“Here’s the good news,” said Tom, an advisor running a practice that has added $50 million in net new assets under management in each of the last five years. “Advisors are operating their practices in an era of remarkably bad customer service.”
Take a minute to ponder that assertion. When was the last time you experienced really good service? Can you recall an excellent customer engagement with any company’s service or sales personnel? The humdrum, banal service experience is now the norm. For example, I have no memory of my last several visits to the grocery store. Hardly anyone has even smiled as I picked up family provisions.
Our cultural acceptance of poor customer service spells opportunity for anyone who delivers a quality experience. For financial advisors who go beyond this, making the commitment to systematically create extraordinary client experiences – in short, to WOW clients – the payoff can be extreme client loyalty. The depth of loyalty results in excellent client retention and introductions without asking.
To understand what makes a truly WOW moment for a client, consider the experience my daughter and I had at a Ritz Carlton Hotel. We were in the elevator heading to our room with the bellman, and I was telling my daughter Suzannah how proud I was of her for her terrific basketball season. After the three of us dropped suitcases in our room, my daughter and I departed the hotel. When we returned later, we about fell over. There stood a chocolate cake with a note: “Congratulations, Suzannah, on your great basketball season. Sincerely, Your Friends at the Ritz.”
Clearly, the bellman had been paying attention when we had no idea he was doing so. He then took the initiative to create a special moment for my daughter and me that has had lasting impact. Years later, I still recount the story with relish and admiration for the hotel and bellman. By bringing technical expertise (his bellman’s skill), emotional intelligence (empathetic listening) and operational excellence (the follow-through) to his interaction with us, the bellman exceeded our expectations. In the process, he converted me into a loyal Ritz client and a walking endorsement of the hotel.
Our experience at the Ritz exemplifies one of the five core tenets you should build into your practice if you hope to forge lasting bonds with your most valued clients and attracts others like them.
Pay Attention When Your Client Doesn’t Think You Are – To create a memorable and recountable experience, you need to put the “personal” in “personal finance.” Listening closely to your client is the starting point for understanding the client’s unique needs, wants and expectations so that you may go beyond fulfilling them. Instead of focusing your attention only on portfolio discussions, pay attention to the informal, off-the-cuff banter when walking clients into your office or to the door following a meeting – these conversations are where WOWs begin.
Make It a Habit. Make it Systemic – Larry Bossidy, in his bestselling book, “Execution,” says that “Execution (WOW) has to be embedded in the reward systems and in the norms of behavior that everyone practices.” Going back to our experience at the Ritz, it may be that the bellman was one of those individuals with an exception emotional quotient (EQ). While that is good for the hotel, it would be even better if every employee’s job description called for creating emotionally engaging moments for clients.
By “embedding” a norm of behavior called WOW into your practice, you may positively change its trajectory. Start by resolving that, as a team, you will deliver one WOW experience per week, for eight weeks, to eight of your best clients. Then reassess. Talk it over with your team.
For teams that commit to a practice-wide WOW approach, what typically ensues is the generation of outstanding stories. Erin, who leads WOW efforts for an independent advisory team enjoying outsized growth says, “Our clients can’t keep us a secret anymore. By adding just one more WOW per week for a couple of months, introductions to top prospects are appearing. They love telling their stories, and we are all having a ball!”
Cultivating team habits that establish a culture and mindset for delivering WOW can differentiate your practice from competition in your marketplace. You will win mind-share, which leads to market share, as Walt Disney said.
Identify your WOW Czar – To make WOW a force within your practice, put someone, the right someone, in charge. On this matter, do what Steve Jobs coaches, “Think different.” Do not appoint or hire someone who necessarily passed his or her Series 7 in record time. Forget about the analytical types. Find that person who has demonstrated an unmistakable knack for creativity and intuition. He or she radiates emotional intelligence, and is outgoing and affable. The right person loves to delight the clientele and does so routinely. When you share the concept of continually gathering information about what matters to your clients, the natural-born WOW czar comprehends immediately. Give your czar power to call and lead a weekly WOW Audit meeting. And be sure to provide the czar a budget for executing WOWs.
Unleash Your Team’s Creativity and Intuition – In a hyper-commoditized world, creativity and intuition are the antidotes. Einstein said it best, “Creativity trumps intellect.” The success of your WOW program, its very ability to strengthen customer loyalty and bring you additional clients, hinges on how well your team systematically drums up great ideas to take a client’s breath away. Heidi Hanna, PhD and financial services coach, emphasizes the need for regular exercise and good sleep as prerequisites to excellence in creativity and intuition. Think about it – do your best client ideas emerge after doing compliance work, or after going for a run? Increase your exercise levels to allow for compelling thoughts and strive for eights hours of sleep per night.
Understand the Role of Personality and Emotional Dynamics – A WOW for one person is not necessarily a WOW for another. WOWs should be customized to the individual and his or her personality type (i.e., driver, sociable, amiable or analytic). Consider the hedge fund manager who answers the phone by saying, “What?” A supreme driver, if there ever was one. With a driver personality, it is critical to be bold, be brief, and be gone. Anything less broaches on an Anti-WOW experience.
We also need to be keenly aware of what makes each client feel appreciated. Some respond well to being given affirmation routinely. Other needs to spend face-to-face time just once a year. Know how to connect.
Creating a WOW environment in your office isn’t rocket science, but it can be brilliant. In my experience, advisors who commit to the five practices just described – to building a WOW mindset and cultivating a WOW operation – find that the rewards are both professional and personal. They achieve not only stronger connections to clients but also a greater personal sense of fulfillment from their work.
John L Evans Jr. is Executive Director of Janus Labs Consulting. His doctoral dissertation at Pepperdine University focuses on the factors leading to client loyalty in financial services.