In our latest newsletter we referred to a US survey undertaken by Spectrem Group, who reported that slowness to respond to client’s calls and emails was the major reason why high-net-worth clients left their financial adviser.* At present, this is a finding very close to my own heart – over the past few weeks, various members of my family have had dealings with two major banks and three different mortgage brokers. Sadly, they all experienced extremely poor service.

It seems that “perception of poor service” exists across other sectors of the financial services market, consider this comment from a recent issue of Professional Planner magazine; “the experience of dealing with real estate agents is like going down a rabbit hole to a place where nothing is at it seems. There are multiple explanations for everything that happens (and does not happen), and those explanations change from day to day…”

So why is the service experienced by many clients in the financial services area, seemingly so poor? 

Well, a good place to start is at the beginning (how’s that for a statement of the obvious?) with some basics that, in my view, are often neglected and all advisory businesses need to consider:

  • Does the business have clearly stipulated service standards?
  • Are the standards competitive with other professional advisers?
  • Are these standards communicated (and promoted) to all clients, referral partners and staff?
  • And more importantly, are they aligned to client expectations?
  • Finally, if there are standards in place, are they regularly monitored and measured?
  • Has the business undertaken a client survey and heeded the feedback?

Effective communication

Assuming there are standards in place, are they actually communicated to clients in terms of setting realistic expectations? Does the client fully appreciate what’s involved in designing, implementing and maintaining their financial plan? Or how long will it take to collect all necessary information, respond to specific enquires and so on. In setting expectations, it is better to under-promise and overdeliver.

Of course, there’s much more to effective communication than simply the act of doing it. Communication needs to be timely, a request can quickly escalate into a problem if it’s not promptly acted upon. Many of the comments we receive from clients of financial advisers,** tell us clients want to be kept updated on the progress of their ‘work’ and reassurance that things are on track. While they understand things don’t always go to plan, they want to be proactively contacted if, for example, there is likely to be a delay. They do not want to call their adviser after the deadline, only to discover there is a blowout.

How the message is conveyed is also important; it should be clear, unambiguous and empathic to its intended recipient. Certainly, boilerplate templates don’t cut it – one of the pitfalls of social media and mass mailing is that for all the benefits it brings, it carries with it the potential for the impersonal. Sometimes it is all too easy to assume that a smiley emoji fixes all! If the situation and/or client warrants it – what’s wrong with picking up the phone?

What‘s a practice to do?

Many of the best service-orientated businesses we’ve observed around the world, have taken the “service experience” to another level. These highly successful practices delegate a key person to be accountable and take ownership of client service for the business. As such, they have a key person who is empowered to make the decisions necessary to provide the required level of service.

Staff attitudes are key to delivering great service. Do staff truly believe clients are at the centre of the business, or is it a matter of saying, not doing? ‘Whatever’ is never the best response! Is the ‘fit’ between staff and client is a good one and are staff truly ‘at one’ with their clients?

Several practices we’ve come across provide all new staff members with a copy of “Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy“, written by the founder of Four Seasons, it outlines the extraordinary commitment to service maintained by this hotel chain.

Putting ‘service’ back into ‘financial services’

In summary:

  1. Develop a competitive set of service standards.
  2. Embed not just the standards but also the ethos of service into the business.
  3. Communicate these standards to clients, referral sources and business partners.
  4. Measure adherence to these standards on an ongoing basis.
  5. Appoint someone as the ‘owner’ of the service experience.
  6. If a problem arises – communicate! Acknowledge and act quickly, keep the client in the loop.

For your consideration.

Terry Bell.

*Spectrem Research Shows Increased Client Satisfaction From Long-Term Advisor Relationships. October 16, 2014 Press Release.

** Business Health’s CATScan client survey tool. 45,000+ clients surveyed to date.

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