4 Ways to Create Positive Client Experiences (and Get More Referrals)

Apr 13, 2017


Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the client experience. It could be that I have had some pretty bad experiences with contractors, airlines and a particularly awful transaction with a transfer agent (don’t ask, I’ll go nuts).

I’m sure most of you have similar experiences with vendors. But isn’t it interesting that in a world where everyone says they provide great customer service, many of your everyday providers really don’t? Coincidentally, most advisors say that one of their key deliverables to a client is… wait for it… great service. Do you think your clients would vouch for you?

What are your referrals like?

Most advisors I know grow almost exclusively through referrals, yet the process of referrals is very hodgepodge. We ask for them, add taglines on our stationary and emails for them and even hold client appreciation events, where we beg clients to bring a friend. While some of these may work, for the most part, referrals come not when asked, but when a family member or friend describes a problem or situation and your client says you’re the one who can help.

It is incredibly important that your clients can describe what you do for them, but it is also incredibly important that they can describe their client experience in a positive way. For example, my contractor ultimately did a great job and I love the work, but the experience was so bad, I would never recommend him to anyone.

Focus on what you can control

A couple of years ago, Bob Veres wrote a great research paper (sponsored by the AICPA) where he described the six dimensions of client service:

  1. Setting clear expectations
  2. Being responsive to client requests and messages
  3. Making interactions with the clients an enjoyable/pleasant experience
  4. Providing high-quality professional advice and service
  5. Exhibiting exemplary conduct and character in all business interactions
  6. Building a close, trusting, working relationship with the client and visibly caring about his/her well being

If you look closely, you can control everything on this list. It is in your power to set the expectations, respond in a timely manner and make the interactions with your clients enjoyable and pleasant. So what is missing from the list? Things you can’t control.

So if things you can control are key to an exceptional client service experience, things you can’t control may be your enemy. And what can’t you control? The markets. The economy. Which asset class in a diversified portfolio will be down. So why focus on them? Yet, many advisory firms do just that.

Look at your website. Look at your promotional brochures (for the bigger firms, look at your ads) – are they market driven or client-focus driven? Are you putting the focus on investments (and thus performance) or on specific goals? By focusing on what you can’t control, you may be setting yourself up for a bad client experience (and maybe fewer referrals).

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Change your focus

How can you create a quality client experience? Here are 4 things to help you build on what you do:

  1. Don’t assume. Don’t assume clients are satisfied; ask them. Don’t assume they understand your value proposition or how they should evaluate your relationship. Set (or reset) clear expectations. Also, think about segmentation by what is important to them, not you. Are you responsive to their needs, or just setting up generic services?
  2. Commit to workflows. How are the systems in your office? Creating workflows makes sure no ball gets dropped, no request is forgotten and no client is left waiting when a key person is out of the office for a day or two. The better the workflows, the more responsive and pleasant the client experience will be.
  3. Commit to better, smarter communications. Are you sending out market updates? If so, it could reinforce that your brand is investments (which you can’t control) – especially if that is the only thing you send. The right communications will help build a closer bond and make it a better experience. Be top of mind; build that personal and professional relationship.
  4. Hold successful client meetings. Client meetings are your time to shine, to advise and show your professional conduct and character. Format your client meetings; have an agenda and process for each. Use this valuable time in front of your clients to show just how you can add value to their lives. Control the time, meeting space and discussion. Be as professional as they expect.

And start now. Markets have been up for a while, so now is the time to change the discussion from investments to goals – from what you can’t control to what you can. If you want better and more frequent referrals, you have to give your clients a reason to think of you. Better service is one way to do it. Just because you say you deliver good service doesn’t cut it; you have to do it.

Need some help?

On April 24 at 4 p.m., I will be expanding on this topic with a webinar called Creating the Engaged Client . Along with the webinar, we will be sharing tools and checklists for advisors. I hope you will join me.

John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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