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Julie Littlechild

Practice Management > Marketing and Communications > Client Retention

How to Personalize the Client Experience: Julie Littlechild

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed some of what many investors expect from the overall client experience (CX) that their advisors provide, according to Julie Littlechild, CEO and founder of Absolute Engagement, a global research and training firm focused on increasing client retention and referrals within the financial services industry.

For example, if a client still wants to meet virtually like they did during the height of the pandemic instead of in person, the advisor should be prepared to do that, she said during a recent interview with ThinkAdvisor.

Advisors should also be sure to personalize the client experience more so than they did in the past and engage clients and their spouses at a “deeper level” than before, she said.

Here are some of the insights she provided during the interview.

THINKADVISOR: What changes in CX and/or client advisor communications in 2022 were most important for advisors?

JULIE LITTLECHILD: It was kind of an interesting period. Just for context, we go out and do this investor research every year [based on] about a thousand investors across the country. So that’s where we draw a lot of our insights from.

What we were really looking at in 2022 was, were we coming back from some of the changes that hit from COVID, or were some of those more permanent?

So I saw them in these two buckets: The most common thing that people seemed to be focusing on was the service element. So are we meeting virtually? Those kinds of core service elements for CX.

And we certainly saw that we’re not going back. Clients continue to want to have a hybrid or a virtual option to meet with their advisor. But I think that was expected to some extent.

Obviously it changed how advisors have been dealing with clients, but I don’t think it’s any great surprise. But what we were really trying to focus on was how is [their] mindset changing? So when we really look at clients, how are they feeling? How are they feeling about their financial future? Are they still feeling anxieties? Are there concerns that are really lurking? And then how could that impact the client experience?

And then what I thought was most important is that advisors needed to kind of lean into how their clients were feeling and then provide communications or hold conversations that reflected those things. Not generic content. Not their standard review agenda. But really digging in to see how clients were feeling, not assuming everything had gone back.

So I think that’s changed a lot about how they operate or should.

I think that that was the underlying impetus for change, but if you think about the trends that we might talk about more often, personalization was certainly a big part of that.

That seems to be the biggest challenge right now, and I think the interesting thing is that technology is now sort of emerging, if you look at the whole advice tech segment of technology, to support advisors in doing exactly that.

So to me the underlying cause of this trend was how people are feeling, but really it’s caused us to say, ‘How do we personalize the client experience more so than we have in the past?’

What are a few of the things that advisors should be doing for 2023 and why?

I think they need to incorporate the client in designing the client experience. We can no longer say, “I’m going to build an experience based on what I think is important as an advisor.”

We’ve got to invite the voice of the client in. So whether that is through polling or surveys or informal interviews or advisory boards or what have you, we need to understand what’s truly on their mind and then use that to inform the experience.

So you could use simple examples like a lot of advisors will share … some curated or created content with their clients. And I think they need to let go of the idea that we can just send generic content that we think is interesting because we’re the advisor and start to be able to say, “These 20 clients told me they were interested in this topic. Therefore I’m going to share content on that topic.”

That’s how I think personalization kind of comes to life for them. I think if they can get that right, if they can have a client experience that’s truly responsive to the needs of clients, then I think that that would be a big win for them in 2023.

Anything else you want to mention that you think they should do?

One area that we’ve been talking to a lot of advisors about is how do we do this as it relates to the review process. So how do we not only engage clients at a deeper level but engage their partners or spouses at a deeper level and build an agenda around what’s most important for them?

And I think that means they need to be a bit more intentional and thoughtful about the agenda for their review meetings. Are they focused on the right things? And I think they need to think about helping clients to articulate what they need to talk about.

Anything specific regarding advisors using YouTube or TikTok or any other social media sites?

We love to go, “Oh, please, who would use TikTok?” But then I go home and I talk to my 13-year-old, and I’ll tell you that’s exactly [who would use it]. So I don’t think we can dismiss any of these or we sound like dinosaurs.

The reality is it’s going to have to come to the advisor to say, “Where are my clients?” And do they even know where they are? If they’re on TikTok, go to TikTok. If they’re on LinkedIn, go to LinkedIn.

But I think, social media, we’re certainly seeing it increase as a method by which clients might interact with their advisor. Like slowly, year after year after year, we see more of them doing that. So we’ve got to pick our lane and do it well. I don’t think we have to do everything, but it’s a great place to show who you are and be real.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, one or two of your clients are using something that’s less well known than Twitter, like Mastodon. What would you advise? That they get on Mastodon also even though it’s a more limited number of people they can reach on that platform?

We’ve got limited time and resources, so my advice would always be to go where your clients are.

There’s a caveat though. If you’re finding clients are on these, even if it’s a few, I would make it an objective this year to understand them, just to know what’s coming so that we’re not always responding. We’re actually ahead of the game.

The other thing that kind of relates to this, I guess, is we’ve done a lot of work around demographics and how we engage different segments of our population or our client base.

And one of the things that I’ve seen advisors get wrong … is that they make these assumptions that, because their average client is a certain age, their entire strategy should reflect that. Now we know that younger clients are using different platforms. We know they want to meet more often. We know they prefer virtual. We know all of this. And yet too many advisors are ignoring that because they’re not the biggest segment they work with.

It’s leading us into this area where we’re going to need a segmented client experience approach, and age is going to be one of the biggest drivers of that. And if we’re pretending it’s not, I think we’re putting our heads in the sand.


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