Differentiating Yourself With Exemplary Service

By Craig J. Coffey

Internet pop-up ads. 1-800 numbers. Cold-calling salespeople. Mass-marketed financial planning models. Indeed, financial products and services are readily available commodities.

Moreover, because consumers have easy access to financial information, they often are inclined to be independent concerning their financial planning strategies. These 2 factors conspire to make attracting and retaining clients difficult.

In contrast, exemplary service is not a readily available commodity. For better or worse, consumers have been coarsened to not expect a high level of personal attention.

Therefore, if you have outstanding product knowledge and deliver it through an exemplary service model, you can differentiate yourself, attract clients and build long-lasting professional relationships. Exemplary service also exhibits the respect your paying clients deserve.

Exemplary Service

Think back to your best experience as a consumer. Perhaps your service provider practiced exemplary service and exceeded your expectations because you received a timely follow-up call. Or maybe you had your questions answered before you asked them. Or maybe you received a thank you note or gift. Or someone simply was on time. If it was a memorable service experience, then it was likely all this and more.

The following are examples of how to distinguish yourself through exemplary service.

Make timeliness a habit. Being 10 minutes early for every meeting sends 2 strong messages to your clients. First, it establishes that you respect them. Second, it suggests you are precise, organized and well-prepared–all good traits to have when you expect clients to trust your financial advice.

In contrast, being late by any margin establishes that you do not respect your client’s time. Barring a reasonable explanation (traffic, phone calls or a previous meeting that ran late do not qualify as reasonable explanations), your lateness leads someone to conclude that you are imprecise, disorganized and ill-prepared. And if you cannot do something so simple as control your own schedule, do you think a client can feel comfortable handing you a check for tens of thousands of dollars? I certainly wouldn’t. Remain focused on the client. At every meeting, ask questions that reassure clients you are motivated to help them. See the box for examples.

In general, encourage questions and seek feedback. Not only will this approach make the client feel comfortable, it will ensure you remain focused on their priorities.

When I am in the client’s seat, nothing turns me off faster than when a service provider is advancing his or her agenda at the expense of my agenda. Remember, this is about them, not you. Be forthright. When explaining a strategy, conclude with a statement such as, “Here are 3 reasons why you may choose to not implement the strategy we’re discussing: [insert relevant reasons].” To ignore potential negatives is an insult to your client. Do you expect the prospect to believe your strategy is perfect and without a possible downside?

I don’t trust one-sided presentations. Additionally, leaving out potential negatives suggests you are hiding something. Be firm in your conviction: You have a great (not perfect) strategy that can provide great benefits to clients. Say thank you. When a client recommends a new prospect to you, send a thank you note or gift. Recommendations are the most important part of a successful practice, and timely acknowledgement conveys that you appreciate the client’s endorsement.

No matter how comfortable I am with a service provider, I am sometimes concerned that a recommendation to a friend could sour. So, in addition to thanking clients, let them know you are aware of this concern and that you will do all you can to make the referral a positive experience. Distinguishing Yourself

If you think this brief list is too simple and obvious to provide market differentiation, then ask yourself why there is such a proliferation of professional ‘manners’ consultancies. In a world of voice recognition phone software, depersonalized seminars and canned sales tactics, the practice of exemplary service does not get much practice.

And while exemplary service is no substitute for substantive expertise and mastery of your profession, it is certainly a differentiator in a highly competitive market. In sum, always put yourself in your client’s position and treat him or her as you would want to be treated yourself (sound familiar?). Only then will you engender a loyal client base that appreciates your client-focused approach.

Craig J. Coffey, JD, Craig J. Coffey, Esq., is a senior financial representative with The Bulfinch Group, an insurance and investment firm based outside Boston, Mass. The Bulfinch Group Insurance Agency Inc. is a general agency of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. Coffey can be reached at ccoffey@bulfinchgroup.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, August 19, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.