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Let Your Clients Build Your Business

Stop trying to put yourself in your clients' shoes; just listen to them.

Few advisors would argue with the old adage that to have a more successful business, you need to design an excellent "client experience." But what does that actually mean?  

The proverbial "client experience," although often discussed as a monolithic topic, is, in reality, the sum of a client’s perceptions of your business. It encompasses the cumulative impact of every interaction a client has with your firm. So, to design an excellent client experience advisors strive to map the client’s journey. To do so entails stepping into the client’s shoes and imagining their reaction to every touchpoint, then fine-tuning said touchpoints until we get the reactions we want from the client.

"Put yourself in your client's shoes" isn't exactly a revelatory piece of advice, but what if we step out of our client's shoes and just listen to them?

Let Your Clients Do Some of the Work

When we try to design an excellent client experience, we bring with us all our experiences, beliefs, habits, perceptions and, perhaps most importantly, our egos. We think we know what our business should look like and what clients want, or should want. So, when we try to step into our client's shoes, we bring all of our preconceptions with us. Things change, and not everyone sees the world the same way. Maybe your view of how things should be was right at one time, but not so much anymore. And, realistically, there never was a time when your view was right for everyone.

The answer to this conundrum may be deceptively simple. Just listen. If you suspend your own beliefs about how things should be and truly listen, your clients will tell you how they want things to be. Their feedback will remodel your firm to suit their needs. They won’t do the heavy lifting, but they will give you the blueprint.

Capturing the Information

Securing constructive client feedback is easier said than done, but there are several proven methods advisors can employ:

1. Ask individual clients directly. Surveys can be useful, but I find them more suited to collecting yes/no type responses and getting reactions to specific ideas you might have. They're often less suited to stimulating open-ended responses, which is where the valuable information lies. Having a direct conversation with clients is generally a better approach. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their feelings in this environment, especially if those feelings are negative, but if you seem genuinely interested and open, most clients will provide valuable insights.

2. Form an advisory board consisting of a cross-section of your clients. Advisory boards can produce great results, but you need to be willing to put in the time and effort. 

3 “Capture the buzz.” This entails actively collecting questions, comments, complaints, requests and feedback from clients in the normal course of business. If your team documents and shares the buzz they come across naturally, you will find a wealth of actionable information.

What Do You Do With It?

You can’t jump to react to every bit of buzz you capture. That would result in chaos. You need to develop a way to organize the information you gather and find the useful nuggets. Here’s a framework we use at our firm:

1. Look for patterns. Are there certain ideas or themes that appear frequently? If so, you may have found an opportunity to satisfy a broader client need.

2. Are you well suited to capitalize on the feedback? If the need and your firm’s skill set don’t line up well, you should pass on the idea.

3. Is the suggestion consistent with your firm’s vision? Just because clients want something doesn’t mean you have to provide it. Stay focused on your mission.

4. Do you have adequate resources and bandwidth to pursue the idea? There is nothing more frustrating for your firm and your clients than half-baked execution of a new idea. 

5. Are you enthusiastic about the idea? If you don’t approach your business with passion and energy, implementation of the new idea will be poor, and your clients will notice.

Let the Renovation Begin!

Encourage your clients to share their thoughts and desires about your firm. Suspend all your preconceptions, truly listen and document what they say. The gap between their wish list and what your firm actually looks like today should form your to-do list for 2022. 

Scott MacKillop is CEO of First Ascent Asset Management, the first TAMP to provide investment management services to financial advisors and their clients on a flat-fee basis. He is an ambassador for the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard and a 45-year veteran of the financial services industry. He can be reached at [email protected].

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