Mundane account performance reviews won't do it. Even snazzy software that schedules "happy" calls won't do it. If you want fans - not just satisfied customers - you need a multifaceted campaign. Here are six programs that build loyalty.
1) Grand Appreciation Events An annual family gathering is the cornerstone of Floyd Shilanski's effort to build multigenerational loyalty. Shilanski is an independent broker in Anchorage, Alaska, affiliated with Washington Square Securities.
It all started in 1991 when he decided to hold a large client appreciation event that would spotlight how to build strong families and a strong country. He asked Mark Victor Hansen, author of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book series, to speak and urged clients to bring their children and grandchildren. Attendance topped 450.
Between 300 and 400 people now attend each annual event. Shilanski plans three years ahead to find a top speaker to present the family values theme. He drops teasers to clients throughout the year about the gathering, then announces the speaker in November.
The 2001 gathering will feature Olympic gymnast Peter Vidmar, who'll speak and perform. Shilanski hopes to draw in younger children by having a photographer on hand to take individual photos with Vidmar.
"We want people in the community to be talking about this," Shilanski says. "We want those who weren't invited to wonder why not."
Jeffery Chaddock of American Express Financial Advisors in Columbus, Ohio, holds two large client appreciation events each year. One is purely social, always held in his home. Half of his client base is invited. The other half receive invitations to the second event, held in an unusual public location, such as a science and technology museum or IMAX theater. Between 200 and 300 people attend each event.
"The goal is to have people talking about it for months later," Chaddock says.
Chaddock likes attention-getting invitations. He's sent a chocolate bar with the information printed directly on the candy, a CD invitation with selections from the musician to be featured at the event and a movie reel that had to be held up to the light to read the invitation.
"We've found it's more important for clients to receive the invitation than to actually attend," Chaddock says. He makes sure to send invites to clients he knows won't attend - such as elderly clients in assisted care homes - because they love the attention and talk about it with friends.
2) Cozy Seminars of Like-minded Clients Roundtable discussions are the foundation of Spencer McGowan's loyalty-building program. Each month McGowan, a Dain Rauscher rep in Dallas, invites a group of clients who work in similar industries to gather for lunch or dinner and talk over McGowan's latest investment ideas.
He aims to have only 10 households attend. Every client receives an invitation once a year, and top clients get several. "Our goal is to get clients to network, to know each other," McGowan says.
In a like manner, Linda Laborde Deane, a New Orleans-based Raymond James Financial Services broker, invites clients who share similar financial needs to come together for seminars. The groups can range from 20 to more than 100. They meet in her office or a private club.
Deane keys in on a topic in the news that strikes a chord with the group's need. "People like to know they have the same needs and come away feeling empowered with knowledge about something everyone is talking about," she says.
3) Extra Sweet Thank Yous Shilanski's clients get edible bits of appreciation every time they come in. Every hour a staffer bakes cookies and bread at the office. Anyone who visits is guaranteed to get a fresh-baked treat, surrounded by scents that remind them of childhood.
Every Monday a staffer orders flowers - one rose for each new client appointment scheduled for the week. Shilanski arranges the bouquet on his desk. At the end of the initial meeting, he takes a rose and hands it to the husband. "I say, `Why don't you give your bride a flower?'" Shilanski says. "This is especially helpful if I've felt some tension between the husband and wife. I've even told the men they can stop by anytime and get a rose if they're in trouble with their wife or want to surprise her. I've had some do that."
All Chaddock's new clients get a box of fresh-baked cookies with 20 business cards enclosed, delivered to their office. "Co-workers gather around for the cookies and you hear, `My broker never sends me this,'" he says. When a client gives a referral, Chaddock sends Beanie Babies or five instant lottery tickets.
4) Festive Birthday Recognition Birthday celebrations are more lavish for larger clients in Shilanski's office. He organizes clients into three tiers. A birthday cake and handwritten card are delivered to those in the top tier. The second tier receives muffins and the third tier a box of chocolates.
Early in a client relationship Chaddock probes what clients value most. He then looks for birthday cards with photos that mirror that interest, such as gardening, travel, pets or their profession. He creates a "library" of a dozen or so themes he can quickly access to make a birthday greeting more personal.
Deane sends cards with personal messages along with flowers or books.
5) Personalized Performance Reporting Clients want quick answers and assurance. So having account data close at hand and conducting regular performance reviews builds loyalty and trust.
For example, McGowan has created what he calls a "total profits" database. It tracks how much money a client has made since the inception of the account. "When a client calls concerned over a short-term loss, we can right away pull up the account and put it in perspective," he says.
Deane uses an AIMR-approved reporting system that allows her to meet annually with all clients and produce reports benchmarked to their particular goals.
6) Say-Anything Report Cards Once a year, Shilanski asks clients to rate his service. The report card has several open-ended questions, several objective rating questions and a place for an overall letter grade. It also asks for referrals to both friends and businesses. Nearly three-fourths of his clients respond.
Shilanski's report cards gather feedback on both hard and soft aspects of business. Clients told him they want charts and graphs - not just numbers - in their investment performance data, so he's making that change. And when he removed "Rosa's Corner" from his Web site, clients complained. So he restored the spot where his wife posts recipes online.
McGowan sends out an annual 10-question report card. It's an equal mix of multiple choice and open-ended questions. "We ask clients what are we not doing that we should," McGowan says. "We want to uncover unhappy clients and why they're unhappy. We try to be `bud nippers.'"
It's important to keep the questionnaire "fresh and real," McGowan says. He maintains a 50% response rate because he tinkers with the questions each year. In 2000, the question that drew the best response was, "What's the ideal thing we can do for you in 2001?"
Overall, brokers have to do more than one "ideal thing" to keep clients, according to these reps. The best loyalty-building programs touch people and not just their money.
Brokers plan ahead and don't skimp when it comes to keeping clients happy.
You've got to understand and systematize the cost of an ongoing client loyalty campaign. "If it wows them today, you have to outdo yourself tomorrow," says Floyd Shilanski of Washington Square Securities in Anchorage, Alaska.
The budget for Shilanski's programs varies annually. He sets aside a percentage of the revenues each client brings in to pay for that client's satisfaction. Clients who bring in more revenue make up a larger piece of the loyalty-building budget and have more money spent on them.
Shilanski doesn't worry about spending. To put into perspective the money spent on retention, he advises others to estimate what it costs to replace a lost account.
Linda Laborde Deane of Raymond James Financial Services in New Orleans has staff members to focus solely on running her several client retention programs. And to reward the staff's effort, she takes them and their spouses on an all-expenses-paid, one-week international vacation. That builds their loyalty to her, she says.
Meanwhile, Jeffery Chaddock of American Express Financial Advisors in Columbus, Ohio, earmarks about 2% of his annual revenue to loyalty building. "Current clients are your `front porch' in marketing," he says. "Prospects are your side entrance."