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Discover Client Needs and Innovate With This Powerful Model

Dig into the untapped potential of client-centric strategies through the modest but powerful Before-During-After timeline model. Learn how to use this tool to improve customer experiences, develop new services, and stay ahead of competitors.

This Article at a Glance

  • Client-focused firms are more profitable thanks to higher client loyalty and being seen as premium alternatives due to their stellar client experience. .

  • One way to become more client-focused is to gain insights about your clients' needs before, during and after (BDA) they’ve used your service or product.

  • By understanding what “jobs” your customers “hire” your service or product to perform, you can discover new ways to market and develop it.

  • I’ve provided a free worksheet for collecting these insights through client interviews.

The Smiling Curve of Consulting

Woman holding up sticky note with a smile drawn on itWho could have guessed!? It turns out that most clients don’t value what you deliver, as much as how you provide it. Customers tend to put a high value on consultative services more than deliverables.

These high-value consultative services take place before and after delivery of the core offer. They include helping your client diagnose a problem, recommending solutions to them and later supporting your client in implementing them.

Many firms aren't aware of this. They keep emphasizing their core offer which is often provided by countless other firms at a similar price/quality ratio. It's an offer that is, in other words, commoditized.

The value of these consultative services that take place before and after the core service can be visualized using something called the Smile Curve of Consulting.

The smile curve chart with key value contributors circled.In the chart above, the vertical axis corresponds to client value and the horizontal to time. The circled types of services are the ones that bring clients the most value.

In this article we'll dig into how to transform client feedback into profitable new consultative services and products.

Talk to Clients and Employ Empathy to Gain Insights

Many of the decisions that successful customer-focused companies have made stem from a genuine interest in their customers and clients. The best way to garner such insights is by using empathy.

Empathy is one of the most potent tools to innovate and shape customer experiences. However, it’s an oft-misunderstood term, and confused with sympathy, a related concept. Sympathy means feeling with someone and offering support, while empathy means understanding their perspective without necessarily agreeing with it.

Empathy is a powerful human ability that designers rely on to create solutions that solve real problems. Design disciplines like UX and service design rely on empathy to understand people's needs. These design disciplines are the tools we use in shaping positive and memorable customer experiences.

Putting Insights in Context Using a Timeline

Sign with arrows pointing right.Designing great customer services requires understanding the buyer's context. In other words, what has led to the person turning to the company in the first place.

For this reason, we should view a service or product as existing on a timeline with prior and subsequent events.

Some of these events are under your control and within your purview. Others are outside your influence.

Before - During - After (you control During, customrs value all three)We can divide this timeline into three rough parts:

  • Before: Events leading up to someone working with you, or your firm.

  • During: What happens while working with you.

  • After: Everything that takes place after working with you.

To your client, all these events appear to belong together. Customers judge a company based on their whole experience, including parts the company doesn't directly control. You might think that’s unfair. After all, the company cannot control things outside their area of expertise or specialization. I don't disagree.

However, that’s not how most people think, and more importantly, remember an experience. That is due to these memories being episodic. Episodic memories are connected to people, places, and events and have a distinct beginning and end. We will return to episodic memory in the future and how it relates to creating client value.

Using the Timeline for Firm Growth

Woman holding tablet showing a chart.To grow your firm, one way is to research this timeline, especially what happens before and after, and look for needs that are going unmet.

These findings may inspire developing new services, such as building virtual reality solutions for immersive content. However, for any such strategy to work, agencies must take care to also reposition their brand to reflect their hard-won new capabilities.

By formulating these needs in terms of a framework called Jobs to be Done, you can develop new services for your existing target market segment and clients.

Finding the Jobs Your Clients Hire You to Do

Milkshake in a tall glass.Jobs to be Done, or JTDB for short, is a way to think about what you’re selling in terms of what problems it solves for your clients. In the terminology of JTDB, a customer “hires” a product or service to do a “job.”

The classic example for this is the milkshake. Its "job" might seem to be to quench thirst or feed its buyer. The creators of JTBD used this example to argue that people buy milkshakes from fast food venues and drink them in their cars while driving to work for various reasons. One of them to fight off boredom while being in traffic queues.

If we flip it around, we can talk to clients to find jobs in need of products or services. This is a powerful way to turn an insight into a client need into a service or product.

The Taco Friday Revelation

Taco with tomatoes, avocado and cornI recently heard of how one company applied JTDB. A Swedish food producer multiplied the turnover of one of their product lines by figuring out what job the products perform for their customers.

The company connected the dots between family life and their tacos and condiments. Through customer research, they had understood that stressed parents bought their products for the job of “creating space for family time.”

The food producer put these insights to the test by marketing their line of taco shells and salsas as a healthy (provided you add fresh vegetables) dinner option for “fredagsmys.”

"Fredagsmys" is a term which roughly translates to “Friday night cozy time.” It’s a modern Swedish cultural phenomenon, which typically involves a family having Friday night dinner together followed by eating snacks and watching animated movies.

The food producer’s product line now provides stressed parents with an easy way to feed their kids and enjoy some relaxing time together and peace of mind. Using the same formula, they added more products that performed the same “job.” The result was an increase in product line turnover by multiple factors.

If you sell services, this story might seem only remotely relevant to your work. However, the step from food products to services isn’t as long as you may think. Just like the buyers of taco shells, your potential customers are individuals with jobs (problems) that they need done (solved). What you need to do is identify those jobs and then communicate your services as performing those jobs.

The Before, During and After of Services and Products

Person tracing a path on a mapTo find these jobs, we use the before-during-after timeline we discussed earlier. Some of you might recognize this as an embryo of a customer journey map and that’s exactly what it is.

A customer journey map is far more detailed and is based on extensive customer or client research. It helps us design superior services. But we don't need that to discover unmet client needs. A simple before-during-after timeline is good enough.

Our focus at this point is to understand what goes on in the buyer's or client's mind at these three phases. This is typically done through interviews.

Many companies make the mistake of asking leading questions when they interview customers. Instead, try to ask open questions starting with “why?”, “how?” and “what?” and do not label things unless necessary. By that, I mean that you should not let your knowledge or judgment influence how you ask your questions.

I've provided sample questions below for inspiration. As you can see, it's a good idea to start with an open question and only be more specific if the person you're interviewing isn't saying anything substantial. We all need prompting.

Let’s dig into these three questions and what they can help us uncover and understand.

Question 1: What happens before your service or product?

Woman asking: Answering this question helps you determine what motivated someone to view your product or service as solving a problem for them.

What does this mean?

The more vivid these scenarios about client needs and goals are, the more relatable they become. Why it's a good idea to try and collect stories when you interview clients.

Answers to this question may also uncover why someone chose your product or service over another one.

Here are some more questions you can ask clients about this phase:

  • What were your most burning questions before you hired or began working with us?

  • In what ways did you imagine this project could go wrong?

  • What things didn’t work well before work began, in your opinion?

  • What were your expectations and hopes for the project’s outcome?

Question 2: What happens during your service or product?

Man saying: Answering this question helps you determine how someone experiences working with you or using something you’ve produced.

The “during” phase is what most companies focus on when they think about customer or client experience. It’s not pointless to do so, but what you learn here needs to be put in the context of what you have uncovered about the Before phase. You will need to know why clients make certain choices.

  • In the case of the Friday taco dinner, the During phase may focus on how usable the packaging is and whether the instructions are easy to understand.

  • In the case of the agency, much of the effort during this phase is spent keeping clients in the loop. This phase may be about how clear your communication is and whether your client feels in control and comfortable with the information they receive and the perceived progress.

Here are some more questions you can ask clients about this phase:

  • What questions did you have while the project was ongoing?

  • Were there any causes for concern as the project progressed?

  • Were there things that frustrated you while the project was ongoing?

  • What was the most fun about this project?

Question 3: What happens after your service or product?

Man jumping saying: Answering this question helps you determine how your client feels after you have completed the majority of the work, whether it met expectations, and performed its job well.

The “after” phase might very well be the phase that most businesses consider the least. That’s unwise. Human memory is fallible, and subsequent events will affect how we remember something. You might very well do a fantastic job, but something else didn’t work out afterward, and that will reflect poorly on the entire experience.

  • In the wedding couple example, this could be about showing concern and interest even after the venue has been paid. That’s why companies spend time and money sending Christmas cards or gifts to customers, even after project completion and there’s no promise of future business.

Customers want to maximize return on investment and get the most out of what they just bought. As an agency, delivering the app, website or campaign isn’t enough. That isn’t the actual “job.” The real job is the impact of the agency’s work. Smart agencies know this and provide services and support even after they’ve delivered something. At Leancept, we believe this is a critical part of creating lasting client value

Here are some more questions you can ask clients about this phase:

  • What were your questions after we delivered X?

  • What were your primary goals or desired outcomes for the project at this point?

  • How did you feel about the project and its results?

  • What were the highlights of the project and what we achieved together?

Interview Your Clients using the Before-During-After Model

Animal with big earsThroughout this article, I’ve been repeating one word: insights. These models aren’t useful unless you fill them with real insights. To put these ideas into action, you need to ask questions and listen to your clients.

Here’s how:

  1. Find people to interview. Load up your CRM system, Excel sheet, or contacts app and select at least five customers at random.

  2. Call them and book a meeting. Book lunch, or a meeting with each of them.

  3. Meet with them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say. Use the BDA Model Interview Template (see below) and its questions and fields to structure your interviews. By working this way, you can easily compare the results of the interviews.

There are more ways to interact with your clients to learn about their needs:

  • Survey

  • Interview clients

  • Analytics

  • Client dinner

  • Workshop

  • Client retreat

Survey, Interview clients, Analytics, Client dinner, Workshop, Client retreat

Meeting Unmet Client Needs With Service and Product Innovation

Once you have an idea of what your clients crave and miss, you can start thinking about how to meet those needs.

Answers from BDA interview, circled and pointing to ideas for opportunitiesGo over your notes of what your clients have answered, and look for patterns. Then think about ways to meet those needs.

Identified Opportunities: Better Price Overview and Thorough Risk AnalysisCreate a list of these opportunities and evaluate them for feasibility and potential.

As with all production innovation, creating a new service is a process in itself. If the services or products are complex, I recommend using something like the Value Proposition Canvas to better understand these ideas and then properly prototype and test them.

This process is extensive and beyond the scope of this article. Rest assured we will write more about this in the future.

If you'd like to learn more about this or need guidance, please contact us.

Value Proposition Canvas

Download Your Before-During-After (BDA) Model Interview Worksheets

The Before-During-After (BDA) Model Interview Worksheet is a tool that we’ve created to simplify in the collecting of insights from customers.

The worksheet is best filled in after an interview using your notes as the sheet is rather large. It offers a birds-eye view of the timeline and makes it easy to draw conclusions and innovate new services and products based on your interview notes.

You'll find this tool on the Knowledge page of this website.

This post originally appeared on the Bondsai Blog, the blog of Leancept's personal CRM, now known as Elately.

This article is available in multiple languages

Svenska 🇸🇪 SvenskaEnglish 🇬🇧 English
Article written by
Jakob Persson
Last updated
Originally published

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