Illustration: Shutterstock/Irina Strelnikova

Fact: If your clients aren’t happy with you, they won’t stay. Today, a big part of that client satisfaction is your technology and if and how clients use it.

Therefore client feedback is important but could be a false-positive. Your clients may tell you that everything is great with the technology, but they may have no idea what “great” technology looks like.

Or worse, there’s no client feedback regarding your technology, and you wrongly interpret this as a positive. Then, when a fire drill happens you are surprised your clients are not as happy as you thought. That’s when you realize you haven’t delivered on your clients’ needs from a digital perspective.

What can you do to avoid this situation?

Advisors can fall into client technology “satisfaction” traps. Consider this statement: “My clients don’t really need or ask for specific technology solutions from my firm.”

Do you really think clients would agree? This perspective essentially lowers the bar in the advisor’s eyes about what they need to offer as part of their client-facing technology. When you do a deeper dive on this perspective, you often find that this client feedback was purely coincidental, from too small of a sample of clients, or even “outdated.”

The reality is most advisors haven’t done sufficient work to understand their clients’ needs and expectations of the firm’s technology, especially as opinions can change over time.

Therefore, be critical about whether or not you really know this information. Obviously, anecdotal type client feedback is helpful, but make sure it is not the primary driver for setting goals for your technology offerings.

Tapping Into Client Needs

To get a handle on client needs, begin by studying their “usage” levels and how they interact with your firm from a digital perspective. From financial planning programs and risk analysis to performance reporting and your custodian’s platform, the client engagement levels with these different systems likely are varied.

You can find this information through various reports and activity trends. Then ask groups of clients who are “outliners” on both ends of the spectrum — those with minimal activity and the “power users” — about their technology needs.

Understanding the details of your clients’ technology usage and the reason why a particular client is at one end of the spectrum or the other is valuable as you strive to achieve your firm’s technology goals. And goals for each specific type of client might differ.

Also, consider how this client input might be similar or different compared with your firm’s prospective clients. I’ve heard advisors talk about “targeting” a specific prospect type or group, but the advisor has a limited knowledge of its technology expectations. You need to understand the importance of this information for ultimately converting a prospect to a client.

Start by reviewing your firm’s technology and compare it with the experience that is currently available to the target prospects for your firm. As you consider client feedback and whether it is helping or hurting your technology goals, remember the influence that your firm has in the equation.

There are numerous factors and styles of approach that can directly impact the amount of client feedback received. For example, is providing a digital experience part of your firm’s DNA, and therefore do your clients share feedback because they know you want to hear it? Or is it a different scenario, such as your clients are hesitant for a variety of reasons to share feedback — perhaps because you never asked for it?

Finally, have you done enough to train and support your clients? Some systems are intuitive by design and you would expect clients to “get it” quickly. However, there are other systems that might have a higher learning curve. Your clients’ “learning style” can have a big impact, too. Therefore, remember the influence of these variables as you interpret your client feedback.

Dan Skiles is the president of Shareholders Service Group in San Diego. He can be reached at dskiles@ssginstitutional.com.