May 5, 2013

‘Time Saving Techniques’ That Add Value for Clients

2 ways to combine good operational efficiency and good service

In the first part of our post, we discussed the negatives that can arise in the ever-present drive for greater practice efficiency, specifically when too much is delegated back to clients.

The reason why all of this matters is that the steps we've taken for granted as being good for our efficiency amounts to negative hassles, burdens or outright poor service from the client's perspective. On the one hand, we improve the value and the efficiency of the relationship for ourselves by delegating the work to the client. And the other hand, we reduce the value and the efficiency of the relationship for our clients by giving them more work to do, for what is probably the same fee we charged them in the past!

And that's before recognizing the irony that many planning firms profess that their greatest value is helping their clients delegate work and responsibility—founded on a relationship that dumps more work and responsibility back onto the client in the first place!?

Of course, the reality is that for at least some business models, this consequence isn't entirely avoidable. If the firm works with more middle-market clients and requires a certain volume of clients just to survive, it simply may not be feasible to visit clients at their location of choice. Alternatively, if the firm charges on an hourly basis, clients may even prefer to do more of the data gathering work themselves, to try to make the time "on the clock" with the planner more efficient and save themselves some financial cost.

Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that if firms are going to effectively outsource these workloads to clients, it's crucial to at least recognize the implicit trade-off, not only in terms of how it makes things easier for the planner, but also about how it may make the process harder, or outright undesirable, from the client's perspective!

The Alternative to Client Outsourcing

So what can you do to improve the situation if you don't want to put these outsourcing burdens on your clients?

The first option is to turn the process from a cost into a benefit, from the client's perspective. For instance, if data gathering must either be a time-intensive process for the client, or a "cost" to the planner, then make it a benefit for both by turning the data gathering meeting into a "get organized" meeting that has a tangible client deliverable at the end! This kind of reimagined data meeting could even be something the planner charges for separately, making it valuable to the planner (by generating revenue) and valuable for the client (by providing a useful, immediate, tangible result)!

The second option is to leverage technology to eliminate the problem entirely. For instance, with the rise of broadband Internet, the challenge of travel doesn't have to be a problem for the planner nor a problem for the client; in the digital age, we can make it a video meeting and eliminate the travel "work" for everyone!

Similarly, with the rise of account aggregation for both advisors, and even consumer tools like Mint.com, the reality is that the entire data gathering meeting itself may soon be a relic of the past. While this isn't true for all clients yet, helping them get set up online can again be a value-add for the client, and a permanent elimination of future data gathering updates for the client... not to mention creating the potential for a far more proactive financial planning monitoring process in the future!

The bottom line to all of this: at the least, you should consider what work is being delegated to your clients in the name of your personal productivity and efficiency, especially if your ideal clients are themselves delegators.

But ideally, the real goal should not just be a decision about what work to retain and what work to delegate back to clients, but instead how to transform your planning process to eliminate the work entirely, or at least make it a positive value-add to your financial planning experience!

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