High-net-worth investors feel service is slipping when it comes to their financial advisers, according to a U.S. wealth report produced in 2014 by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management. In fact, the poll found satisfaction at a mediocre 72.7%, down 6.4% from the previous report.
Advisers should be concerned that investors feel that service levels are in decline. Service is what creates client satisfaction, and satisfaction drives consolidation of assets. Scorpio Partnership, which studies the wealth management client experience, reports that U.S. clients who give their advisers low satisfaction scores hold just 32% of their wealth with that adviser, while highly satisfied clients are likely to give their advisers 68% of their assets.
During a recent vacation at the Four Seasons in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to see how a company dedicated to service delivers it. Beginning with our arrival and throughout our stay, the hotel lived up to its reputation so well that the only question we had at the end was, “When can we come back?”
CREATING THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
The hotel has an open-air lobby with sweeping views of the ocean. It made an incredible first impression and let us know, in case there was any doubt, that we were someplace special.
While an ocean view is probably beyond most advisers, making clients feel they are somewhere special is not. It means going beyond the basics of neat, clean and comfortable and putting something of yourself in the office.
Some advisers do this by making their interests part of the décor. I have seen offices decorated with paraphernalia from a local sports team, with posters and pictures from organization or charities, or with artwork from local artists they support.
PUTTING THE CLIENT AT EASE
Too often, an adviser's outer office feels more like a doctor's waiting room, with the receptionist looking up and handing the client some forms to fill out. When we arrived at the hotel, the doorman, bellhop and desk agent all greeted us with smiles. We were immediately offered bottles of water, which was very welcome in the heat.
How can an adviser make sure the client feels welcome? A genuine greeting and a drink is a good place to start. Even Sheldon, the socially clueless physicist on “The Big Bang Theory,” knows to offer a beverage when a guest comes.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
On three occasions, we ran into the hotel's general manager, who seemed to make it his business to be visible around the property. One morning, I went to find a cup of coffee and found him helping guests at a self-serve coffee stand the hotel sets up for early risers.
Clearly the manager was modeling the behavior he wanted to see from his staff, and advisers can do that, too. Your staff will pick up on your attitude toward your clients. If you treat clients with respect and consideration, they will too.
At the same time the manager's visibility let the guests know he was aware of what was happening and in charge. Even if a client is meeting with a junior person in the firm, your stopping in lets the client know you are on top of the relationship.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Probably the biggest threat to a happy beach vacation is getting a sunburn. The hotel tries to insure that will not happen by having large containers of sunscreen with three different degrees of SPF at all the beaches and pools. Then there were the little surprises: complimentary chocolates and popsicles by the pool. One day, a bellman went around cleaning guests' sunglasses.
Something special can also enhance an adviser's relationship. I look forward each year to an event one adviser's firm holds at a local museum. While that's not the reason I remain at the firm, I mention it when I recommend the firm to others.
Lack of attention can have the opposite effect. Some years ago, I found what I believed was a reporting error on my statement. It took a few months but eventually my adviser said the report was displaying the wrong performance numbers for the manager. No one seemed particularly surprised, or concerned about the error.
HANDLE PROBLEMS PROMPTLY
Despite the best intentions and planning, problems will arise. We were at dinner one night and the guests at the table next to us became upset that the service was not faster. First the waiter came and apologized, then the maître d'. A few minutes later the chef came out of the kitchen to speak with them. By the time we left, they were the happiest diners in the restaurant.
Acknowledging a mistake, apologizing for it, and making a good-will gesture can go a long way when defusing problems. Part of your client experience plan should include how you will handle problems. At a minimum, an apology and an explanation of how you will ensure the problem won't happen again is in order. You may want also want to consider a small “thank for being our client gift” such as a book, pen or even a nice meal.
While delivering five-star service requires planning, the most important element is care. The Four Seasons cares about delivering high-quality service and the clients can tell it cares. If your clients can't say the same about you, consider putting a service plan in place that will make their client experience five-star, too.
Libby Dubick (libby@dubick consulting.com) is president of Dubick & Associates Ltd., a marketing consulting firm for advisers and financial services firms.