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Service Is the “New” Sales

Recently, I was in the presence of a cynical financial advisor asking for “words of wisdom” in what was essentially marketing her services to cynical affluent prospects. 

“It seems that we’re all peddling the same comprehensive wealth management services, complained Theresa in a rather exasperated tone, concluding her stream of consciousness with “Whether it’s the wirehouse spin, the independent spin, or the RIA spin—and advisors are great at the spin—it’s getting increasingly more difficult to break through the cynicism of today’s affluent prospects. Any words of wisdom?”

Realizing that I needed to choose my words carefully, I smiled and replied, “Service is the new sales.”

As she began to process my response, I shared some of our recent findings on today’s affluent perceptions of “excellent service” in the form of a handful of questions:

  • Who do the affluent rank higher in terms of providing excellent service, Costco or financial advisors?

Theresa paused a moment, then sheepishly replied, almost as if asking a question, “Costco?” And she was correct. I then asked:

  • Who do the affluent rank higher for excellent service, Amazon or financial advisors?

She chuckled and immediately responded, “Amazon.” My final question drove my message home.

  • What percentage of affluent clients rank their financial advisor “excellent” in terms of service?   

Without letting her dwell too long, I answered: 20 percent. I then quickly explained how today’s affluent were tough when it came to service rankings; Costco was at 23 percent and Amazon topped the field at 47 percent.   

The reality is only 20 percent of today’s affluent feel like they’re getting excellent service from their financial advisor. Ouch! But Theresa was now beginning to understand what I meant with “Service is the new sales.” Suddenly her glass was becoming half-full as she recognized that personalized first-class service was a rare commodity. 

There are four key components for transforming your current level of service into a marketing machine. The affluent data we’ve analyzed tells us today’s affluent view service as more than simply the in-office experience. A lot more, but in-office service is the foundation. 

In-Office Service 

This needs to be both personal and professional. Attention to every detail must be the focus of every in-office visit. This can range from parking to preferred beverages, punctuality to personal and office warmth, information that’s clear and easily understood, and listening to your client’s agenda, to being able to communicate your agenda, and more. 

But in-office service goes beyond a review meeting. How are clients handled when they call? How are they put on hold? How quickly are their issues resolved? You get the idea; the list goes on. The reality is that excellence with your in-office service is now expected by today’s affluent clients. In order to transform service into your “new” sales, it’s important to build on this foundation. 

Spontaneous “Wows”

Nothing helps an advisor’s service rankings more immediately than to truly “wow” a client with an unexpected personalized gift, what we refer to as a “surprise and delight.”  These “wows” can take many forms, but usually it’s a thoughtful and inexpensive well-timed gesture or gift. This is why it’s so important for financial advisors to know as much about their affluent clients as possible.  

Getting Feedback

If you want honest and useful feedback from your affluent clients, you need to handle this issue personally. Don’t avoid it because of the “why stir the pot” mindset I’ve heard advisors use as an excuse. And, you don’t want to rely on those standard client satisfaction surveys—they’re impersonal and rarely provide you with much that’s useful.  Few clients, only the most disgruntled, want to speak poorly of their advisor. Why? They simply don’t want to cause their advisor trouble; but advisors should never interpret this as loyalty—it is not! On top of all that, the affluent view these client surveys as annoyances. 

Contrast the client satisfaction survey with an in-office review, where a conversation properly placed during the review, using the appropriate verbiage, provides real insight into their likes, what you’re doing well, areas that maybe you could fine-tune, and other services they might like you to offer. Service rankings are always strengthened when you ask for, get and act on honest feedback.

Getting Social

We’ve got over a decade of metrics telling us that financial advisors who’ve expanded their professional relationship with their affluent clients to include a social component rank higher in every area of importance.

The beauty of socializing with affluent clients is that it’s one of the most effective ways to stimulate positive word-of-mouth influence. The affluent enjoy talking about what they’ve done socially and who they’ve done it with. Today’s affluent also tend to rank your in-office service higher when you engage in non-business social activities outside of the office.

Financial advisors who socialize with their affluent clients have three times the sphere-of-influence penetration, which means three times the new clients from their existing client’s relationships compared to advisors who are all business.

When all four of these components are working in tandem, the words of wisdom are: “Service is your new sales.”

Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent

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