All too often we think the advisory process is going really well, when in actuality the client doesn’t feel heard or understood and is dissatisfied with the way things are proceeding. That can lead not just to missed opportunities, but to lost business.
Setting Up an Advisory Board
Some advisors create an advisory board to solicit ideas, gripes and comments from their clients. Jennifer Lazarus, principal of Lazarus Financial Planning in Durham, N.C., said she has had success with a client advisory council. “I invited clients who really ‘get me’ and who epitomize my ideal client,” she says. “It makes your best clients feel good that you have asked them for their input.”
When I asked how the council helped her as a leader, Lazarus told me, “They help me see what I’m not seeing myself. Their insights have been extraordinary—giving me the right words to convey what I do for them, showing me the way around a mental roadblock, brainstorming solutions to improve the client experience and helping me flesh out a new service I will launch in 2012.” (For more advisors’ comments about the value of advisory boards, see “Advisors Weigh in on Client Advisory Boards” on AdvisorOne.com.)
Soliciting Ongoing Client Feedback
Suppose you want to find out what a wider spectrum of clients are feeling, or you need more candid opinions than they may be willing to express in your presence. In these situations, a client survey can be an excellent tool.
You may want to put together a survey of your own, but unless the sample size is quite small, it’s no easy feat to handle the survey dissemination, follow up, analysis and action-step determination that are part of this process. A third-party firm can not only save you time, but provide greater objectivity and a degree of anonymity that may encourage more forthright feedback.
These considerations led me to Advisor Impact Inc., in Toronto. My interview with its president, Julie Littlechild, produced some unexpected insights about polling clients.
Olivia Mellan: Julie, what does your company do?
Julie Littlechild: We help advisors solicit client feedback through a personalized program that includes customized questions and reports, which enables them to create more engaged client relationships.
OM: Why is engagement so valuable?
JL: We’ve done a lot of research on what drives the deepest and most profitable relationships—“engaged clients,” as we call them. They are not only the most satisfied and loyal, but they drive almost all referrals.
We also found that one of the primary drivers in building engagement is client feedback. However, very few advisors actually ask their clients for comments. They may feel they don’t have time, or they don’t have the expertise to do it well, or there’s a bit of a fear factor: They’re not sure they want to know the answers.
We can fill that gap with a client audit.
OM: What is a client audit?
JL: This is our term for a client feedback program that is tailored to an individual advisor’s needs. Based on their particular objectives, advisors can choose the questions they want to ask.