Client interpretation questions

What is it?

In consulting projects, you will engage every day with various stakeholders from the client. Essentially, client interpretation questions are about understanding:

  • What the client says that can have an impact on defining the scope of your projects,
  • What the client implies about given choice or strategy,
  • What are the best analysis decisions to take in order to fit the client’s needs.

Question formats

  • Which of the following best summarizes the CEO’s concerns?
  • Which of the following statements best describes the thoughts of the CEO regarding...?
  • Based on the opinion of the Head of Department, which of the following statements is/are valid?
  • Which of the following statements best describes the CEO’s aims for the McKinsey study?
  • Which of the following analyses would be LEAST useful to address the CEO’s concerns?
  • Given the aims of the CEO, what would be the LEAST relevant question for the team to answer?


Topstar is a leading fashion retailer of clothing, shoes, make-up and accessories. It has around 400 shops worldwide, of which 200 are in the UK. Topstar operates through a franchising model, where shops are run by private independent companies and pay a royalty fee to Topstar. In exchange, Topstar designs the shops and supplies them with updated clothing lines, manages branding, sets advertising and promotions, and provides shop-owners with guidance on all standard operating procedures for running the shops. Even if this strategy enabled Topstar to dramatically grow in scale, boosting shop opening and customer base, customer numbers have recently plateaued, and this has resulted in slower sales and profit growth.

The CEO of Topstar has engaged your team to help better understand whether the recent changes in revenue and profitability trends are related to unsatisfactory shopping experience. He is convinced that the recent growth in scale came at the expense of a consistent shopping experience across all shops. He tells the team “I am sure that the responsibility of the current slowdown lies in poor delivery by the shop owners. I recently visited 5 shops in different countries and 3 of them did not fully apply our policies ensuring consistency in shop layout and pricing policies. This is disorienting our customers and pushing them to seek out our more and more aggressive competitors”.

Which one of the following answers BEST describes why the CEO has engaged your team?

  1. He wants help in implementing a coherent and consistent brand image and shopping experience across all shops.
  2. He wants to identify the causes of the inconsistent shopping experience across shops in different countries.
  3. He wants to validate his hypothesis that an inconsistent shopping experience in different stores led to declining revenues and profitability.
  4. He wants to overhaul the set of policies and standard operating procedures imposed to shops in order to guarantee a consistent shopping experience.


Approach these questions using our established method. Two aspects of our method are particularly relevant:

  1. Read the question. Pretty straightforward, asks for the reason of the engagement.
  2. Scan the answers and underline key words. Do not spend more than 10 seconds doing this step. The purpose is just to be as quick as possible in finding the right part of the introductory paragraph.
  3. Go back to the text and quickly jump to the relevant part. More than 50% of the paragraph is useless or only marginally useful. Precisely reading the essential sentence will be enough to answer the question.
  4. Go back to the answers, crossing out the wrong ones:
    1. This answer may be true, but it does not illustrate the purpose for the engagement of your team. The CEO did not call the team to advise him on branding or design, but on understanding the causes of the downturn. FALSE
    2. The purpose for the engagement of your team is not understanding the causes of the poor shopping experience, but the causes of the downturn. FALSE
    3. The purpose of this engagement is finding out whether inconsistent shopping experiences across stores led to the current downturn. TRUE
    4. Again, this answer could be true, but it is not the purpose for the engagement of your team. The CEO did not call the team to redesign policies, but to understand the causes of the downturn. FALSE

Tips & Tricks

  • Highlight keywords in all answers. Prioritizing the right words and sentences will save you a lot of time.
  • Cross out wrong answers. You will often find that at least 2 answers look correct or almost correct. At this point go back to the introductory paragraph with the two “almost right” answers in mind and pick the right one based on the true meaning of the introductory paragraph.
  • Beware of the “sensible answer trap”. Sometimes answers contain implications that look rational and sensible. However, if the client did not say it, they are not the valid answers.

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