Client-Centered vs. Advisor-Centered

All advisors manage clients’ money, provide financial advice and create financial plans. So how can advisors differentiate their practice and keep clients happy? Whether working at a large Wall Street firm or a small independent RIA, an advisor’s success is directly related to the way clients are regarded and treated.

All of the above can be considered part of the subjective qualities we call client experience. Learning whether a client had a great experience can be accessed through client feedback. In a study done by Medallia, Peter Kriss reported on the impact of client experience by asking clients to provide a client experience score. A higher client experience score translates to more money spent in transaction-based businesses and higher retention rates in fee-based businesses.

Advisors often devote time and energy to activities that have minimal impact on client relationships. Some of the time spent in the work day watching the markets and reading financial news would be better allocated to developing ways to ensure clients feel appreciated. This is especially true for Baby Boomers and WWII-era clients who, as noted in the Spectrum Group research, value timely and attentive communication. In a recent study by the CFA Institute in conjunction with market research firm Scorpio Partnership, “87% of wealthy individuals believe that the core value of wealth management is rooted in the development and management of a goals-based financial plan, rather than the actual advice and direct management of investments.”

Changing perspectives to see an advisory practice through the client’s eyes, however, is challenging as habits learned over the years are difficult to change and assumptions about what clients want are often inaccurate. So how can advisors begin to see the experience they offer to their clients from the perspective of an investor and how can that knowledge be used to create a great client experience?

“87% of wealthy individuals believe that the core value of wealth management is rooted in the development and management of a goals-based financial plan, rather than the actual advice and direct management of investments.”

Assess Your Practice

A first step to assessing your practice is to conduct an honest assessment of the specific client’s experience by walking through it yourself. Generalizations and statistical approximations are not enough. Enter your office as though you are arriving there for the first time. Look around and with a critical eye, assess what the client or prospect sees. Take note of the condition of the office. Does the person at the front desk leap to greet the client warmly and offer a beverage? If that person is busy, does another staff member come out to welcome and acknowledge the person’s arrival?

Listen carefully to what you say in a client meeting. Time the minutes you spend talking and compare that to the time the clients speaks. Advisors speak in jargon that most clients do not understand and may be too intimidated to ask about. Clear communication was ranked just under integrity as one of the most essential qualities in an advisor. Think about whether the content in your presentation addresses a client’s concerns.

A first step to assessing your practice is to conduct an honest assessment of the specific client’s experience by walking through it yourself.

Continue the walk-through by analyzing the follow up to each meeting. Assess accountability for completion of tasks and the speed at which client requests are fulfilled. The amount and type of communication sent to clients between visits can make the difference between a great and mediocre client experience, so evaluate the effectiveness, quality and delivery method of information and education.

Gather Feedback from Clients

Another valuable tool in providing what clients want is simply to ask them directly. Using a client satisfaction questionnaire is a start. For tech-savvy clients, this can be done through an online program such as Survey Monkey, and sent after a prospect becomes a client. For existing clients who are not comfortable using a computer, writing a letter asking for their help in improving service and enclosing a short survey also works.

Survey topics should address areas such as overall satisfaction, level of the advisor’s understanding of client issues, quality of communication, effectiveness in meeting client needs and goals, and promptness of service. Survey examples are readily available online but advisors rarely think of using them.

Step Up Your Service

Once you have learned more about what clients want, the task becomes finding ways to effectively implement client-centered activities. Begin by defining the services you offer. Establish a valid business reason for every client meeting. As clients are increasingly looking for more than investment management, not every interaction needs to focus on investments. Additional meetings might focus on an estate planning review, insurance analysis, a yearly financial planning update or end-of-year tax planning.

Develop consistent processes so that every client has the same organized and professional experience. By documenting processes for every client activity, your practice will not only become more efficient but the client experience will improve. Processes should include the steps for a specific type of meeting, the person responsible for completing each step and a timeline. In every instance, however, the client’s needs should take precedence over the process. Continually evaluate the alignment of client experience to your services.

Once the core services are in place, it’s time to take the extra steps that will make your practice extraordinary. Small touches and big gestures will delight and surprise clients. Everyone loves a gift and many clients appreciate even a small acknowledgment of their value to your practice. Begin by sending a welcome gift to all new clients. A food item such as an olive oil and vinegar set or a custom financial organizer are may be well-received. Birthday cards are a common touch but can become more meaningful when a personal note is included. Holiday gifts are also welcome. Sending wine or a unique serving bowl for the Thanksgiving meal will set you apart.

Continuously search for new ways to support your clients. What additional services will add value to your unique clientele?

Sponsor events that your clients will enjoy, such as wine tastings, golf outings or dinners. Getting clients together provides social proof that they made the right choice in choosing you as their advisor in addition to making them feel appreciated. Educational events are also a way to inform and connect. Use these opportunities to listen to what your clients are talking about to each other.

Continuously search for new ways to support your clients. What additional services will add value to your unique clientele? Partnering with a company that can catalogue clients’ household possessions, art collections or collectables is one idea. Facilitate a meeting with your client and this service provider to enhance their estate planning.

Parting Thoughts

Listening, understanding and seeing your financial advisory practice through your clients’ eyes will help create a dynamic and sustainable business. Begin by assessing the client experience you currently offer and then work to improve. If you are not sure what areas need improvement, gather information from clients through questionnaires or advisory boards.

Listening more than talking, improving the speed and accuracy of processes and services, planning client events and adding the extra touches that impress clients will all improve the client experience. Client-centered practices produce happier clients, increase referrals and ultimately improves business. Take the time to consider the steps you can take today to move your practice from fine to extraordinary.