Much has been written about creating a compelling client experience and its importance to firm growth. With that, consciously designed client experiences lead to much more than happier clients, client referrals and revenue growth.
A better client experience leads to efficient workflows and allows an advisory firm to scale up smoothly. As a firm gets larger in size, well-designed client experiences also lead to higher profits and valuations. And, if those client experiences get transformed into proprietary digital technology owned by the firm, the valuation can be exponential.
The challenge of scaling an advisory firm through client experience takes time and effort, and unfortunately, many firms do not focus enough resources on it. And, in our consulting experience, they simply get bored with improving it.
But let’s say you aren’t one of the firms who bore easily, and you value continuous improvement to your client service. What could you do today that would improve client experience even more and make the greatest impact in the future?
Let’s begin with the fact that a world-wide pandemic spurred digital innovation across all sectors of business, and one of the major areas hit was financial advice. Through my consulting work, I witnessed advisory firms shifting their client experiences to digital quickly, and for a select few firms who still had some energy left, expanded, through technological innovations in the service they offer to clients.
This all leads us into post-pandemic digital client experiences that may change how advice is given today and in the future.
Unlocking the Power of Client Experience
Client experience begins with knowing how clients absorb information and learn from each interaction with your firm. This can be everything from finding a parking spot, to reading your blog online, to hearing your word choices during portfolio review meetings, taking in your office decor (or Zoom background) and/or the meeting agenda you hand them, the interactions your service team has with them when they send them paperwork, etc.
Your firm’s client experience is one big action that is composed of hundreds of little actions. And, to impact your firm’s financials you must view your firm as “one-process” built on hundreds of “little processes” that come together in total alignment. When you achieve this alignment, you will impact the entire organization, increasing client satisfaction and business financials congruently.
While it might be natural for you to “think” that building client experience begins with a process, (after all, it is a process), alignment is the starting point to making the greatest impact. To create the alignment you need to move client experience into digital experiences, we must first get the foundations right.
There are three fundamental areas I consistently see client experiences break down. Here’s what they are and how to fix them:
Ensure consistent communication. Impactful client experiences aren’t designed and implemented by committee. They are standardized by the leaders of the firm through consistent language, repeatable processes and technology to deliver these communications and processes faster and better.
As a result, building a service-oriented, client-first experience in a firm begins with the communication between people, not process. I know, you want to build and design a pretty process mapped perfectly on paper. But what if you build a process and no one understands it?
For alignment to be achieved, the entire team must understand that your primary firm goal is to be a service standout. To achieve that alignment, client experience must begin with language. You have a baseline client experience already, otherwise you would not be in business. But is the communication about it consistent?
Simply put, if you refer to the first meaningful interaction with your clients as a “Discovery Meeting” in clients' presence, you must not call it anything else internally. In client experience, there is no such thing as abbreviations or shortcuts in anything, most especially language.
Know your target. Fashion designers can walk the streets of any major city, point to a person and say, “that’s our target” or “that person will never buy our clothing line.” But you'd be shocked by the number of firms that have no clue who their target client is.
Financial advisors should be able to confidently identify their target client—and their client experience should be designed for that person. We encourage firms to gather photos of people who look like their target client and then imagine their lives. What restaurant do they eat at? What kind of shoes do they wear? Where do they vacation? What problems are they trying to solve? How does your business add value for them? If you humanize your target client, outside of the numbers (most everyone wants the $1 million-plus investable asset client) your client experience will become a lot clearer and more well-defined.
I get it, you want to serve all clients, or have a hard time with the thought of putting yourself in a box. After all, many different types of clients can benefit from the services you offer. But, if you take the time to identify the target client, building a digital client experience is a whole lot easier. From there, you can take that same experience and repurpose it for hundreds of different types of clients.
Your target client gives you a clear and aligned place to start. It doesn’t lock you into anything except a better client experience. If you do that, you are likely to gain all types of clients.
Ignore the competition. Competition is a driving force in the business world, we all know that. One independent advisor might see the local wirehouse team, with their big-name cache, as a threat. Another advisor might see an opportunity to poach clients, using his fiduciary model to lure them away. Some advisors delude themselves that they're so unique they don't have competitors.
If you want to search for firms to emulate, look outside the financial services arena. Let's be honest—other industries have embraced innovation much more readily than financial services. When you, as a consumer, find yourself thinking, “Wow, what a great experience,” make a note. Even the smallest detail can make a huge impact on your own client experience and innovation.
When you stop comparing yourself to the competition (or flat-out copying the competition materials) you begin to use your own experiences to drive your firm’s innovation. Your own vacations, hikes, hotels and communication with others become innovation laboratories. Try to isolate the details of what elicited delight for you in your own experiences and replicate them in your business. This ensures you will be uniquely different from the competition.
Focusing on the consistent communication, your target audience and ending the comparison games gets you a long way in creating an experience of your own. In today’s environment, uniqueness and authenticity, backed by innovation, wins. And, in turn, that will set the stage to start documenting the experience you’ll deliver, that’s unlike any other firm, in the future.
Brandon Moss, is the Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Consultant at Herbers & Co.