As you’ll read in my upcoming column in the July issue of Investment Advisor (“The Death of the Rainmaker”), we believe that client service is the “heart” of successful independent advisory firms: client service forms the impression that clients have a firm, and great client services drives the referrals that create firm growth.
The “key” to great client service is great client service people. I know this probably sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many owner-advisors just don’t seem to get it. The reality is that no matter how great an advisor they are, the majority of every client’s contact with their firm will not be with them as the firm gets bigger: it will be with their employees. If those employees create a bad impression—are brash on the phone, are argumentative, don’t follow up, etc.—that’s how that client will see your firm.
Consequently, we devote much time and effort screening and hiring the employees who will interface with clients, and then training them to deliver the best client service possible. Here are the five qualities we look for in great client service people, and then, once they are onboard, training them how we expect them to act with the firm’s clients.
Trait 1: Emotionally Intelligent
This is probably the most important quality for people who work directly with clients—and probably the hardest thing to teach. Good client service people manage their emotions well: they stay positive, composed, and focused on the client and what he or she needs at the time. They don’t get defensive, and don’t take client moods or criticisms personally. Instead, they realize that their reactions to emotional or unpleasant clients can either make the situation worse, or turn it around into a positive experience for the client—and one that they won’t forget.
Trait 2: Accepting
Good client service people accept clients as they are. They don’t judge anyone or a client’s situation. They don’t bring their personal opinions to work, refrain from discussing their religious or political views and don’t react to any such views expressed by clients.
They know their job is to help all the firm’s clients, regardless of their personal opinions. They are equally open minded about changes within their firm. Again, their job is to represent the firm, not critique it.
Hopefully, management will seek out their opinions about potential changes: their experience with clients can provide an important perspective. But they must accept that when a decision is made, their job is to present it to the clients in the best light possible.
Trait 3: Conscientious
Few things make a firm look worse than failing to do the things you told clients you would do, when you said you’d do them—and few things leave a better impression than when you deliver on your promises. Good client service people remember what they’ve told clients they will do, and make sure they do it. They understand that their job is important (and it doesn’t hurt for firm owners to regularly tell them that they know it, too).
This awareness translates into good work habits: being organized, prioritizing tasks and allowing enough time to get their work done.
Trait 4: Self-Reflective
It’s important that employees who interface with clients have a good grasp of their strengths and weaknesses. They learn to rely on their strengths and improve in other areas. Moreover, like all good employees they take responsibility and hold themselves accountable. They don’t make excuses and never, ever blame the client.
Everybody makes mistakes. Clients will accept a gaff if the employee owns up to it, and fixes it. Failing to do so can create a very negative client impression.
Trait 5: Solutions Oriented
Good client service people focus on solving client problems, not simply making an effort or doing the best they can. They realize that the clients rely on them. Consequently, they are determined to provide what clients need: they are resourceful, tenacious, and even creative. Then, when situations arise where they can’t find a solution themselves, they don’t hesitate to ask for help or notify the lead advisors-owners that they have a problem.
As you might expect, it’s not easy to find people who have all these qualities and everyone will be stronger in some areas than others. That’s why it’s important to clearly communicate exactly what’s expected of client service employees, and to be sure they understand.
That’s also why training is essential to help them get better. The future of your firm literally depends on it: as firms grow, client referrals become increasingly important, and high-quality client service is the best way to drive referrals.