Almost everyone likes to be pampered, particularly in this age of impersonal communications. When was the last time a service provider remembered your birthday by throwing you a party, sending you a cake or a book by your favorite author? Brokers who shower their clients with individual attention, gifts, parties and special services reinforce the relationship.
Some reps have gone so far as to hire someone to pamper clients. Last fall, David Bromelkamp, who runs The Bromelkamp Group within Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis, hired a client service manager, Kelly Carlson. Part of her job description is to pamper clients.
“From the client's perspective, good service is you keeping in touch with them,” Bromelkamp says. “Keep me informed. Answer the phone. When I ask for something, give it to me right away.”
Carlson schedules appointments, luncheons and seminars. She plans events and handles client gifts and greeting cards.
Gregg Fisher, who heads Gerstein Fisher & Associates, a Nathan & Lewis firm in New York City, hired Kim Bernson as relationship manager. She's responsible for sending greeting cards, newsletters, gifts, and planning events and meetings. “The end result of Kim's job is to have our clients continue to know [that] they're on our minds regularly,” Fisher says. He got the idea from reading the book, “Deena Katz on Practice Management” (ISBN 1-57660-070-X, Bloomberg Press, $50).
Concierge in the House
A partner in the Coral Gables, Fla., planning firm Evensky Brown & Katz, Deena Katz says the firm has been offering concierge services for about four years. It started as travel planning. “One-third of our clients are outside of Florida,” Katz says. “They were coming to Florida, looking for a good place to stay, good restaurants.” They started informally introducing staff member, Tammi Wells, as concierge. Now she is director of concierge services. Beyond travel planning, they offer resources and services such as auto leasing, geriatric care and psychological counseling. “There is no end to the services you can provide,” Katz says.
“People don't have time for a lot of things,” Katz explains, so solving little problems for them builds a bond. “The stickier the relationship is, the harder it is for them to leave you.” She recommends outsourcing most client services where possible.
When the firm started providing concierge services, they were included with the money management fee. Katz says her firm is now formalizing different levels of service — some come as part of a basic package to which clients can add other services for additional fees.
Special occasions offer pampering opportunities, and birthdays are universal. Rob Floe of Linsco/Private Ledger in Pasadena, Calif., selects one client per month and throws a birthday party at a restaurant or private club, inviting 10 people. “Clients really like it,” Floe says. “We're trying to confirm they're important to us.”
Joe Henry, one of Floe's staff members, organizes the parties. “We call and ask if they would like to celebrate their birthday,” Floe says. “They tell us whom to invite.” Although Floe has gotten a couple of clients from doing this, he makes it a point not to discuss business at the parties.
Another birthday favorite: the cake. Joe Montgomery, who runs The Optimal Service Group within First Union Securities in Williamsburg, Va., sends a birthday cake to the client's home. “Getting the cake delivered is tricky,” he says. “We found someone who can do that.” He can ship them out of state, too. “They pack it in dry ice. We've only had one disaster when the cake sat outside.”
Montgomery has been sending cakes for several years. “You'd be surprised by how much that means to people,” he says.
One of Katz's clients turned 101 this year. “We sent her 101 roses,” Katz says.
The arrangement in an oriental vase “was so big they had to leave it in the lobby of her building,” Katz says. “Then she got a card from everyone in the building.” Since the client lives an hour and a half away, Katz sent a car to pick her up for a birthday lunch.
Jane Stein, senior vice president of investments with Salomon Smith Barney in Houston, takes her top clients to lunch for their birthday. “We take them to a great restaurant with a guest of their choice,” she says.
Bromelkamp uses a birthday gift service for his clients. After pre-selecting gifts, he sends client info to the service, and they handle the rest. “Last year, it was a baseball cap with the client's name embroidered on it,” he says. “This year, it was a nice notebook. We had their initials engraved.”
You can mark just about any occasion with a gift. The more individualized, the better. Fisher was visiting a client in California this spring. “She mentioned she read an article about a woman who writes books for Scholastic — stories of a female nomad,” he says. He got the name of the book and will be sending her a copy. “It's a very personal thing.”
For a client who moved to a country house, Fisher sent a scarecrow with some planting materials. That was a huge hit, he says.
Another client is into hiking. “For their wedding, I sent them a backpack with picnic stuff in it,” Bernson says. “They thought it was awesome. We try to do creative things; it shows we think about them.”
When a client becomes a grandparent, Wells sends a gift basket with a camera, book, picture frame and other items. For client greeting cards, “we hired a retired lady who hand-makes cards,” Katz says. “We get lots of comments from clients about those.”
For CPA clients and referral sources, Terri and Dessi Large, a mother/daughter team at Edward Jones in Matthews, N.C., delivers chocolate bear cakes during tax season. Dessi makes them by hand. “We write on the card, ‘We hope the rest of tax season is bearable,’” Dessi says.
Share the Wealth
If a client gives you a referral, why not reward it with a token of your appreciation?
Byron Braun, managing director of The Braun Wealth Management Group within First Union Securities in Ft. Wayne, Ind., sends a book to thank a client for a referral. “I have quite a collection of books,” he says. His choice depends on the client and what they have received in the past — an assistant keeps track in a referral book. Some examples: “Wit and Wisdom of American Presidents,” and “Great Quotes from Great Women.”
Dessi chooses from a selection of small gifts to acknowledge referrals. For the first referral, she sends a packet of Forget-Me-Not flower seeds. “I write, ‘Thanks for the referral. Forget Me Not in the future,’” she says. Other times, Dessi encloses a T-shirt and writes, ‘Thank you for the referral with the shirt off my back.’ She also sends hats and lunch certificates.
Arlene Moore, who heads Financial Strategies of Southwest Florida in Sarasota and Tampa, hosts a Client of the Month dinner for the client who gives her the most referrals. “I take them out,” she says. “They bring someone who isn't a client. They love it.” Moore publishes the winner's name in her monthly newsletter.
For a referral, Michael Kresh takes the client out to dinner or sends a gift certificate. The Royal Alliance broker from Hauppauge, N.Y., says “Ninety percent of the time, I haven't gotten a complaint.” In a couple of cases, though, the referring client was insulted. “I apologized and asked if they would prefer to give the money to charity.”
Dan Candura, a broker with American Express Financial Advisors in Braintree, Mass., goes straight to charitable donations as a reward for client referrals. “I give them a choice of charities — four different ones that involve kids,” he says. “I send them a letter with a postcard that says, ‘You helped me. I would like to help others.’ I send the check, and it's done anonymously. Clients like it, and the charities like getting the money.”
Celebrating with Clients
Throwing a party is another way to indulge clients. Fisher and Bernson have hosted dinner cruises around Manhattan for key clients. “It's a 3½ hour dinner cruise with drinks and music,” Fisher says. They usually have about 100 guests.
Stein throws an annual “big wing ding client appreciation event” the first week in November. “Everyone's invited,” she says. “Last year, we did a nice dinner at a lovely private club. We had 200 people.” She hired a caricature artist, a musician and a florist.
Every 18 months, Kresh hosts a client recognition event. “It's a major function,” he says. “The last two times, we've had it at a nice restaurant on Long Island. At the next one, we're going to have a swing band or a jazz band.”
Floe entertains his clients with a Fourth of July barbecue at his house, which overlooks the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Henry plans it. “My clients become like extended family,” Floe says. Holding the event at his home gives it a personal touch.
Likewise, Braun's annual holiday party at his home strengthens his bond with clients. “They've seen my kids grow,” he says. “They know my son is a tennis player. You develop a long-term relationship.” This 17-year tradition is a catered event with wait-staff. One advantage, Braun says, is that it includes both spouses. “Too many people do golf outings with one partner.”
Braun gives party attendees an elaborate desk diary as a gift. “I write a note about life on the inside cover,” he says. “It's used every day. It's a reminder of the relationship.”
The holiday celebration at the Larges' office is a two-day open house. From noon to 5 p.m., clients drop in. “I fix all the food,” Dessi says, “and we give out door prizes every hour. We have contests. There's a Christmas movie playing. At the end of the day, we do a drawing for a money tree,” a petite Christmas tree decorated with small bills.
Going Above and Beyond
The struggles of everyday life present a myriad of pampering opportunities. Dessi tells the story of a client who had a stroke and needed some yard work done. Terri went to the house and mowed the lawn. “She's done that for a number of people,” Dessi says, adding one of the reasons she decided to become a rep after observing her mother: “You help so many people.”
Kresh takes pride in helping widows. A client's husband died, leaving behind his stamp and coin collection. “I looked at what he had,” Kresh says. “We built a database and took everything she had to the appraiser.”
Other widows are nervous about buying a car. “We negotiate the price on the car for them,” Kresh says. “It's funny, when I did that, it helped my practice.” Other widowed prospects have come to him for help.
In addition to helping clients buy cars, Montgomery has negotiated a service arrangement with a Lexus dealer. “They will pick up your car, leave a loaner, service your car and take the loaner back.” His clients refer to it as “The Montgomery Deal.”
Pampering clients can be rewarding. As Bromelkamp points out, “The consumer demands good advice and a high level of service. It's a competitive advantage that we have a person on the team devoted to this — pampering clients.”
Montgomery adds: “We try to treat people the way we want to be treated. It's important to build these relationships. It links clients to each member of the group.”
Clients appreciate concierge services, Katz says. “Most people are looking for someone to solve their hassles. What's scarce now are time and resources.”
Random Acts of Kindness
Pampering clients helped Ron Carson become Linsco/Private Ledger's top producer.
Ron Carson is a broker who knows how to nurture clients. It starts the minute they walk into Carson Feltz Wealth Management Group, his Linsco/Private Ledger branch in Omaha, Neb. If it's morning, the aroma of freshly baked bread wafts through the reception area. If it's afternoon, they are enticed by the scent of cookies baking in the oven. Of course, they are free to sample these goodies.
Jane Bliss, “Director of First Impressions,” known as a receptionist in other circles, programs a bread machine at night, so it's ready first thing in the morning, and bakes cookies in the afternoon. She greets clients and asks if they would like their usual beverage — she keeps track of these details. Hot beverages are served in China cups and cold drinks in crystal glasses. They don't serve regular coffee, mind you. Each day brings a new selection. “Today we have crème brÛlée, vanilla and double chocolate,” Carson says. “We grind the beans fresh.”
Royal treatment in the reception area is just the beginning. “All of my staff is empowered to perform random acts of kindness,” Carson notes. “We find out clients' hobbies, their favorite restaurants, past accomplishments and future goals. If a client mentions a trip to Australia, an associate orders a book on it from Amazon.”
In practicing what he calls “love affair nurturing,” Carson says, “We want to make clients feel so good they want to reciprocate with referrals. When someone did something nice for you, what was the first thing you wanted to do? You wanted to reciprocate.”
Renee Welch, concierge, is in charge of love affair nurturing. Clients' needs dictate the services provided. “If you think we can help you, we'll help,” Carson says. “If we can't do it, we'll find someone who can.”
Pampering is a team effort. “It's about the institutional relationship — the feeling they have about the firm and all the participants.” he says.
To initiate client coddling, Carson recommends brokers start with their top 25 clients. “Some of the least expensive things you can do are to call clients on their birthdays, send flowers, keep track of wedding anniversaries,” he says. This comes with a caveat: “If you don't have a system in place to continue to pamper them, don't do it.”
Communicate more when the market gets volatile, adds Carson, who also conducts an annual seminar for brokers on how to pamper clients.
Client entertainment is part of relationship building. “I have one person on my staff who just plans events,” Carson says. In July, they hosted Showdown at Shadow Ridge II, a charity golf event with Arnold Palmer, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Gary Player and Lee Trevino. All of his and partner Todd Feltz's clients were invited.
In addition to wining and dining clients, they host new client orientations, surprise birthday soirees and retirement parties for clients.
In planning events, “look in your own backyard,” he recommends. “Big Red [University of Nebraska] football is big here, so we plan tailgates. Gardening is popular — we get a County Extension Agent to speak. It's inexpensive. Every county has one.”
Carson will have hosted more than two-dozen educational events on a variety of financial topics by year's end. “Every two weeks, the client has an opportunity to come, listen and bring a prospect.”
Gifts are part of nurturing, too. “I'm always looking for little things,” he says. “I went to the British Open and sent hats. For the ladies, on Valentine's Day, we sent Godiva chocolate.”
Carson attributes much of his success to pampering clients. “Our secret is to communicate a lot, to show clients we care,” he says. They query a few clients each week with a questionnaire on their satisfaction level. Staff is compensated from the customer satisfaction index and quarterly bonuses are based on the rating.
That's an incentive for staff members to perform a few more random acts of kindness.