You know that if you want to build a truly great practice, you’ve got to give clients what they want most–an exceptional level of service at each and every step. While advisors are well aware of this fact, they too often ignore their own business practices and procedures for delivering a great client experience. As a result, they wind up disappointed with their level of success.
The solution is to start treating your business as a business. That means making smart choices regarding everything from how you use technology to the vision you create for your firm’s future–always with the overall goal of creating a consistent, high-quality experience for your clients. From my experience working with advisors around the world, I can recommend five strategies that will help ensure your business fires on all cylinders.
Communicate your systems and processes. You’ve got to deliver great client service consistently–or else it stops being great. To ensure consistency, design and document systems and processes for delivering the client experience, as well as the internal tasks that support that experience. In other words, write down (or blueprint) your procedures in great detail, step by step, and update them whenever you make a change. If you don’t, the systems you’ve created won’t really spread throughout your firm–they won’t be internalized by employees, which creates the risk that your clients will experience inconsistencies in service.
By crafting repeatable systems and processes, you create a defined experience for clients and for staff. When you document those systems and processes, you ensure consistency and increase the overall value of your firm.
Which areas need to be systematized and blueprinted the most? When it comes to client-related duties, the big areas are client acquisition (your processes for referrals, alliances, group presentations, etc.), client service (see my article “How to Be a Wealth Manager” from the December 2005 issue for an effective step-by-step consultative process to serve clients), and client communication (the frequency with which you meet with clients and how those meetings are organized, plus e-mail and other forms of communication). In terms of internal business systems, look to document your hiring practices, employee evaluation and compensation, firmwide metrics and measurements, internal communications, and compliance and recordkeeping procedures.
Deliver exceptional service. One big way to differentiate yourself–and boost the bottom line–is to provide service quality that makes clients say “Wow!” That doesn’t just happen, however. It requires the right approach. For example, by offering multiple services (such as financial planning, estate planning, tax planning, etc.), you’ll be seen by clients and prospects as someone who can simplify their financial lives–and that’s quite a big deal to the affluent. In fact, nearly all clients who were offered three or more services (96.6%) said they were satisfied with their advisor, according to a study by Prince & Associates. But satisfaction fell considerably–to just 39.9%–among clients who were sold just one service (see “More Is More” sidebar). As we all know so well, happier clients are much more likely to send referrals your way.
Just More Isn’t Enough
Of course, you can’t just offer more services. You’ve got to deliver them exceptionally well. That means several things. First, you must be reliable–making promises, keeping them, and keeping them on time. Similarly, clients don’t want negative surprises. To that end, you should seek your clients’ feedback on service issues to head off potential problems. If something bad does occur, make contact with clients right away to show you’re on top of it.
Another “softer” aspect of great service is your overall warmth. This goes beyond simply being polite or courteous. Your clients want someone who empathizes with them–who feels “in the game” with them. Moreover, that applies not just to the principals in a firm, but to the entire organization. To show empathy, start by being a superior listener. That sounds obvious, yet I’m amazed by how many advisors think they have to constantly talk to their clients, sharing their expertise or opinions. The fact is, clients want someone who will spend at least as much time listening to their biggest concerns and needs.
You also need to get information to your clients quickly. Clients–especially affluent ones–want to know what’s going on with their investments and at your firm, and they want to hear it from you–not in the newspaper or from another advisor trying to court them. Being timely with information will help deliver the “Wow!” experience that will differentiate you.