Affluent clients aren’t likely to spread the good word on behalf of their financial advisor because, in their mind, this professional is doing what they’ve been hired to do. Right or wrong, affluent clients rarely give kudos for being a first-class professional. It’s expected.
In a previous column, I introduced our Word-Of-Mouth Influence Hierarchy, the model followed by those advisors benefitting the most from referrals. We measure WOMI using a simple but powerful metric: the number of unsolicited referrals an advisor received in the preceding 12 months.
The baseline requirement for getting referrals is what we call “exceeding professional expectations.” This means that every aspect of a financial advisor’s professional existence is relevant.
It’s important for the advisor to be extremely knowledgeable regarding the fluid nature of today’s financial landscape, relative to the general expectations and specific needs of each affluent client. By this, the advisor makes a total commitment to both its clients and its own profession.
It’s also important for the advisor to make its presence known in both appearance and communication as a first-class professional. Similar standards apply to every team member, albeit to a slightly lesser degree. Everyone who interacts with affluent clients must present themselves well in their role as a true knowledge worker who can solve problems and at the same time being client friendly.
Today’s affluent want a solutions provider who can oversee the multidimensional aspects of their financial affairs. Here’s where the advice, guidance and recommendations must be tailored to each affluent client:
- All aspects of planning—financial goals, trusts and estates, retirement, college, taxes, and health care—must be available and provided when needed.
- Portfolio management, insurance solutions, banking services and any other financial issues an affluent might have.
- Semiannual or quarterly meetings where the client reviews its current state of financial affairs, addresses a specific topic or theme, and has a clear understanding of its current financial picture.
- Vetting outside experts (e.g., estate attorney, accountant, insurance specialist, banker), taking the lead in a specific area on an as-needed basis and attending every meeting with those outside experts.
There are two aspects of service that are critical to exceeding affluent expectations. First, every interaction must be personal. Today’s affluent client can pick up on pseudo-personalized service quickly, and when they do, it taints the professional relationship. The second aspect of service involves operational efficiency. The affluent client understands that an occasional mistake will happen, but mistakes need to be few and far between. Too many mistakes breed an annoyed client, and an annoyed client is no longer a loyal client.
One of the most frequent complaints our research continually uncovers involves communication. In general, affluent clients don’t feel their advisor is in a close-enough communication with them. This could be attributed to advisors’ over-reliance on electronic communication (newsletters, research reports, etc.). Lack of a clear service model for top tier clients tends to create a grey area regarding personal client communication.
When an advisor falls short regarding personal communication, positive word-of-mouth influence will be non-existent. Because this issue is of such importance, Oechsli Institute created a Communication Agreement for the most comprehensive financial advisor coaching in the industry to use with their affluent clients. In this document every aspect of communication is spelled out, agreed upon, and then signed off by both advisor and client. The objective is to establish the context for a healthy two-way communication.
That said, once an advisor masters the foundation of the WOMI Hierarchy, they’ve set the stage to create an ideal client.