.

Are quantitative tools better than qualitative? Which quantitative and qualitative tools are the best ones? These are all important questions, but there is a need to ask a more fundamental question: what is the problem that the business is trying to solve?

The research method can then be chosen based on its ability to answer the business question rather than on its independent merit. If an institution is interested in understanding the size of their potential market or understanding choices between two product features, quantitative methods might work better, while institutions looking to gain a nuanced understanding of their clients might be better served by qualitative methods. There are interesting examples of both methods being used together to bring a more holistic understanding of the issue, but money, time and manpower are key considerations when making some of these strategic decisions.

Sourcing insights is only the first step. Translating these insights into better delivery for clients (whether through better products, channels or overall customer experience) is an equally, and some would argue more, crucial element of delivering for clients. Do institutions need to liberate their inner client-centric DNA or mutate their genetic code to infuse client centricity into their DNA? This relates to the question posed by Ignacio Mas on the CGAP blog recently, "where the next big innovation in financial access will come from?"

CGAP, along with MicroSave, recently organized a Virtual Conference on “Clients Insights: How can Institutions Listen and Learn from their Clients” which was a rich discussion about how best to source client insights. You can read the discussion here. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on what is the best way to listen to clients and translate those insights into action.


------- The author is a financial sector analyst at CGAP.

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