You Too Can Provide Personalized Service

there are very specific things you can do, and my purpose in this issue of Practice Management is to share three strategies our clients have related to us.

Newport RI: Near the end of a recent workshop I was leading, I made the point that good service, and even excellent service, is not enough if you hope to retain affluent clients. Instead, you must deliver a high level of personalized service to each client. As I was making this point, I could see the question forming in Eric's mind.

Eric is not part of a wealth-management team, but he has a successful, high-producing, individual practice. He is targeting the affluent and is continually reducing his client load below his established firewall, his minimum investable asset level. But I could see that Eric was troubled by this emphasis on high-level personalized service. I paused and asked if anyone had any reactions to what I was saying.

Eric raised his hand. "Personalized service is a great idea if you are part of a team," he began. "But I don't have the support people to do to that. What can I do?"

It's important to note that Eric didn't simply say, "I can't do that" and throw up his hands. He took a bold step by asking, "What can I do?" The fact is, there are very specific things he can do, and my purpose in this issue of Practice Management is to share three strategies our clients have related to us.

Proactive Client Contact

The word strategy means to apply your limited resources where they will have the greatest impact. According to our 2004 study of Affluent Purchasing Decisions, the most significant criteria the affluent use when selecting their primary financial advisor is being proactive about contacting them when upcoming tax and other changes will impact their investment portfolio.

During a recent coaching call, one of my clients described a proactive contact strategy he uses effectively, despite only having one assistant to help him. The situation he described was a downturn in the market that, at that particular time, he knew would be uppermost on the mind of 34 of his clients. He is a busy rainmaker, so sitting down at his desk to make 34 phone calls was not feasible. At the same time, ignoring this opportunity would not be wise. Here is what he did ...

  • He selected 17 of those clients, essentially the ones who would most want to hear directly from him. While driving between meetings and on the way home, he called them on his cell phone. He talked directly with 14 and left a message with three of those clients. His message in both cases was simple, but reassuring: "I am aware of what's happening with the market, and I know you are concerned. I want you to know that we are monitoring any significant impact it might have on your portfolio."
  • His assistant made 12 calls -- spoke with eight, and left four messages. Once again, the message was basically the same. Instead of "we," she tempered her message by saying "Curt wanted you to know ..."

The reason this strategy can be so effective is that 85 percent of your revenue typically comes from your top 50 or so clients. To effectively implement this proactive contact strategy, you need to do the following ...

  • Identify the specific clients who contribute 80 percent to 85 percent of your revenue, and then determine which ones need and expect this level of proctive, personal contact. It was by doing this that Curt was able to create his hit list of 34 clients.
  • Determine the specific situations when this group needs proactive contact. Make certain your team's practice manager or your assistant has that list in front of him or her -- and is helping you stay alert to those times when proactive contact to those select clients is needed.

Be prepared in advance to quickly divide the list, and be clear about what each of you will say. You need to implement this strategy on a timely basis.

Building Personalized Service Around Life Changes

No one's life remains static for long these days, and often those life changes result in placing money in motion. When that happens, your clients need you -- even if they aren't aware of why in a specific situation. Building on the importance of proactive personalized contact, here is a simple and highly effective way to ensure the strategic intent of the contacts you make with those top 50 (or more) clients.

During another coaching call, a client mentioned that he would soon be conducting annual reviews with his top clients and was wondering if I had any suggestions about what he should ask. We reviewed the basics of an annual review, and then I suggested that he make certain to ask each client if they could think of any changes that were about to occur -- or that they anticipate will occur over the next three months. Since a "review" tends to focus on the past, he hadn't really thought of doing that. He promised he would.

When I talked with him following those annual reviews, he expressed surprise at what he had uncovered. Several issues came up in those reviews that needed serious attention.

If you aren't already asking about current and anticipated life changes during quarterly and annual reviews, I urge you to do so. In fact, you should consider focusing on specific life change areas that you are especially prepared to address. To help with that, we are offering our Capitalizing on the Impact of Life Changes guidelines that includes a list of 41 life changes that can place money in motion and impact your client's financial position. To download, go to: www.oechsli.com/PM55.

To utilize your limited resources in your effort to provide proactive response to what you learn during those review sessions, do the following ...

  • Carefully note the dates and reasons your client will need your help. The worksheet in the above handout will help you with that task.
  • Enter both the event and an appropriate contact date in your contact management system and day planner.
  • Arrange in advance which of those contacts need to be made by you, and which can be handled by someone on your team, or your assistant if you are an individual advisor.
Personalized Response & Recognition

Your top 50 or so clients represent the lifeblood of your practice. Personalized response and recognition are key factors in retaining them as clients. When suggesting sending handwritten personalized notes in response to various interactions with clients, frequently the advisor will say, "Oh, that's a good idea. I hadn't thought of that." That's why it's so important. Sending personal handwritten notes is a lost art in our digital world.

Every once in a while I discover that a coaching client has become very creative in sending personalized gifts to clients to recognize special dates and events in their life. If you go to Google.com and enter "gift packages" or "business gifts" or some similar phrase (put in quotes), you will discover a variety of possibilities.

The key is personalized recognition. Find something that is significant to them, and look for a way to recognize that significance. That can actually be done during your conversation about life changes during a quarterly or annual review meeting. Here are two examples.

Example #1

This advisor picked up in a conversation that a client loved candy and was lamenting the fact that he missed the "old days" when candy was really candy. So, this advisor began to search -- and quickly found: www.oldtimecandy.com.

Right at the top of the web page it said, "Old fashioned candy from the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s... still available after all these years. What a great gift for any occasion!" She immediately entered the client's unique preference in her database -- and included the above link for future reference.

Example #2

Another client of ours is using a wine service that sends moderately priced and personalized wine baskets that enables the recipient to celebrate an important event. Once again, this example of personalized services takes on special significance if you can find out the types of wine a given client prefers. If you would like to access to this source, please email me at: [email protected]

The opportunity to explore the unique preferences of each Top 50 client can occur during almost any conversation you have with them. If you don't want to spend the time looking for ways to recognize that preference, delegate it. The key is to continually expand your capacity to provide personalized service in unique and creative ways.

This newsletter doesn't cover every possibility, but hopefully it will stimulate your thinking toward expanding the answer to Eric's question, "What can I do?" The next step, as always, is doing it!

If you have any topic or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trust & Estates magazines, at [email protected].
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