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What financial advisers can learn from Starbucks, Apple and SoulCycle

Advisory firm clients want many of the same things as other consumers — comfort, consistency, community and empowerment

Oct 9, 2018 @ 10:59 am

By David J. Petoskey

People don't go to Starbucks for the coffee.

Why do so many people choose Starbucks? It's not for the coffee — it's for the experience. Starbucks has created an entire brand identity around delivering a rewarding experience for customers. It's mastered what's been coined the "experience economy."

Financial advisers are taking note. Advisers and firms are moving beyond talking about performance and reporting, and instead looking to the experience economy. Clients care about performance and expect results but increasingly don't see it as a differentiator.

In fact, when clients were asked why they switched financial advisers in the last decade, leading responses were "lack of personal attention" (top millennial response) and "poor customer service," second only to "high fees," according to Qualtrics Experience Management research.

Clients expect performance, but they crave experiences. Here's a closer look at how Starbucks, Apple and SoulCycle have put their own spin on creating novel and enduring experiences for customers and how advisers can borrow these concepts to better serve clients.

Starbucks: Comfort and Consistency

When customers visit Starbucks, they're seeking comfort and consistency. Many customers don't realize it, but Starbucks actually offers a more rewarding experience for visiting more often. The barista learns your name and remembers that you take soy milk in your latte.

Financial advisers can take a page from Starbucks' book by creating a consistent, personalized experience. Clients should expect reassuring consistency from every interaction with an adviser.

Advisers can forge a stronger connection with clients by creating a customized financial planning experience. Any adviser can have a great pitch for winning new business, but creating superior experiences means replicating that customized service in every meeting.

Apple: Power to Create

When people visit an Apple store, they're not looking just for a flashy tech gadget. They're looking for a tool to help them create. These tools don't compromise on quality, and they use a clean, consistent design that makes it easy and intuitive to edit videos, run blogs or simply browse the web.

If a new laptop can generate an empowering experience, the potential for financial advisers to inspire their clients is nearly limitless. But for advisers to help clients create the life they desire, they must connect financial planning to specific milestones, plans and priorities. The right strategy goes beyond projecting when clients can comfortably retire — it allows them to determine how and to what extent they can do things like pay for their grandkids' tuition or take a vacation to Europe without compromising the quality of that retirement.

SoulCycle: Community and Culture

When people take a SoulCycle class, they're not just getting a workout, they're joining a community. SoulCycle devotees place a high value on the company's high-intensity mind-body approach, which creates an instant bond with fellow cyclers. And because people become so enamored by the workout and the results, the company has built a strong network of brand advocates on social media.

Advisers can follow SoulCycle's lead by creating a strong brand around the experience they provide. Clients may find it much easier to share positive experiences resulting from an approach that lets them prioritize and track their life goals and make adjustments where needed. With the right branding, clients can feel like they're part of a community that's taking a smart approach to meeting their financial goals.

Scaling the Experience

What truly sets companies like Starbucks, Apple and SoulCycle apart is their success in scaling their experience across countless locations and customers.

A financial advisory is no different. Individual advisers can provide a great experience for individual clients. Advisers looking to create scalable, repeatable experiences for their clients should consider these best practices:

Establish a consistent platform. Make sure there's seamless consistency in the tools advisers use to develop financial plans and investment strategies, and communicate with clients. Advisers and clients should be familiar with the platforms.

Formalize the client experience. Create familiar, valuable client experiences. Including branded elements or establishing a structure for meetings creates a process that clients recognize and appreciate.

Don't neglect the internal experience. All firm staff must be brand ambassadors — knowing the process, differentiators and how personalized client experiences are delivered.

(More: How to turn new clients into raving fans in the first 100 days)

Takeaway for Advisers

Advisers can take a cue from brands that have embraced the experience economy. Wealth management clients are seeking many of the same things as everyday consumers — comfort, consistency, community and empowerment. Advisers who can effectively deliver client experiences with these elements will be better-positioned to enhance client relationships and ultimately scale their business.

(More: Marketing your practice with purpose)

David J. Petoskey is president of Wealthcare Management Services.

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