Develop a strategy
There are countless ways to show your appreciation for clients, which is why it’s important to establish a clear direction to guide your approach. “Most firms have the sense that they should be doing this work, but without a larger strategy to coordinate those efforts, they end up spending time and money without much measurable effect,” says Flaxington. “On the other hand, directing those efforts towards meeting specific goals can deepen your relationships, provide clients with better value, and ultimately inspire loyalty.” Start by asking yourself some questions: What do you want to accomplish with your client appreciation efforts? What kinds of initiatives might you consider, and how will you budget the time and resources necessary to implement them? This kind of advance planning helps you establish metrics for evaluating whether your client appreciation initiatives are meeting the goals you’ve set.
Make better use of events
From dinners to seminars, events are one of the most popular ways of expressing appreciation for clients. They’re a way to reward clients for their loyalty and celebrate your work together. And they allow you to do that on a larger scale than individual meetings. Given that audience, Flaxington suggests making events more than a feel-good opportunity. Think about the substance of the event and how you can use it to say something about your values and the culture of your practice, and how these are central to the value you provide to clients. For example, if client education is a central theme in your practice, consider bringing in an expert to speak on a specific topic — such as current market trends or getting involved in charity work. More than an impressive dinner party, holding an enjoyable and valuable event demonstrates appreciation through your recognition of clients’ needs and concerns.
Take time to communicate
Not every appreciation effort has to be conducted on a large scale like an event. The use of regular, personalized communication — such as a handwritten letter — can be an equally effective tool. While email blasts and social media posts are great ways to reach large numbers of clients, they’re also generic. “The very act of sitting down to write a letter, whether it’s to address an issue raised during a client meeting or to simply thank them for being a valued client, illustrates a level of care,” explains Flaxington. “It’s a personal detail that goes a longer way with clients than you might expect.” And while it seems like a time-intensive pursuit, communication becomes manageable with planning. Setting aside just 20 minutes a few times weekly for that kind of work could have a big long-term payoff.
Make gifting personal
Recognition is a universal desire and gifts are a good way to satisfy it. When delivered effectively, gifts have the power not only to express gratitude, but also to reiterate your respect for a client and your relationship. The best gifts aren’t the most expensive, says Flaxington, but rather those which have intrinsic value which make the recipient feel special. “It’s great to give someone a gift basket around the holidays, but would they really be upset if they hadn’t gotten it?” Regardless of sticker price, the gift doesn’t have particular value if it doesn’t say anything personal about the client. Sending a baby shower gift to an expectant client or a travel guide to a recent retiree, on the other hand, does demonstrate care. “It shows that you’re aware, and respectful of their goals and want to celebrate the client’s achievements,” says Flaxington.
Be selective in your targeting
Given limited time and resources, prioritizing your appreciation efforts to recognize your most vulnerable clients is a good idea. The same study by PriceMetrix showed that advisors face the greatest risk of losing clients between the first and fourth year of their working relationship. It’s during that time that clients evaluate their advisor experience and are most likely, if dissatisfied, to seek out a new one. So, while it’s important for your strategy to acknowledge your entire client base, it makes sense for advisors and firms to target their appreciation efforts at that demographic in particular. The goal: To ensure that you’re making consistent contact with your most at-risk clients, strengthening and addressing any potential issues with that relationship during the time when it matters most.
Track your success
The larger goal of client retention will play out over years or even decades, and it can be challenging to know if a thank you note or particular event played a role in that outcome. Measure the success of your efforts by your clients’ reactions to individual efforts — although gathering that quantitative feedback is a delicate process. For example, polling clients on your annual dinner can make the event feel like a transaction rather than a celebration. Instead, ask clients if they felt the event was useful, and give them the opportunity to offer suggestions on the format or topic for the next event.
The key is to consistently refer to your objectives, says Flaxington. “Too many advisors skip the plan and end up using tactics in search of a strategy,” she explains. “Start with a strategy and let that guide you towards the best decisions for you and your clients.”