A few months ago, a good friend of mine — let’s call him Jerry — met with an investment advisor at a local property-casualty insurance agency. He had used the agency for his home and car insurance for decades. So when the owner asked him whether he needed help with his investments, he was open to meeting, especially since he was looking for ideas about generating retirement income. 

A few weeks later, Jerry met with the agency owner and investment advisor. The next step was for the advisor to send Jerry a data-gathering form to fill out, along with information about the firm’s annuity portfolio. All in all, Jerry was happy with how the meeting turned out.

Then a few days became a week, and Jerry never receive the promised items. A week became two weeks and then a month and still no information. Finally, about six weeks later, a package arrived. Jerry felt let down. Eventually, the advisor e-mailed and then called to set up another meeting. But Jerry ignored his repeated efforts to re-start the process. In short, what started out as a promising interaction unraveled due to the advisor’s complete service meltdown.

Related: 10 customer service tips for marketing and sales

Welcome to to the brave new world of client service (aka, customer experience), where every interaction with a prospect or client holds great potential for either unalloyed success or tarnished failure.

This is what I meant when I wrote last month that advisors must simply own up to — and execute — their service responsibilities. When this happens, they’ll experience powerful  benefits such as more cross sales, better retention, more referrals, and, of course, a higher income.

But promising to do something isn’t enough, of course. Advisors need to address two additional — and pivotal — concepts: accountability and standards.

Accountability is important because advisors should resist making verbal commitments alone. They make both advisor and client feel good in the moment, but tend to vanish when life gets busy. To fully differentiate yourself as a service-driven advisor, you should try to make your commitments in writing — the ultimate way to hold yourself accountable.

customer service

Develop a plan for how you will onboard clients and maintain communication with them over time. (Photo: iStock)

What’s more, a written accountability statement must incorporate standards. These should detail quantitative factors such as timeliness, accuracy and the appropriateness of the service provided. Ideally, advisors should only commit to a limited number of standards, but they must be highly descriptive, relevant, and easy to track. Bottom line: when advisors commit to specific written standards, it will become totally obvious to clients whether they’re fulfilling their commitments or not. This is a good thing!

So how to hold yourself to a higher service standard? Consider these pointers:

Start by confirming the types and level of service clients desire at key touch points. For example, how exactly will you onboard new clients, communicate with existing clients and handle client anniversaries and milestones?

Define expected standards around routine client communications. For example, will client phone calls always be handled by a live person or by voicemail?. How quickly will you return calls? How long will you take to research and respond to technical questions? How many newsletters and/or e-mails will you send out during the year.

Consider how you will convey your service commitments, using a formal Client Service Standards document. When will you discuss these commitments and what will you do for the client if you fail to uphold them?

The point is this: Never become complacent about client service, either during the sales process or afterward. Holding yourself accountable to a higher standard will yield remarkable dividends for sure, but you’ve got to deliver every time.

See also:

Ethical sales practices are good for more than your conscience

How to become a magnetic advisor

What advisors can learn from Yelp

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