Knowing what the client wants can save money, drive new business

Adviser uses client survey results to tailor client communications

Jun 27, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

By Liz Skinner

Fox Joss & Yankee LLC has discovered the value of client surveys. As such, it's in the minority among financial advisory firms.

After reviewing the results of its first such survey last month, the firm is changing the way it communicates with clients, moving away from paper-based communications toward social-media exchanges.

Fox Joss & Yankee LLC has discovered the value of client surveys. As such, it's in the minority among financial advisory firms.

After reviewing the results of its first such survey last month, the firm is changing the way it communicates with clients, moving away from paper-based communications toward social-media exchanges.

Several years ago, Fox Joss & Yankee put together a client advisory board to get feedback for improving its business. Its partners valued the ideas they received from those 16 clients so much, they decided to give all 250 clients a chance to weigh in with their thoughts, said Jon Yankee, a partner and chief financial officer of the firm.

The firm sent an e-mail survey to clients asking how they get information about financial matters and about how they'd like to communicate with their advisers. Fox Joss & Yankee focused on communications because it learned from its advisory board years ago that clients do not like blast e-mails. Instead, the firm wants to “reach out” to clients through its blog and Facebook page with content that they will value, Mr. Yankee said.

Fox Joss & Yankee is seeing a greater number of prospects coming from its website and the partners want to make sure they are providing information there that will keep attracting new clients, he said.

Before 2012, the most prospects that had come to the firm as a result of its website or media coverage was 10 in a year. That number exploded to 33 last year and is at 30 year-to-date in 2013.

“It shows us that these web and media efforts matter because people are reading them, and consumers are doing more research on their own before they call you,” Mr. Yankee said.

After evaluating responses from 94 clients, the firm decided only a third of its clients will receive a printed, mailed quarterly newsletter because those clients said that's what they preferred or said they wanted both it and an electronic version. The majority of clients will receive an electronic version.

Sending an electronic version of the newsletter saves the firm money but, in addition, clients are more likely to share an article with another potential client if they can forward it electronically, rather than having to remember to show them a hard copy, said Lisa Crafford, the firm's business manager.

The firm also found that its clients read about financial topics online about two to three times per week, validating the firm's efforts to post new content on its site at least three times a week, she said.

About half of the clients who responded to the survey provided their names and advisers called each of these clients to thank them for participating and to ask for additional details. That follow-up was a time consuming process for the advisers, “but that's where the value comes from,” Ms. Crafford said.

Only about 20% of advisers consistently use client surveys to learn about their customers, according to ClientWise LLC, a consulting firm. That's unfortunate for firms because research suggests that the clients who participate in client surveys are most likely to stick around.

“Surveys build better connections to clients and really frame up the relationship in an important way,” said Chris Holman, senior executive coach at ClientWise.

By surveying clients, the adviser is saying, “Your opinion counts,” and “I want to know how I can improve my service to you,” he said. When an adviser asks a client what they value in him, that response is an important relationship-building moment, Mr. Holman said.

And importantly, surveys also can help identify problems before they linger and drive clients away from the firm, he said.

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