Washington, D.C.: "We've got systems and procedures down to a science," said Marty, "but something is missing in our client relationships. We've recently lost four clients who I thought we were providing with a high level of service," he said.
Marty wanted me to help him pinpoint that missing link. He was right about practice management--his firm had taken it very seriously. Over the past five years he had transitioned a formerly "loosey-goosey" working environment into one that adhered to clear policies and procedures. He set up a strict contact schedule for clients that outlines frequency of email contact, telephone contact by support personnel, telephone contact by Marty, and face-to-face review meetings.
How can you go wrong with that kind of system? Easily - when you are dealing with the affluent. Because I didn't have time to get into a prolonged coaching exercise with Marty, I suggested he get a copy of the March 2009 Harvard Business Review and read the article by Hall and Johnson titled "When Should a Process be Art, Not Science?" and then to give me a call.
A few days later I got a call from Marty. "That article nailed us!" he confessed. "One line underscored everything for me. It was the bold header that read “Not only does standardization reduce accountability, but it causes workers to switch to autopilot.”
Marty said the lines of accountability were very clear with everyone, but after serious reflection, he admitted that it was possible that performance was perhaps a bit too perfunctory under the processes his firm had implemented. He was hard pressed to place his finger on when or how this had occurred, until I asked a handful of specific questions regarding the four clients he lost, such as:
--Do you know what your clients feel passionate about?
--Do you know what your clients children's academic, sports, or career interests are?
--How often did you do meet with these clients on a purely social basis?
My point was made rather quickly. Like too many advisors, Marty assumed he could measure his relationship with his clients purely on a quantitative basis: a certain number of contacts, he though, would equal a satisfied client. Well is what Hall and Johnson refer to as, process standardization and for many advisors who are working with the affluent, it has gone too far.
Don't get me wrong, good processes are essential, but when you are working with the affluent, your processes must be accompanied with a more personal component. That means that you must develop a certain depth in your client relationships: understanding the needs, wants, goals and interest of family members, and figuring out where their conflicts lie.
What do I mean by a "personal component"? It's simple. In the world of the affluent, mass customization is dead. What worked with the mass affluent a few years ago, does not and will not work with today's affluent, and especially during these challenging times, as Marty discovered the hard way.
Process and Art
Process: If you think in terms of low risk, low-reward activities that will help you attract, serve and develop relationships with loyal affluent clients, you are probably zeroing in on areas where having a standard process in place is useful. A partial list of how these processes are typically defined is below:
--Roles and responsibilities
--Individual performance expectations and reviews
--Written procedures for operations and administrative tasks (paper flow, correspondence, CRM input, phone protocol, etc.)
Art: When it comes to the marketing and selling of your services to the affluent and then managing each affluent client relationship, artistry must take the lead. The principle is simple; everything must be personal and sincere. Master rainmakers weave this artistry into the following activities:
--Sourcing names of client "Center of Influence" relationships
--Orchestrating a personal introductions to these COI relationships
--Developing rapport with an affluent prospect and uncovering a "passion point"
--Knowing each affluent client's passion points
--Knowing what kinds of contacts each client prefers, and with what frequency: a quick message (e-mail versus phone) versus intense personal schmoozing.
When approached from this perspective it's much easier to see where art and process intersect. For instance, it is vital that all the information you input into your CRM system is accurate, that incoming correspondence—whether it is a phone call, email, or snail-mail—is handled in a timely and professional manner.
What Marty discovered the hard way was that it's essential that everyone on this team not only be exacting when it comes to process, but they also need to understand the artistry required to fully serve each affluent client. Each individual must participate in strengthening these affluent client relationships.