Six tips to deliver top-level service
Financial advisors are rightly focused on delivering the best-possible investment returns for their clients. Still, that is not always the key to client retention. Bad service or poor communications, not disappointing investment performance, is often a prime reason why clients leave their advisors.
Even for those advisors who feel confident they deliver exceptional service, there is never a time when you can remain content with the status quo. Clients’ service expectations constantly evolve, and competing advisors are always considering service enhancements to differentiate their businesses. Here are some tips to help ensure that your firm always stands out for the quality of service that clients receive.
- Maximize opportunities for client contact. In a volatile year like 2022 has been so far, most advisors have stayed in frequent contact with clients. In less turbulent years, though, it’s easy to assume that a once-a-year check-in may be enough. Client retention is often directly dependent on the number of contacts advisors make with clients. To increase the frequency of engagements, have a checklist of items you need to regularly review with clients, such as how their investment plan is integrated with their insurance coverage, estate plan, tax planning, and employer-provided retirement and health benefits. That level of planning will help ensure that your regular discussions with clients encompass more than updates on the markets and their portfolios. Remember, too, that phone calls and in-person or virtual meetings are not the only ways to stay in touch. All forms of communication—including emails, social media posts, blogs, and bylined articles in local papers—are all contacts that keep you on clients’ minds and remind them that the issues they’re grappling with are top of mind for you, too.
- Embrace digitalization. Today, even visits to doctors’ offices make clear who has embraced the digital revolution and who remains mired in a paper world. Allowing new clients to answer questionnaires on iPads or enabling them to use services like DocuSign to add their signature to key documents will send an important message about your practice to clients. Digital tools can also help you increase the contacts you make with clients by automating the delivery of key messages sent in emails and on social media. When using automated content delivery tools, though, remember that personalization is a top priority for clients today. Don’t deliver messages that would apply to anyone and everyone. Provide specific information and insights that are relevant for the various audiences you’re targeting—like the self-employed or new retirees—and use your automation tools to generate a steady stream of messages targeted to their needs.
- Enlist everyone’s input. Every advisor can generate a list of “to do’s” when considering how to enhance service levels. Still, it’s worth asking everyone on your staff for input. Your team members might have ideas on how to improve issues like response times or client onboarding that you might not have considered and that they might not have felt free to suggest until you asked. The same is true for clients. You can get their insights by informally asking a few clients or by e-mailing a quick and easy-to-complete survey to a larger group.
- Engage clients in ways that go beyond investment updates. In down markets especially, clients often feel compelled to do something to address a problem that you know is beyond their control. While you may have convinced all or most of your clients that this may be the worst possible time to sell, you can address their natural instincts to take action. For example, you can recommend they review their beneficiary designations or organize their financial statements according to guidelines you can supply on record retention. That can provide a reassuring sense that they can manage their finances more effectively even when the markets, at least temporarily, aren’t cooperating. During every interaction with clients, direct the conversation into topics beyond what’s happening with their portfolios and the markets. Even with clients you’ve known for years, the questions you regularly ask about what’s going on in their lives can uncover new needs they’ll need your help to address. Fulfill the promise of being a “holistic advisor,” by offering solutions to problems that aren’t strictly investment related. If a parent is concerned about how a young adult child handles money, for example, offering to provide the child some basic lessons on financial literacy demonstrates that you’re there to help your clients with needs that go beyond their portfolios.
- Anticipate needs for clients. In a market like the one we’ve seen in 2022, it’s hard to be anything but reactive. But your value to clients will remain high if they see that you’re proactive, as well, and anticipate needs before they even recognize them. Use whatever tools will help in that effort—your own instincts or financial planning software that can help you gauge when new needs emerge for clients or existing ones broaden. In the right circumstances, sending a business owner who is approaching retirement age some general information on succession planning even before they mention retirement, for example, will send the message that you’re always thinking ahead for them.
- Set goals, measure your progress, and celebrate wins. Teams usually work better at improving when they have SMART goals to work toward. Such goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Start by determining what areas of service you’d like to improve, like the turnaround time for responding to calls and e-mails, the speed at which problems are resolved, or the engagement level with educational resources you offer clients. Set a goal for the level of improvement you’d like to see and a timeframe for achieving it. When you reach these goals, celebrate the successes with fun activities. When you and the team fall short, make sure that the process for identifying what went wrong and how it can be fixed is constructive and free of any finger-pointing. In combination, recognizing wins and responding calmly to setbacks will go a long way toward strengthening team spirit. A cohesive and collaborative team will deliver much better service to clients.
Make service enhancements a personal priority
If you have a large team at your firm, you may be able to direct others to make the necessary improvements you want to see. Be sure to make it your own priority, as well. Set goals for the changes you could make that will improve the service clients receive.
If it seems difficult to find time in your calendar for brainstorming ways to upgrade service or developing content for blogs and social media, schedule time so that you can devote at least a few hours every week to these essential activities. Maintaining a regular focus on service issues will enable your business to keep pace with, or even charge ahead of, the competitors in town who are making the same commitment.
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