by Mike Byrnes
Advisers may believe they know their clients, but how many really do? Do they know just enough to provide wealth management services or do they dive deeper? When advisers really know their clients, they can provide better services, build stronger relationships and achieve better business results.
To successfully grow a business, advisers should conduct certain formal activities every year, beyond routine meetings. If an adviser does not have a retention problem, then all marketing, sales and service efforts should be focused on moving clients from loyalists to advocates. Most clients are satisfied to some degree or they likely would not be clients. However, many clients do not give referrals, thus they are not seen by advisers as full advocates.
Research Is Important
Based on my experience in the financial services industry, when advisers are asked what matters most to clients, many say it is the financial services they offer. But many things are more important to clients.
The question: "Why do you work with your current adviser?" may result in one of these answers:
I trust him or her.
He or she cares about me and my family.
I like him or her.
By doing client research, advisers can improve in all of these areas. By formally asking for clients' opinions, an advisory firm is
allowing clients to get closer to the organization, strengthening levels of trust
proving it cares about clients, just by listening to what they have to say
giving clients more touch points, and in some cases opportunities to be social with the organization and other clients
If advisers do not just hear, but also listen, making changes based on client feedback, clients will move from merely being satisfied to becoming raving fans. The result is a vested interest in the success of the organization-and that usually means more referrals.
Here are some best practices for client research:
Drill down on specific items, such as, "What do you think about this new brochure we are considering?" or "How can we improve our onboarding process for new clients?"
Tell clients you want both positive and negative feedback so they do not hold back. Most clients feel more comfortable sharing the warm, fuzzy feedback in person, so the areas for improvement might not surface in this approach.
A common mistake is when advisers react immediately to feedback because they feel they are being put on the spot. In the early research phase, rather than making judgments, capture opinions, and postpone analysis and reactions until later.
Client surveys should be well thought out, concise and have a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions. For example, for a qualitative question, ask an open-ended question such as, "What can we do to improve our services?" For a quantitative response, make a request, such as, "Please rate our services on a scale of one to 10."
The qualitative approach will allow for answers to surface that advisers may not foresee. On the other hand, multiple-choice questions may create answers that allow for comparative analysis within the survey sample or from survey to survey, including year-over-year comparisons.
Surveys are better if they are administered by a third party because clients often feel safe to share all types of feedback, positive and negative. This also allows for independent analysis, as advisers often need assistance interpreting, studying and eventually acting on the data.
Focus Groups and Advisory Boards
A focus group is a one-time gathering of information from a segment of an adviser's client base, prospect base or strategic alliances. An advisory board is a focus group that repeats over time.
Typically, both groups work best when they include six to 12 attendees, but optimal group size can vary depending on the topic and meeting duration. Depending on the purpose of the research, it usually makes sense to have a diverse crowd.
It is best to use a facilitator to ensure leading questions are not asked. A facilitator may also be more open to listening to feedback and avoid reacting on the spot.
If focus groups and advisory boards are conducted well, those participants almost always will become more involved in the organization, helping the overall success of the firm.
Analyzing Research Results
Whether good or bad, feedback is a gift. Research can create self-awareness, something every leader and business owner should have. Research can point out areas for improvement or validate things that are going well.
Analyze data with an open mind and welcome change if improvements are needed. When improvements are made, loop back to those who provided the feedback. They will be very happy to know their voice was heard.
Lastly, one cannot thank research participants enough, so make sure to build in the right mix of thank-you conversations, communications, events and possibly gifts.
Mike Byrnes of Byrnes Consulting helps advisers with business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness. Read more at www.ByrnesConsulting.com and follow Mike on Twitter at @ByrnesConsultin.