2016: the year of client listening
One of the key themes across numerous 2016 predictions articles and reports since December last year is how clients have become more savvy and demanding – be that private or commercial clients. As the 2015 LexisNexis’ Bellwether Report noted “A new breed of smart client has emerged – empowered by technology and the internet, always searching for the best value, and very much aware of their own importance as customers.” In wealth management PWC has observed that “understanding the client’s perspective of value is only getting tougher.”
Yet remarkably few firms still have a formal client insight or client experience programme to speak of beyond basic satisfaction surveys (in which advisers and fee earners inevitably score highly) or the occasional stab at net promotor scoring. Good quality insight requires a variety of quantitative and qualitative techniques across the client journey.
For those considering doing more in this area I would flag a number of reasons why a greater investment in insight and client experience will more than pay for itself.
1. YOUR VALUE PROPOSITION AND CLIENT ACQUISITION
A clear articulation of your firm’s proposition that distinguishes and differentiates you is the key to engaging clients and introducers. But your firm’s story needs to be considered through the eyes of all your key stakeholders. Examining what current clients value, why new clients bought, and why they leave is crucial in honing your efforts to reduce wasted resources and to accelerate the acquisition of new clients.
2. RETENTION, REFERRAL AND REPEAT BUSINESS (SHARE OF WALLET)
Feedback programmes generate loyalty and trust. Asking clients for feedback and showing that you have acted on it demonstrates the importance of your clients to your business in a tangible way – making them feel like valued insiders and supporting your trusted adviser status. People who trust your firm will refer you work.
Feedback programmes provide an opportunity to tell /remind clients of everything you do or could do for them – increasing their perception of the value of what you do for them and potentially opening up further/additional conversations leading to uncovering additional needs for your services.
Considering your introducer network also, working collaboratively to meet client needs is essential – whether cross border and/or advice discipline – and working with other advisers that you know and trust is key. Yet it is common for advisers in one professional discipline to be unclear about how other professions attract, retain and serve clients, and what their own business challenges and risks are. Introducing more formalised insight and feedback into your relationship with other advisers can help you meet their needs more effectively, making you easier to do business with and facilitating referrals and recommendations.
3. CREATE AND DEMONSTRATE A STRONG CONDUCT RISK CULTURE
Treating customers fairly and conduct risk are high on management agendas and running a firm that produces good outcomes for clients is simply good business sense. Showing how you do it, who you do it for and how you can prove it works is where many firms struggle. Structured consumer feedback supports this.
The FCA kick-started a debate in June 2015 to encourage firms, consumer groups, and stakeholders to work together to deliver information to consumers in smarter and more effective ways and talking to customers and clients will be key to success in this area.
Even for firms who do not sell direct to the consumer, problems inherent in longer distribution chains and complexity in the investment market creates an onus on firms to ensure the end client understands what is on offer. Reviewing communications and product development in conjunction with your clients and your clients’ clients will ensure you are not only addressing the regulator’s concerns effectively, but are seen to be doing so – by all your stakeholders.
4. IMPROVE CLIENT EXPERIENCE
“Everybody wants to own the client nobody wants to own the client experience,” as the saying goes.
In many professional firms there can be a disconnect between the front office/fee earners and support departments. In addition as more and more communication and transactions become digital (still primarily email) there is an increasing disconnect between the front office/fee earners and their clients as well.
Keeping everyone in a business focused on the client and ensuring clients know they are central to your business needs to be demonstrated to all stakeholders.
Formal client feedback can be used to share best practice internally, and to align staff across organisations that may be culturally or geographically diverse or dispersed.
5. ENGAGE AND RETAIN THE NEXT GENERATION
For wealth managers and private client firms there is a growing concern that a culture of shopping around and a generation who do not necessarily see their ambitions, tastes, or demographic make-up reflected in their parents’ advisers will encourage them to make alternative arrangements when they inherit their parents’ wealth.
Involving the next generation early in debate and discussion on their needs and issues can help firms show the whole family how they work and will give valuable insights into how firms can evolve to better meet the needs of younger clients.
6. GUIDE DIGITAL INVESTMENT DECISIONS
As firms invest in technology to improve the client experience, deciding what to invest in should be driven to some degree by what clients will value most and research may uncover ways to make relatively simple, straight-forward enhancements to the client experience that have value for clients.
7. GIVE YOUR BRAND A USP AND RAISE YOUR PROFILE
Financial and professional services firms find it difficult to build a brand that sets them apart from their peers and attracts clients and business partners to them. Being seen to have continuing, regular, open and honest dialogue with clients, and acting on what they say gives a tangible edge to a trusted adviser brand – trust goes two ways and firms that do not talk to clients regularly will increasingly lack credibility and appeal.
8. INCREASE THE VALUE OF YOUR BUSINESS
An engaged, secure client base with a high share of wallet/repeat business rate, low cost new business pipelines via a robust referral network, and a brand that is known, liked and trusted will make your business significantly more valuable.
Your clients are your business and your business is valued more if it is stable, growing, predictable, robust and repeatable. Impress your clients and they will find you new ones, make a habit of impressing them and you’ll be able to prove your income is building year on year. Your priority is to know what will impress your clients most, deliver it, and ask again.
“What do customers want? Don’t guess: Ask them. The act of asking is part of the service (“we care”). – David Maister, (2005)