The wealth management firm Aspiriant believes the client experience is so important that on its website everything else is labeled just that: everything else.
Aspiriant gets what most advisors do not. The delivery of a superlative client experience is the last frontier when it comes to differentiating one advisor from another.
As consultant Randy Fox, a founding member of the non-profit Advisors in Philanthropy, observes: “It’s a critical element that most advisors overlook. It’s a differentiator, a trust builder. It shows clients that you care, honor and respect the relationship. Financial advisors are a dime a dozen, they’re everywhere. This is providing something that says: ‘I’m not like everybody else.’”
So what does it take to create what performance improvement consultant Rick Conlow, co-founder of Minneapolis-based WCW Partners, calls “moments of magic?”
It’s important to start, he says, with authenticity.
“You have to make a decision about what you stand for. You have to help others sincerely and genuinely with a caring approach and you have to do that consistently,” says Conlow. “You can’t just put a plaque on the wall with your set of values. The leader at the top has to walk the talk.”
Personalization is another key driver of the client experience.
“The difference between great customer service and mind-blowing customer service is personalization,” according to Dave Wakeman, whose Washington, D.C.-based Wakeman Consulting Group worked with American Express to expand services to its Black Card members.
As an example, Wakeman points to Four Seasons, which has used data from previous hotel stays to personalize the Wakeman family’s experience. When son Cormac was just two, staff wrote Cormac’s name on the bathroom mirror with stick-on letters and had a Curious George doll waiting for him.
“They have all this data on us and they turn it up a notch every time we stay there,” he adds.
The good news is that today’s competitive environment has started to produce some fresh thinking when it comes to ramping up the client experience at advisory firms.
David Kanani, founder and president of Kanani Advisory Group in Irvine, Calif., last March hired a “director of first impressions.” Among many other things, she greets clients with a handsome beverage menu and cookies baked fresh on site. In the sitting area, a TV cycles through slides that include a personalized welcome with the clients’ names.
“We want to make sure they have an exceptional experience. We are in a competitive business in one of the highest income regions in the country. We are within five miles of a lot of advisors,” says Kanani, who manages $75 million in assets. “I don’t want them to be happy. I want them to rave about us.”
Irvine, Calif.-based First Foundation Advisors, which manages $2.6 billion for wealthy individuals, has added several complimentary services to enhance its offering—among them, an initiative to create a female legacy; a program that screens and administers academic scholarships from client families; and a service that helps clients build, catalog and, eventually, pass on their art collections.
“Ultimately, we make most of our money on banking products and assets under management but if it enhances the experience it makes a better client for us,” says John Hakopean, the firm’s president. “You’ve got to get to that second and third iteration of the client experience today. Everybody can manage money. A lot of people can do planning. That’s why you’ve got to keep pushing and get into some of these niche categories to round out the client you want to work with.”
John L. Evans Jr., executive director of Denver-based Janus Labs, has created a program called WOW that is designed to drive “extreme” client loyalty. The premise is simple: It is the unexpected and thoughtful gesture that makes your clients realize that you offer not only professional advice but a level of service that seems unique to them.
“Practitioners of WOW are constantly looking for opportunities to surprise and delight. This kettle of fish is all about having information—high levels of emotional intelligence to increase a systematic WOW experience. It’s a race for creativity,” notes Evans, author of The Book of WOW, a proprietary publication that will become available on Amazon later this year. “It’s a huge positive you can deliver irrespective of what’s happening in the financial markets.”
One of Evans’ favorite WOW anecdotes involves an advisor who flew with his best client and the client’s twin daughters to Las Vegas on a trip. The twins were turning 21 that day and the advisor wanted to treat them to a WOW moment so he asked the Southwest flight attendant to sing happy birthday to them.
The attendant did him one better. When the airplane arrived at the gate, the pilot came out and escorted the women off the plane with much fanfare. Then, at the gate, they were greeted with a bottle of champagne and the “Happy Birthday” song.
“That’s a value burst,” says Evans. “You want people to tell your story. I promise you that guy will be telling stories about what his FA did on the flight to Las Vegas forever. That’s what you want. That’s a WOW.”
Here’s a sampler of what forward-thinking advisors are doing to take the client experience to the next level:
Empower Staff. Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons-style excellence can only occur when there is a corporate culture that fosters it. So when Mid Atlantic Capital Group in Pittsburgh adopted Evans’ program, Group CEO Tim Friday appointed a “WOW czar” from each of the firm’s eight work groups to propose WOW experiences.