By Ray McHale – Founder and CEO of Valuiza
For most of my lengthy career in financial services it was accepted knowledge that trying to manage individual client relationships was like ‘herding cats’.
After all, financial services was typically thought of as a scale business where you could tip a lot of clients into the same bucket and treat them all equally (more or less) and get away with it, taking advantage of scale effects to underpin profitability. But things have changed dramatically in recent years.
Clients these days demand they be treated as individuals and, what’s more, that they be provided with an experience that befits their status as your client. Everyone wants to be treated differently.
The days of mass marketing are definitely over. So are the days of mass client management. But why?
The Australian financial planning industry has undergone significant change in recent years (not always voluntarily) and this can be attributed to three core reasons – client empowerment, regulation and technology.
This is not unique to the financial planning industry. Once upon a time planners controlled all the information a client would be able to access thereby creating an information imbalance (or information asymmetry).
But with the rise of consumer empowerment, enabled by technology and social platforms, clients and prospective clients have ready access to a wide range of information that previously was simply inaccessible. This has changed the information power dynamic forever – one could argue that clients now have more information at their fingertips than ever and will use it to make choices (without necessarily relying on a planner to provide advice beforehand).
A related trend is the widespread use of ratings and reviews to help inform consumer choice. Today, 90% of consumers prefer what their peers think versus formal marketing messages.
Much of the regulation introduced to the industry in recent years can be attributed directly to consumer empowerment. The collective voice of consumers can be easily amplified in the media and political environments and, before you know it, new regulations are introduced to govern what planners and can’t do, converting decades of business as usual into new business models. FOFA has been particularly impactful.
The initiatives to professionalise the industry currently underway and the rising costs of doing business (e.g. ASIC levies) only reinforce that regulation will be with us for a long time.
Technology is both pervasive and evolving rapidly, adding to the empowerment of consumers, yet also empowering practices to deliver more value, more quickly and at lower cost than traditional service delivery models. A 2016 research report published by E&Y indicates that Australians spend a total of 10 hours and 24 minutes a day engaging with internet connected devices – that’s a lot of connection time and only reinforces consumers’ desire to be treated individual rather than as part of a homogenous group.
For planners and practice principals this means you need to more carefully and purposefully nurture relationships with your clients, so you can create the most value and sustainably grow your business with a continuous improvement model.
Bottom line, your success as a planner relies heavily on your ability to establish and nurture strong relationships with your clients because they are the most important and valuable asset of your practice.
If you spend the majority of your days working ‘in the business’ rather than ‘on the business’, you are probably reacting to what is happening around you, leaving little to no time to think strategically about your client relationships and the future of the practice. It’s really important that you find some time in your busy calendar to consider what steps you can take to build stronger client relationships.
Seven Steps to Take Your Client Relationships to a Whole New Level:
STEP 1: Understand How Your Clients View Your Practice
A logical first step is to gain a clear understanding of how your existing clients perceive their experience. This entails several actions.
Action Item 1: Walk In the Client’s Shoes
Literally take a walk through your practice as if you were the client, noting everything from the communication(s) you receive in advance of a meeting, to arriving at the office for a meeting and the meeting itself. What was your impression, how were you greeted and what did you see as you walked through the front door? What happened prior to, during and after the meeting? At each stage, ask yourself these two simple questions:
- How did this make me feel?
- Are there opportunities to improve the client experience?
Action Item 2: Collect Initial Client Feedback
Client feedback is essential to developing and nurturing strong relationships, so if it has been some time since you last asked your clients for feedback, you should ask all clients to respond to a survey that will identify their perceptions of factors such as communication, understanding of needs, integrity, and trust, value for money, effort, satisfaction, retention and willingness to recommend.
Your clients will feel like they’ve been listened to and heard and that their opinions count. They’ll feel that you care for them and are genuinely concerned about whether they’re satisfied with you. Just the act of collecting feedback through a simple survey can have a profoundly positive impact on the quality of each relationship.
STEP 2: Benchmark Your Client Experience
Your clients live in a world comprised of multiple relationships and experiences that they are exposed to every day (remember how much time they spend online each day). So you, too, need to think outside your practice and industry to identify and understand what ‘great’ looks like because, more and more, that is what consumers search for and expect. The best advisers understand this and rise to the challenge by redefining the experience they deliver to their clients based on ‘best in class’ standards others have achieved. Before you can undertake a continuous improvement model, you need to draw a line in the sand in order to set some KPIs. Here are a few actions you can take.
Action Item 1: Answer This Question
What is the single best service experience you have ever had? When you have identified that experience, analyse it deeply from end to end to understand what made it the best for you. This is a great team exercise to gain additional input covering others’ experiences. Also, you could consider the following questions:
- Why did you think of that experience?
- How did it make you feel?
- What happened when you contacted them for the first time?
- What happened during the process of using their product/service?
- What happened after?
- What words would you use to describe this business?
Action Item 2: Ask Your Clients the Same Question
STEP 3: Focus On the Client Journey
It’s really tempting to think about the client experience as what happens when you are meeting them face-to-face but there is much more to consider and here are a few action items to take.
Action Item 1: Look at the Entire Client Journey
A typical client journey contains a number of steps:
- Awareness (as a prospect)
- Initial contact & fact find
- Onboarding (as a client)
- Development of plan/strategy
- Review meetings
It’s important that you consider and evaluate your performance across the entire journey, thinking about the distinct phases of the client experience. For each one, you need to understand what the client experience is today and how you can influence the experience at each phase based on what you learned from the previous steps.
Also, think about the experience in terms of multiple touch-points. For instance, what is the experience of the prospect if they Google you, check your social media profiles, call you, go to your website or drive by your office?
STEP 4: Standardise Critical Client Interactions
This is where you have to commit to improving the consistency with which you deliver on your client experience. We suggest you start with the client review meeting.
Action Item 1: Define/Refine Client Review Meetings
The most engaged clients (who are most satisfied and provide most of the referrals) are more likely to be actively involved in setting the agenda for their review meetings. The extent to which you can involve clients, thereby focusing your reviews on the issues that matter most to them, will drive deeper engagement.
STEP 5: Everyone Takes Responsibility For Client Experience
There needs to be a collective, ongoing commitment to deliver a great client experience. This means everyone who comes into contact with each client is responsible but someone in particular is actually accountable. Here are some action items.
Action Item 1: Create a “Wow Budget”
Set up a budget that can be accessed by every team member to delight clients in whatever way they see fit. This creates an expectation of delight and makes it possible to do the small things, from a gift before a big trip to a card to say thank you for being a client. Set an expectation that the budget will be spent.
Action Item 2: Someone Is In Charge Of Client Experience
Accountability for client experience should rest with the most senior person within the practice as this sends a very clear signal that client experience is critical. This puts someone in charge of thinking about the client experience, driving team discussions and setting expectations about expected outcomes.
STEP 6: Continuous Improvement of Your Performance
What gets measured gets managed and the best way to measure your performance is to continuously gather client feedback. What your clients think and feel about their experience has a direct impact on your bottom line. These are some actions you can take to measure performance.
Action Item 1: Gather informal feedback and set the scene
A good way to test the temperature of your client experience is to collect informal feedback at the conclusion of each review meeting. It might be a simple question such as asking what one area they think you could do better in meeting their needs in the future. Informal feedback demonstrates to clients that you care and can unearth vital issues that would otherwise have remained hidden to you.
Action Item 2: Use a Formal Survey
Set expectations with clients that you will be seeking their feedback after each review meeting and tell them why it is so important to you and them. Formal surveys should be used throughout the year after you complete review meetings so you can quickly gauge client sentiment and intentions. This will help you quickly ‘close the loop’ with clients on issues that may be concerning them and also validate where things are going well in each relationship. If you also collect qualitative feedback as part of the survey response (which we encourage), you can identify potential testimonials for use in marketing activities.
STEP 7: Refresh and Update
The next logical step is to use the feedback you gather from clients to adjust your strategy and tactics for delivering a great client experience. This requires time to carefully analyse the results and identify the best ways of improving performance in order to build stronger client relationships over time. If you do this consistently, your bottom line will improve through client retention and growth through cross-sell, upsell and referrals. You will also be able to use the feedback to automate new lead generation.
Building strong client relationships can be likened to a journey so the magic will happen when you use a proven map that will take you from where you are today to where you want to be with your clients in the future.
How do you manage your client relationships today? Is there room for continuous improvement?
Valuiza assists financial planning practices to collect and analyse client feedback, which is the first step in any continuous improvement model. Practices simply need to login, select a survey template, select which clients to send the survey to, and hit SEND. Reports can be monitored in real time, as soon as the first responses come in.