POSTED BY: | September 7, 2016

Everyone knows the phrase, “before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”  This has been on my mind as I reflect on my recent transition, after 20+ years, from being a client-side to a supplier-side researcher. This oft-quoted phrase reminds me of the importance of demonstrating responsible yet informed empathy in order to achieve true success within the consultant-client relationship.

I now carry three key insights with me into the supplier-side world as I work with SMARI’s valuable clients:

Remember the situational pressures weighing on clients’ minds, which can often be driving their myriad of questions and concerns as they work with you to complete a consulting project.  Often, client-side researchers and sponsors are asked to provide internal stakeholders with various updates: levels of information and detail about the research process and results. Depending on the political position of the requester, the level of sensitivity of the research as it relates to political perceptions of success and failure, and the overall health of the client’s business itself, be it good or poor. These requests of the supplier-side researcher may sometimes be misinterpreted as a questioning the validity of the research process or the overall integrity of the supplier’s data. In reality, the client-side researcher’s superiors may be somewhat threatened by the perceived implications of the research findings, and thus feel compelled to question the validity of the research results to protect their own self-interests.

 Second, I try to listen intently to the client’s explicit and implicit requirements for research, to provide deeper insights and context, which could in turn provide client-side researchers and sponsors with a sufficient level of political capital to affect desired change.  It may be in fact be the case that my true understanding of the client’s precarious situation will become the impetus necessary to dive deeper into the data, with a firm rooting in the client’s situational context, to convert captured data into revolutionary insights which ultimately empower the client with the assurance to confidently lead the organization to make needed, substantial changes in the way they serve their customers.

 Finally, I try to maintain objectivity and detachment so I can give the client what they really need – a true picture of their situation, the risks involved in action and inaction, and the options which are most likely to lead to long-term success. It is very tempting, as a consultant, to always make declarative statements about the research findings that characterize the client’s situation in the most optimistic light possible. However, the client must nevertheless be told the truth, as we understand it, informed by a fair analysis of the data, presented to the client with a range of options to consider. Anything less than that delivery is a disservice to the client, even if we as supplier-side researchers run the risk of causing the client to be displeased with, or even outright reject, our recommendations for future actions.