While waiting to speak at a recent conference in Chicago, I heard Tracy White, the director of Janus Labs, talk about creating extraordinary experiences that can help advisors win clients for life. I wasn’t surprised to discover that this powerful idea came from Janus, whose cutting-edge thinking has impressed me ever since I wrote about their advisor wellness programs (see “Finding Balance in Your Busy Life,” Investment Advisor, March 2012).
White connected me with Janus Labs’ executive director, John Evans, Jr. To learn more about how an advisor can build unflinching loyalty, I asked them to explain the client-delighting strategy they call “WOW.”
Olivia Mellan: How do you define “WOW”?
John Evans: It’s a unique, emotionally engaging experience that goes beyond expectations and is readily recounted. Those last two words are perhaps the most important. They lead to stories that burnish the reputation of the advisor and create more business.
OM: Can you give an example of a WOW experience?
JE: Three years ago one of our advisors, Tetsu Tanimoto, had me come out to L.A. and co-present “The Art of WOW” with him. Our audience was a group of philanthropic executives interested in retaining high-value donors. I had just shared a story about how I’ve been inspired by a great UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, when Tetsu suddenly stopped the meeting. In front of everyone, he called Wooden, whom he knows personally, and left a message for him to call me.
Ladies and gentlemen, WOW!
OM: What inspired you to help advisors develop WOW experiences for their clients?
JE: As a veteran of one of the larger RIA firms in the Southeast, I’ve walked in the moccasins of the advisor. I know one of the most important things for advisors is to not lose their most valuable clients—the 10% or so who drive 90% of the business. I’m not suggesting that we give short shrift to the other 90% of clients, but this focus on the 10% is a compelling motivator, day in and day out.
In Janus Labs, we strive to anticipate and meet our advisors’ unrecognized needs. Seeing how valuable it could be, we set out to help them increase their ability to deliver great experiences for their top clients.
We partnered with Dr. Joseph Michelli, who has written best-selling books about Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks and Zappos and is an expert on the client experience. He introduced us to the concept of WOW. In collaboration with Michelli and advisors who are outstanding at client retention, we wrote “The Book of WOW” to help advisors cultivate WOW experiences (see sidebar on ThinkAdvisor.com for more on the book).
OM: What do advisors need to know about cultivating these experiences?
JE: First, adopt a mindset for WOW. Culture is not just the main thing for an advisor, it’s the only thing. When we expand our capacity for WOW, we improve the culture. We make clients want to sign up with us.
Be aware that a WOW for one person is not necessarily a WOW for someone else. Advisors need to determine the unique coordinates of each WOWee—the passions and interests of the individual client and their personality type. Are they a Driver, a Social or an Analytic? With Drivers, you want to be bold, be brief and be gone. For a Social, earmark time to talk about family and friends. With an Analytic, accuracy and thoroughness count above all else.
You also want to know the emotional dynamics of the WOWee. How do they want to be appreciated? Is it through acknowledgment of their accomplishments, by spending time with you, by doing some nice service for them or through tokens of appreciation?
And how do they want to be communicated with? Some prefer handwritten notes. Analytics like charts and graphs and reports delivered for them to review, while Socials may prefer a visit on the veranda with latte in hand. Drivers like emails of less than 12 words delivered before 7 a.m.
OM: One of the quotes I love in your book is “All business is personal” by Dr. Michelli. I truly believe that.
JE: Just as real estate is all about “location, location, location,” WOW is all about information, information, information. To gather information you can use in creating great WOW experiences, you need to establish the habit of listening when clients don’t think you’re listening. This will allow you to anticipate and satisfy unstated needs.
Another saying I like is a variation of the quote by Louis Pasteur: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” We say, “WOW favors the prepared mind.” When you commit to the art of WOW, all sorts of opportunities will open up.
OM: So a WOW doesn’t have to be elaborate for a client to feel special?
JE: Not at all. For instance, suppose you’re JW Marriott and I return to your hotel early one morning, exhausted after a long run. Before I can say a word, the bellman comes over and hands me a bottle of water.
We heard another example of an advisor who was turned away on a cold call. He happened to find out that the prospect was worried about an ailing cat. He bought a book on cat health care and delivered it to the prospect’s office with a warm note about his own experiences with a beloved dog. That opened the door to what eventually became a strong client relationship.
OM: Might a well-meant WOW experience seem intrusive to a client?
JE: The sine qua non of the art of WOW is sincerity. When you’re sincere, it’s hard to be inappropriate.
Tracy White: That’s why understanding the individual attributes, characteristics and preferences of each client is so critical.
OM: Let’s talk about anti-WOW experiences and how to salvage them.
JE: Service breakdowns and an unhappy client—this is what we characterize as anti-WOW. With the right response, we can catapult from an anti-WOW experience to a WOW experience.
Here’s an example. This advisor’s client was a super-Analytic. A portfolio performance report was incorrect by a small amount. For an Analytic, this is a major anti-WOW.
As soon as the advisor realized the error, he jumped in the car with the corrected report. En route he stopped off at Starbucks to get the kind of coffee she loved.
He showed up at her doorstep with the corrected report and the coffee and a sincere apology. Two weeks later, she introduced him to a friend with a substantial account.
When an anti-WOW happens, three S’s need to be deployed: be Swift, be Sincere and Show results. And throw in some coffee for good measure.
OM: How can an advisor get his or her team to develop a WOW focus?
JE: First, designate a WOW czar or czarina and empower them to think up and deliver WOW experiences. Many advisors aren’t good at doing this themselves; in fact, they shudder when I suggest it. You need to find someone who has outstanding emotional intelligence.
Second, start conducting weekly WOW audits. The WOW czar or czarina calls a meeting to talk about three to five clients or prospects that you can plan to WOW. In a WOW audit, it’s all about creativity. Who can come up with the best ideas for a WOW experience?
Third, start delivering WOW training sessions yourself to your centers of influence. Here at Janus Labs, we have a compliance-approved WOW presentation for advisors to deliver to their centers of influence: CPAs, estate planners, small business owners, philanthropic executives and so on.
OM: Some advisors may say, “How can I find time to create WOW experiences? I’m working flat-out already!” How would you respond?
JE: That’s why assigning a WOW czar or czarina is so important. Some firms have hired outside staff, even college interns, to focus on this vital function.
On our own team, we have a concierge whose job is creating WOWs for our sales directors to deliver to the advisors who are our clients. Advisors will ask our concierge to help them generate WOW ideas and experiences for their clients, including big life events like a first grandchild, 50th wedding anniversary or retirement.
At Janus, we want to help you make WOW a habit or a ritual so that it gets fully integrated into your practice and you get addicted to it. If you deliver just one WOW a week for the next eight weeks, it will make an unmistakable improvement in the trajectory of your practice. In the longer run, it can help you create clients for life.