Increasing Retention and Referrals Through Quality On-Going Client Care

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By Rob Swystun, Pristine Advisers

What are the best type of referrals to get?

That’s an easy one. They’re the referrals that you don’t ask for. They’re the referrals that you get from satisfied customers simply because they can’t help but talk about how great your firm is and how much you’ve done for them as clients. And the best way to get people talking about how great your firm is, is by constantly providing excellent client care.

As Financial Advisor Consultant Elizabeth Jetton, CFP(R) outlined in her webinar Increasing Retention and Referrals Through Quality On-Going Client Care, client care is meaningful and valuable service that lifts burdens from your clients and supports their progress toward their financial goals.

As Jetton puts it, good client service is the absence of a headache. If you have a headache, it’s the only thing that you notice, just as the only thing your clients will notice if they have financial burdens is those burdens. You are there to make sure your clients don’t get any headaches.

While it’s easy to get obsessed with the technical things that you can do for your clients, that’s not where your clients‘ focus is. They are focussed on the type of lifestyle they want to live and how they can achieve that lifestyle. They’re happy to reap the rewards and leave the technical stuff up to you (that’s why they hired you).

So how do you keep your clients headache free?

This is another easy one; you make them rich beyond their wildest dreams! (That one was pretty obvious, no?)

More practically speaking, however, you provide your clients with value in the form of exquisite client care.

Trust – Not surprisingly, a survey done by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business found that trust is by far the most important element that clients look for in a financial or investment advisor. Trust is the foundation of all client satisfaction, retention and referrals and it starts with basic technical competency and your ability to show your client that you do, in fact, know what you’re doing.

It’s tempting to prove your competency to them by inundating them with loads of jargon and a 20-page report to peruse but that won’t do your clients any good unless they’re coming to you for a cure for their insomnia. (They aren’t.) Clients experience your technical competency when you give them specific advice based on their individual circumstances and you express your knowledge in a clear, concise manner, preferably in small, bite-sized chunks of info that are easily digestible.

Professionalism – This means being articulate, concise, organized, neat and prepared. It means having things in writing to give them (not 20 page reports, though), having technology that works (you may think you’re being savvy and frugal by using that 10-year-old photocopier that leaves black streaks on everything but you just look cheap to your clients), and being respectful. It means being involved in your applicable professional organizations and having a professional designation with meaning (like CFP or CFA).

If feasible, make sure everyone in the office who will be dealing with your clients knows their names. It’s the little things, right?

Effective communication – When talking with your clients, lead with advice and not with products or services that you think they need. There is a process for giving advice and it is as follows:

  • Jointly define any issues your clients have that are preventing them from reaching their goals.
  • Do a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) with them about their own personal situation that helps frame what you’re saying.
  • Run your SWOT analysis for your clients and identify the general the advice you’re going to offer them on how to overcome the threats and weaknesses you’ve identified.
  • Give your recommendation for implementation, whether it be products or services.

Showing that you have a process to follow for advising your clients demonstrates technical competency.

Other ways of garnering trust with your clients is to maintain ethical conduct and character, which could mean partaking in ethics training (and displaying the resulting certificate on prominently on your wall); building your reputation and brand through published articles or by doing pro bono work; being transparent and upfront about how you charge your fees and what the client will be paying and being upfront about any changes you make to their portfolio.

Check in with them once in a while without having anything to sell and listen to what they say when they come in without immediately planning on what advise you’re going to give (sometimes people just like to have other people listen to them).

And, above all else, get to know them on a personal level, like where they went to school, where they met their spouse, their goals, dreams, what they want for kids. Note that this type of genuine relationship and trust obviously takes time to build so don’t interrogate them in one sitting. Just get to really know them gradually like you would any friend.

Have must-have conversations.

When establishing a relationship of trust, it is important to have some key conversations with your clients so you all end up on the same page.

Ground rules and engagement – This is where you define what you do for them, what they can expect and how you will relate to them. It is also where you get to tell them what they need to do (provide you with up-to-date info etc.) and how this is all going to unfold.

Clear investment and planning philosophies – Your clients, since they’re coming to you for financial advice, will probably need you to explain how exactly you’re going to plan their investments and what exactly it is you’re going to track to ensure those investments are performing well and how you’re going to involve them in this.

What is realistic to expect – Also known as the ‘no crystal ball conversation,’ this is where you lay down what you can and can’t control. It’s also where you let them know that you are here to help them control what can be controlled and to help them manage what can’t be controlled. It also helps them understand what their role is in the relationship.

What can go wrong – This is pretty straightforward. Anything from a natural disaster to a family disaster can affect their financial situation and while each situation is different, it’s worth it to have a general conversation about how things might shake down when a major situation arises.

What will success looks like – This is the fun conversation! Will successful investing mean a yacht club membership card showing up in the mail? Probably not. But it does look like shrinking debt, better clarity for the future and inching closer to their goals, so let them know how they will be able to tell that what you’re doing for them is working. All kidding aside, they might not actually know how to measure the success of what you’re doing for them.

What it will cost and how will they be charged – Not the funnest conversation, but one that needs to happen.

Provide systems-driven ongoing care.

This includes:

  • Timely, on demand and easy-to-understand reports.
  • A consistent monitoring process of not only their investments but their general life situation. Things change, after all.
  • Proactive value phone calls where you check in with nothing to sell (but they do have to have a purpose).
  • Responsiveness to calls and requests, which includes calling back in a timely manner and setting up informal meetings that fit into your clients’ schedule, maybe at a coffee shop or some other convenient place. Consider using Skype with them if it’s convenient for them.
  • Provide regular, meaningful communication.
  • Remove your client’s roadblocks. This could mean filling out paperwork with them on the spot or being with them when they get information you need from other sources that might be difficult or confusing.
  • Make sure all team members in the office have access to info and are on the same page when interacting with them.

Always remember that it is not enough to tell people that you provide good quality service, you have to demonstrate it to your clients. Do this, and your name, along with a ringing endorsement, is bound to come up in conversations they have with others who are looking to do some investing.

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