Listening to and meeting your clients’ communication needs will make your firm stand out.

Independent financial advisors face an increasingly competitive landscape. One of the biggest keys to success in this environment is differentiating your firm from others that offer similar services. Unfortunately, advisors aren’t always successful in effectively presenting true differentiation to their prospects and clients.

Are You Really Offering Great Service?

For example, “great service” is one of those features often claimed by financial advisors as a key differentiator. They may even make this a central part of their overall value proposition.

Despite the fact that nearly 75% of advisors claim to offer great service, the reality is that many fall short. According to a study conducted by Spectrem Group, the reasons most investors with a net worth of $1 to $5 million leave their financial advisors are service-related.

  • The advisor doesn’t promptly return phone calls (61%)
  • The advisor isn’t proactive about contacting the client (53%)
  • The advisor doesn’t return emails in a timely manner (46%)

The key to client satisfaction and retention is to differentiate yourself by establishing an effective service model.

Defining Your Service Model

When it comes to great customer service, it really boils to one question: Do you make your clients feel valued? Everything else is noise. Even if you’re providing a good client experience, it may be worthwhile to review your current service model to see if there’s room for improvement.

The first step is to define what “great service” really means. Does it mean you return phone calls and email faster than other advisors? Handle paperwork more efficiently? Meet with clients more frequently? Provide coffee and donuts when clients visit? Try and gain a clear understanding of what your clients value most.

Secondly, advisors need to clearly define their service model in writing. That means taking the time to put together a statement that describes the service you offer and how it differs from competitors. This may take the form of a written document you can share with clients and prospects, use in presentations or include on your website and in marketing materials. Articulating your service model will help set appropriate expectations with clients and create a standard for your staff.

What Makes for an Effective Service Model?

An effective service model can include the following elements:

  • Client contact methods: Will there be a staff member available to answer the phone during business hours, or is it OK for clients to get a voicemail greeting when they call? How quickly will client phone calls and email messages be returned? Will you personally return all messages or will messages sometimes be returned by someone else in your firm?
  • Meeting frequency, duration and format: Will you conduct client meetings on an annual, semi-annual or quarterly basis? How long should meetings last? Will meetings be held in person, or by phone or video conference? If in person, will they be conducted in your office, the client’s home, or another location?
  • Between-meeting communications: What kind of communication will take place with clients between meetings and how will this be managed? How often are you reaching out to your clients — and would they prefer it to be more frequent? When in doubt, simply ask.
  • Problem resolution: How will client problems be addressed? Who will handle the routine questions? Who will bear responsibility for making sure more complex issues are resolved in a timely manner?
  • Value-adds: Consider regularly sending out emails about the latest news or trends that may affect your clients. They don’t have to be long — something as simple as including a timely article shows you stay up-to-date on what’s changing in the industry and care about making sure your clients do, too.
  • Technology: Don’t forget about technology, which can help automate back-office tasks, making you more efficient in the process. More advanced technology platforms also feature modeling, trading, rebalancing, reporting and practice management capabilities.

Viewing Service Through Your Clients’ Eyes

Remember, though: Client service standards must be viewed through the lens of your clients, all of whom have different needs.

Consider separating your clients according to demographics and then set parameters based on their age and stage of life. For example, your parameters for meeting frequency and format would likely be different for younger and middle-aged clients with active families and busy careers than they would for older, retired clients with more time on their hands.

Not every advisor delivers on the claim of great service, but those that do have found a way to differentiate themselves. And, chances are, advisors that truly deliver great customer service have established an effective service model. Take the time to find out what constitutes great service for your clients — then develop a plan for delivering on it.


 Mike Lover, Vice President of Strategic Business Development at E-Trade Advisor Services, is responsible for managing relationships with RIAs and helping them to grow their business. In this role, Lover helps clients through practice management support, process improvement strategies and vendor introductions. Previously, Lover was VP of Process Improvement for Trust Company of America. Lover also held positions at Baxter Healthcare, TEG Global and LTS LLC. He received his bachelor’s degree at University of Toledo.