We are all familiar with Murphy's Law: A satirical proposition stating that if there is a possibility for something to go wrong, it will go wrong. But this does not always have to be a bad thing. If you are prepared to fix what goes wrong quickly, it could strengthen the advisor-client relationship.
The 2004 Affluent Purchasing Decision Research* states: “Resolving any problems quickly and satisfactorily is the most significant criteria for earning affluent loyalty that leads to future business.” John, a financial advisor I know, experienced this firsthand: “The wife of one of my best clients called and was so upset about the service of our firm's 401(k) plan that she couldn't even speak in sentences — it was sound bursts. I finally calmed her down and insisted that she and her husband have lunch with me, and I assured her that I would take care of the problem.”
John was apprehensive about the meeting, but was confident he could correct the problem. Over lunch, together John and his husband-wife clients reviewed the problem and decided on how to correct it: find a new 401(k) plan provider. But what happened next was truly amazing, says John. “The husband jumped up, shook my hand and told me he had just discovered another $1 million in spare cash that he was having wired to me that afternoon. He then told me about a friend that he wanted to introduce to me so he could learn about my services.” John, of course, was beyond shocked.
Turning Lead Into Gold
What happened to John was in line with what our research has unearthed as the key to building and maintaining client loyalty, and, just as important, opens the door to additional business and introductions: solving problems quickly, communicating clearly and making certain the client is comfortable with both the solution and the means by which you solved the problem. In John's case, he had simply reaped the benefits of taking steps to resolve his client's problem without any delay.
As a financial professional focused on earning the loyalty of affluent clientele, you need to understand the distinction between satisfaction and loyalty. You want satisfied clients, but the hard reality is your loyal clients will not be satisfied by everything you try to do for them.
With that in mind, here are seven principles that should shape your thinking and guide your efforts:
Don't tell people about your service — show them.
Create a comfortable business atmosphere, on the phone and especially in your place of business. Many of today's affluent are busy and highly stressed people that come from modest backgrounds; they will not be impressed by unnecessary extravagance. Instead, create an environment that is consistently courteous, professional, comfortable and helpful. What will influence them is the help you give them, as well as your attention to details, such as clean and functional restrooms, coffee rooms and work areas.
Practice hospitality by doing the little things.
Do not allow anyone else to greet your clients; be there when they come in the door — do not make them sit in front of a receptionist, waiting for you to get off the phone. Hold doors for people. When you are finished, walk your clients to the elevator, to the lobby or even to their cars.
Be available to affluent clients 24 hours a day, even if you don't believe it's necessary.
Forget about normal hours or the Monday-through-Friday atmosphere many businesses typically project. On your personal literature, state something like, “Our office hours are whatever you need them to be.” Continually intimate this to your prospects and clients as well.
Enable clients to make one call to get answers.
Gather the people you work with and organize a “client response team.” Distribute the responsibility to be “on call” among all your team members so that someone is available at all times. If you cannot take these incoming calls yourselves, hire an answering service that will contact the available team member whenever a client calls. When messages are left, the on-call team member should respond immediately, usually within 15 minutes.
Never say “No.”
When a client asks, “Can you…,” the only answer you give is yes — even if you can't figure out immediately how to do what the client wants. Obviously, this accommodation has some limits, but it's the mindset that is most important. Be prepared to respond to anything a client wants, regardless of what it is. Do not charge for these “extra” services unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must charge, discuss it with your customer /client ahead of time. Will your affluent clients take advantage of you? Rarely, and if a few do, it's worth it.
Help customers or clients help you to provide Ritz Carlton-level service.
Explain every aspect of what you will be doing for your client, step-by-step. When you go over your steps, consider the following four points:
- This is what I/we will be doing.
- These are the results you (the client) can expect.
- This is what I need you to do to help make this step successful.
- This is the benefit you will receive from this step.
Next, tell the client the best time to contact you. Finally, when clients request something, tell them exactly what information they need to provide in order for you to help them in this specific area.
Set a leadership example.
Take control of the relationship from the beginning. Do not expect your company, other team members or service personnel to consistently exhibit the desired attitude and behaviors unless they first see them in you. Accept that you are the person responsible for affluent loyalty.
Satisfaction is tied to a specific incident or transaction. Loyalty builds over time as you work to satisfy clients with everything you do, and respond immediately and effectively when you don't measure up. Is it worth the effort? Every time you find yourself asking that question, remember what happened to John — an additional $1 million to manage and an introduction to a qualified affluent prospect. There is no better way to build your business.
Writer's BIO: Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients.
*In third quarter of 2004, The Oechsli Institute surveyed 402 retail investors with income above $100,000 to $1 million and up. The goal: to determine how affluent consumers made personal banking decisions, selected a primary financial advisor and made major purchase decisions.