A note from Kathryn Korostoff
Have you ever cringed when observing a team member interact with a client? Did a client ever call to let you know that a team member said or did something that fell short of expectations? Perhaps a client suggested coaching for one of your team members or maybe you overheard a conversation between a team member and client where their attitude or helpfulness didn’t meet your expectations. If so, you are not alone. Most market research managers have had one or more of these experiences.
However, what appears to be inability is often just inexperience. In most cases, researchers who are challenged in their clients interactions either haven’t been exposed to client relationship management as a concept, or just don’t have sufficient client interaction experience under their belts.
What if I could improve your team members’ client
management skills by just 20 percent?
Now I hope I can do a lot more than that, but let’s be conservative. What if just one in five client interactions went from being acceptable to excellent? What if one in five client memos went from being okay to authoritative and credible? What if one in five conference calls went from being standard to stellar? It can be done.
Why client management?
With all the importance placed on market research skills like questionnaire design, focus group moderation, and data analysis, I’ve always been frustrated by the lack of attention given to client management skills. The truth is that every market researcher that has any client interaction needs client management skills.
Market research is a process, not a single transaction. You’re expecting someone to manage a relationship that can last anywhere from two weeks to two years. Think about the hours your researchers spend on client phone calls, preparing and responding to client emails, and crafting documentation for clients. Even market research reports have an aspect of client management built into them.
Client management is a very specific skill set. The good news is that just like questionnaire design and data analysis, client management can be taught.
One thing I learned from my years running a market research agency is that market researchers are always under a magnifying glass. Why? Market research is expensive. Perhaps your clients have had bad experiences in the past or are wary of risk factors associated with their project. Either way, even long-term clients are on high alert for signs of project distress.
So what is a teachable skill that can help your researchers manage red flag-wary customers? One example is something we teach in our classes: the power of the preemptive strike. Learning to identify likely causes of client concern, and addressing them before the client does.
At the core of the preemptive strike is the ability of a researcher to put themselves in the client’s position. For example, if I were the client and I read this memo, what am I likely to find disconcerting? If I’m the client and I receive this report, am I likely to perceive something as contradictory or shockingly unexpected? If I’m the client and I’m on the receiving end of bad news, what are my immediate concerns likely to be? In all of these cases, the onus is on the researcher to anticipate questions and concerns, and to have options for addressing them preemptively.
Client Management Skills for Market Researchers: Our Newest Class
What is the ROI on client management skills? Let’s make up an example for a hypothetical researcher. We’ll call him Researcher Randy.
- How many client interactions does Randy have in a month? Let’s use twenty for the sake of a conservative example.
- Today, how many of those interactions are excellent? Let’s say half are excellent; that’s ten excellent interactions a month.
- What if Randy learned some client management skills that could improve that ratio to fifteen out of twenty (again, being conservative). So not perfect, but now 75% of interactions—phone, email, memos—are excellent.
- What do you think that is worth to Randy’s company? Is it the value of less time needed by a manager to handle difficult client situations? Is it the value of a more satisfied client? Is it the value of a more satisfied employee?
The brutal reality is that Randy may be a great researcher—but he never had client management training.