4 Ways Superb Advisors Differentiate Their Service

Great client service should be a given. But according to a recent study from Cerulli Associates , less than a third of advisors strongly agreed that their practices go above and beyond to serve their clients, or that their clients offer repeatable and consistent client experiences.At the same time, 72% of advisory firm principals say client service is a key differentiator.

Folks, if 72% say great service is a differentiator, it’s no longer a differentiator. It’s now the industry standard.That said, some firms are clearly doing a better job than others. And those are the firms that are attracting bigger clients, with more assets to manage.Let’s have a look at what they do differently and what are some key components to delivering great client service.

#1. Focus on the overall client experience.

When the Army trains new officers how to defend a piece of ground, they tell them to look at it from the attacker’s point of view. Go out front and see the ground from their perspective. That will tell you a lot about what they are likely to do.It’s the same running a practice: Put yourself in the prospects’ or clients’ shoes. What is their experience like?That same study by the researchers at Cerulli Associates found that advisory practices that focus on the client experience have a 93% higher median client size compared to the industry average. They also have significantly lower attrition.That’s some terrific ROI that can come from making some basic improvements:

  • Call your office from a strange number. How many rings go by before it’s answered?
  • Does the website load right?Is the critical information – such as your core product and service offerings — easy to find on the website?
  • What do clients see in the parking lot on the way into the office for an appointment? Is the trash can overflowing? Is there litter on the ground?
  • Is the reception area equal to or better to the best reception area you’ve ever been in? Why not? What can you improve?
  • First impressions matter. Make your receptionist your Director of First Impressions. Give him or her ownership of the front of the house – and your support when it comes to making improvements. If you find a good one, you’ll be amazed at what they can do when you let them run with the football.
  • Invest in some nice furniture.
  • Clean out the outdated magazines.
  • Have your signage welcome your clients by name when they walk in the door.
  • The client experience is a lot more than first impressions, though. Think through the entire relationship.

    #2. Systematize the client experience.

    Do you have a client service calendar? That’s a plan listing every scheduled client support, education or update interaction for the year. Portfolio reviews, birth month reviews, Medicare deadlines (based on birth month) and reminders, kids’ birthdays (great for capturing Coverdell ESA and Section 529 business!), newsletters, phone calls – you name it.You can’t do everything from memory, just by winging it. Nobody can.Great client experiences and great client service doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of a great system.Even if you have just three clients now: Put all your planned client interactions on your calendar, and then make executing the tasks on your client service calendar part of your routine every day. Some of it might be delegated. But whatever you choose to delegate, follow up and make sure it’s happening.A great practice management software platform makes it a lot easier. But don’t wait until you have the perfect program. Do it in Outlook if you have to, until you can afford the platform you want.Now that’s the short-range system. You also need a long-range one. One that establishes the standard for your staff when you’re not around.Next, have you written down your client service standards? L.L. Bean did. Back when L.L. Bean was just starting out as a retailer, opening his first sports clothing store in 1917, he put his service philosophy and his standards on a big sign on the wall.Here’s what it said:“A customer is the most important person ever in this company, in person or by mail. A customer is not dependent upon us, we are dependent upon him. A customer is not an interruption of our work, he is the purpose of our work. We’re not doing him a favor by serving him, he is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so. A customer is not someone to argue with or match wits with, nobody ever won an argument with a customer. A customer is a person who brings us his wants. It’s our job to handle them profitably to him and to ourselves.”Bean, Freeport, MaineThat was a powerful message, not just for the customer, but for the staff, too. Every employee who set foot in the business knew exactly what the boss expected. So they were able to do it – even when the boss wasn’t there.Leon Leonwood Bean’s been gone since 1967. But that commitment to service has created and sustained one of the greatest brands in clothing for generations.Write out your service expectations. And make sure your staff embraces them. All the while, live up to them yourself.

    #3. Personalize your service.

    Fee compression is real. The competition from artificial intelligence and robo-advisors is intense and growing. But each of you has something to offer that no robo-advisor can match: Your ability to know and understand your client.You’re the one taking the fact finder. You’re the one sitting with clients and their families, and receiving their spoken and unspoken messages.Once you really know your clients because you’ve taken the time to do detailed fact finders, and call them regularly to review their portfolios, or just to catch up, you’ve built a huge moat around your business – one that’s very difficult for competitors to overcome.Knowing your clients well is the one thing you can do better than any competitor out there. I don’t care how big their marketing budget is, or how snappy their suits are or how many ads they can run during the Super Bowl. Taking the time to listen, and to get to know your clients’ and their families’ long-term goals is going to give you some breathing room when a rough patch comes. And it will come.Personalize your communications, too. This is one area where practice management technology is changing fast. Personalization isn’t just for top-tier clients anymore. Personalized communications and services are increasingly becoming the standard – and the technology is readily available to support it.If you’re sending blast emails to “Dear valued client,” you’re already messing up.According to Dynamic Yield, 62% of North Americans surveyed say they are more likely to open and respond to emails addressed specifically to them. Even if it’s an auto-generated list.Another survey from Experian say that personalized emails generated six times the transaction rate of non-personalized emails. They also generate 41 percent more clicks.Here’s another great little technique you can use to overlay over your automation solutions: Every time you read a great article or blog post that’s just perfect for a client, print it out or cut it out of the magazine, stick it in a hand-written envelope, with a quick hand-written note from you, that just says “Hey, Bob! Saw this piece. Immediately thought of you. Hope you’re doing great, and all my best to Debra! –Regards, Johnny Advisor.”Got a newsletter? Insert a personal hand-written note for key clients. “Hey, Jim! Hope you’re doing great! Was thinking about our last conversation today. Here’s a relevant piece in the newsletter – see page 2. –All the best, Johnny Advisor.”Gestures like this take just a few seconds – and will provide ROI for years.We’ve all heard the objection, “I’ve already got a guy, and I’m very happy.” It’s not easy to overcome.Your first job is BE THAT GUY (or gal!)Give your clients a reason to stick with you. Top advisors have an annual client retention rate in the mid to high 90s.

    #4. Communicate.

    When the markets are going smooth, you can get away with some poor practices. Don’t rely on the markets to bail you out.When the markets go south, will your clients hear from you? Communication when investments are going against you is a critical part of your client service. But you need to have a communications plan already in place for the next market crisis.It’s a fact: More advisors get fired for poor communication than for poor investment performance. If you’ve trained your clients right, and managed their expectations, they’ll forgive you for the occasional rough patch in the market.They’ll never forgive you for failing to communicate with them.Whatever happens, put extra effort into maintaining communications with your clients.Here’s another thing: Communication isn’t just a one-way street. Part of great service is being open to communications from your clients.But unhappy clients might not tell you why they’re not satisfied. They might keep some assets with you. For a while. But they may simply not bring new assets to you to manage. They’ll refer their family and friends to someone else. And you may never learn why.Shockingly, less than a third of advisors – 27% – have a formal plan to get feedback on their clients’ experience and customer satisfaction, according to a Financial Planners’ Association survey.

    The Bottom Line

    Above all, never miss an opportunity to improve service. Don’t promise it – except to the extent you’re finalizing a contract for services on retainer. Underpromise, so you can overdeliver. Wow them with service beyond their expectations.

Related: 4 Ways to Establish Trust Early in the Client Relationship