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CEX sells: Why service trumps sales for financial advisors

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Have you ever failed to return a customer call because you were busy with a sales proposal? Do you spend more time planning a new sales seminar than you do on holding client appreciation events? Does bringing on a new client excite you more than hearing from a long-term client? If so, you’ve fallen prey to the fallacy that an advisor’s most important job is selling.   To disprove this fallacy, let’s see what happens when advisors don’t receive the service they expect elsewhere in their business. Consider these real comments on an online advisor forum (company names doctored to protect the guilty):

  • “I called “Eternal Life” for service, and my call was directed to a Manila call center. The rep could not understand or answer my questions. I will never do business with this company again.”
  • “I can not believe how difficult it is to speak with “Check Engine IT.” I just wanted to know how much they’d charge for a life quoting system for my website. Service must be low priority or business must very good for them.”
  • “I recently tried to update my “CookedBooks Accounting” file and ran into an error. The company won’t accept service requests by phone, so I have to email them. But then they return my call when I’m with a client. They leave a voice mail asking me to email them back. I do, but again they call back when I’m in a meeting. Enough!”

These advisors were irate about the vendor’s poor or nonexistent service. Why? Because they viewed service as not only being important but also as part of a company’s ethical duty. When service vanishes, advisors feel betrayed and dismayed that something so fundamental is missing. The same holds true for financial services clients. When a consumer is disappointed at any point in the sales process or client relationship, sales or cross-sales evaporate, loyalty tanks, referrals go dry and negative reviews soar. None of these are good for financial advisors who want to survive long-term in this business. The better approach: Make customer service — or customer experience (CEX) — the driving force in your business, both pre- and post-sale. When you deliver an excellent experience, you increase your closing ratios, retention numbers and every other metric that distinguishes superior advisors from also-rans.

How to put CEX at the core of your business? Entire textbooks have been written about this, but here are a few fundamental ideas.

First, understand how consumers view the key touchpoints in their relationship with you. From initial contact to client update meetings, know what customers expect and then confound their expectations by going one step beyond. The idea of “delighting the customer” has been around a long time, but it remains an exceedingly powerful concept.

Second, for each touchpoint, collect data on your performance to see where and why failures are occuring. Then enhance your business procedures so that mistakes happen less frequently, if ever.

Third, balance excellent CEX with business profitability. In other words, if your goal is to withhold CEX in order to pump up short-term finances, understand you will undermine your staying power in this business. It’s a stark choice, so be sure get it right.

Fourth and finally, integrate CEX into your mission statement and ethics code. For the former, identify  three to four statements that reflect your beliefs about customer experience and write them down . For example: “I exist because of my customers. My customers are my future. Everything we do is customer service.” For the latter, make providing phenomenal CEX one of your main ethical obligations — not because it will help you sell more (even though it will), but because it’s the right thing to do.


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