Put People First to Stand Out
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How a product or service is packaged and presented has a huge impact on the way its value is perceived. The sleek design of the iPhone, the Apple logo and the box it comes in all “scream” quality and hipness. And Starbucks made a name for itself with the “Starbucks Experience.” That lesson applies to advisors, who must scrutinize the elements of their personal interactions with clients to the same degree as they do their investment and planning processes.
When I was a young apprentice in my 20s at a large international accounting firm, I worked on a tax return of a manufacturing company. It was a good-sized business, but tiny by the firm’s standard; its clients comprised mostly Fortune 1000 Companies. Though expecting a straightforward tax return, I encountered an issue that required some in-depth research and analysis. By the time I completed the return, I felt proud of the quality of the finished product and the team of professionals who worked on it. But I learned later that the client wasn’t happy with the many extra thousand dollars in the invoice.
If only the client knew the expertise and knowledge it took to prepare the return.
But it was what the firm’s partner told me that stuck with me to this day. The only thing a client sees is a physical tax return and how much tax is owed, he told me. They don’t understand the numbers on the tax return, and they don’t appreciate the complexity of tax law – the hours of research and the considerable expertise it takes to arrive at a sound position. So I’d better make sure that every tax return that leaves this office is packaged attractively in a manner that best reflects the quality work that we put into them.
It was a valuable lesson, indeed, for an impressionable young man. Similarly, for the advisory firm that sells intangibles, every effort should be made to package financial plans and investment performance professionally and attractively; those are what clients see. They are the most tangible parts of the intangible services that a firm provides. With your expertise and empathy, you help your clients meet their financial goals in real and tangible ways. So why should you let sloppiness prevent your clients from seeing the full value you provide to them and their loved ones?
But your “product” is more than just financial plans and investment performance. Equally important, if not more, are how everyone in your firm conducts themselves – how they dress, how they communicate, how soon they return calls and emails, how your clients are greeted when they walk into your office, and so on. While the substance of your work is to help your clients meet their most important goals aligned with their deeply held values, what your clients ultimately perceive as valuable is what they experience while they interact with you and your employees – hyper-personal, yet professional interactions.
So how do you maximize client satisfaction during those precious and critical minutes of face-time with your clients?
For starters, clearly define your deliverables – quarterly meetings, monthly check-in phone calls, client appreciation events, quarterly newsletters and so on – and build a system of delivering such touchpoints efficiently. Ideally, you should use a client relationship management (CRM) software and optimize it by meticulously coding the process. This will avoid things “falling through the cracks.”
But even if you build a perfect system for maximum client experience and satisfaction, it is ultimately delivered through your human employees. Said differently, the most tangible, and unequivocally the most important, component of your “product” as an advisory firm is your employees.