Beat the competition with innovative client service

Advisers should be crafting experiences that are distinctive and memorable

Feb 2, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

By Liz Skinner

Volatility in the markets and the nervousness it can spark makes it a great time for financial advisers to rethink how they can create awesome service experiences for clients.

Clients expect to get smart advice and be communicated with regularly, but advisers who go beyond that and offer a unique or memorable service experience will reap the rewards of loyalty and referrals, said Chip Bell, author of “Sprinkles: Creating awesome experiences through innovative service” (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2015).

“Focus on what distinguishes you from others; that's what creates a client who tells friends that they have to meet with their adviser,” said Mr. Bell, a client service expert who's worked with Ritz-Carlton, Cadillac, Marriott and financial firms including USAA.

Like sprinkles on a cupcake or cookie make those treats stand out, special client touches like personalized notes or texts, or sharing a laugh or difficult experience, makes great service distinctive, he said.

(More: 10 signs your clients are cheating on you)

DON'T FORGET BIRTHDAYS

Advisers should focus on differentiators clients value, which requires advisers to sit down at the beginning of the relationship to determine what's important to that person, couple or family. That includes how clients want to be communicated with and how much, he said.

Personalizing the experience also is important. For instance, include a handwritten note with a monthly commentary that goes to all clients, Mr. Bell said.

“Take the time to point out something in the report that relates to something you were talking about with them,” he said. “It turns a common report into something that says, 'I was thinking about you.'”

Advisers also need to know about their clients' personal lives, which includes knowing the names of their kids and pets and keeping track of major events coming up in the family's life, such as graduations and weddings. Take the time to recognize birthdays, too, though not necessarily with a greeting card.

CRISIS, OPPORTUNITY

Sending a text to a client on their birthday suggesting they enjoy a glass of their favorite scotch or other personalized greeting is distinctive, Mr. Bell said.

Clients also want relationships that are fun, not just functional, he said. He mentioned that his own financial adviser regularly delivers one-line jokes or includes a funny cartoon with correspondence.

Financial professionals also should be willing to open up about what's happening in their own life.

(More: Help clients stomach scary market headlines or pay the price)

Mr. Bell recalled his adviser calling him to ask for some counseling help when his family was going through a crisis “and it made me trust him more because he was willing to be personally vulnerable and honest about what he was dealing with.”

Exceptional client service requires advisers to return calls and emails from clients quickly, even if they just respond by saying they can't talk about the issue at the moment and provide a time they can communicate, or another contact who can help, Mr. Bell said. This means clients should have their advisers' cell and home phone numbers to be reached on matters that can't wait.

One of his favorite examples of a company that's getting the client experience right is Cirque du Soleil, a firm he has not worked with but has experienced as a customer many times. It has taken the concept of a traditional performance and circus and melded them together to create a captivating experience that makes the audience feel like the show is just for them, Mr. Bell said.

People leave saying, “Wow, that was worth the money,” he said.

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