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How to Design a Great Client Experience – Part I

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4 MIN READ

Last Updated on April 25, 2023 by John Prendergast

As we discussed in a recent article, Client experience has become a critical factor in a financial advisory firm’s success. In that article we focused on the digital aspects of client experience and how measuring engagement is crucial in understanding how well you’re doing.

However, as every financial advisor knows, client experience is much bigger than the digital component alone. Your full client experience incorporates every aspect of how you and your firm interact with your clients. The expectations here have always been high but client expectations have gone up and the new emphasis on digital makes coordinating your full client experience more challenging than ever.

Great client experience (CX), more than anything else, delivers a feeling of being “cared for”. It also has a natural flow. As the world changes, client experiences must evolve in order to continue to deliver. In this series, we’ll explain why that’s important and how to make it happen.

How a great Client Experience helps your firm

Nailing client experience can lead to accelerated growth. Your clients can and should be your biggest cheerleaders and source of referrals. With a client service focus, most advisors expect that by delivering great service, they will get referrals. Typically results are mixed. With a client experience mindset, advisors design for consistently engaging clients and include gentle, consistent reminders of the easiest way to refer friends and acquaintances. The result is consistent referrals.

An effective client experience can actually reduce support and service costs. Informed clients who are comfortable with their financial advisor are happier and more focused on the long term. Even in difficult market circumstances, they don’t panic, they stay the course. Customer service issues and panicked questions happen when clients are uncomfortable. A proactive client experience heads this cycle off and reduces the number of urgent service calls.

Customer Service (CS) versus Customer Experience (CX)

Before we begin, free your mind of any preconceived notions about customer experience being all about good client service. Service is certainly included in the mix, but the two terms are not synonymous. Also, while your investment models contribute to creating a great CX, they’re only a small part of it. Client needs are much deeper than alpha and beta.

Client service for a financial advisory firm refers to the provision of high-quality and personalized support in reaction to client needs throughout their engagement with the firm. Client experience, including client service, refers to the proactive engagement of clients from their first experience of the firm throughout their engagement and even afterward. 

That experience could be as early in the relationship as when a prospect is contacted via advertising or during a seminar. It could also be as late in the relationship as after a client passes away and include how the firm supports the family. CX includes the client’s overall perception and satisfaction of the firm’s services, processes, and people, and how those contribute to achieving their goals. It determines how a client feels about you and your firm.

Breaking that down further, a good example of client service would be promptly answering an email or call from a client regarding a question they have about market volatility. The way that they feel when that call is over is part of their client experience. Were their questions answered? Have their fears been alleviated? Achieving both creates a good CX. 

Accuracy and transparency are two primary contributors to a better client experience. They should be part of the customer service process and ingrained in the mission and vision of the firm. The idea is to instill confidence in clients that you’re truly working on their behalf. When clients feel that, they are primed to have a great client experience.

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Five Primary areas to consider in designing an effective CX

Client experience is delivered by your efforts and that of your staff as well as all your partners. There are five primary areas to consider:

1. Financial Advice and investment management

2. Client Service

3. Communication

4. Technology

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5.  Advisory Fees

Financial advice is what clients pay for. As advisors, we often think clients focus on the results of that advice alone. While results certainly matter, the delivery of that advice is what creates a major component of your client experience. Write down all the ways clients may perceive an interaction as delivering advice. These could include:

  • Meetings where you share conclusions and recommendations. 
  • Emails in which you answer a question. 
  • A newsletter where you provide articles and information. 

These are all part of the advice you deliver. You need to thoughtfully consider how you want that experience to feel and how to achieve that goal. Pause and reflect on that for a moment. 

Client service is something you probably think about a lot. Particularly situation by situation. Designing a client experience requires that you take a step back and think about client service from a different perspective. Write down your key client service interactions: Answering inbound questions, responding to requests for cash, executing your investment plan for each client etc. 

Think about how you want clients to feel about each as the interaction is happening and afterward. Now answer a few questions: Given all the other elements of your client experience, how can you make each of these service touch points feel like part of the same overall experience? How can you design each of these processes so it delivers that experience consistently? That is how you design a consistent client experience.

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Communication is a topic that we’ve written dozens of articles on since the pandemic. It is the area that can have the largest influence on the success of your client experience. That is because every other area relies on your communication strategy to fully deliver value and complete the client experience. Develop your communication strategy with this in mind. It will be an enabler of other areas and should be consistent across the firm. 

Technology is the other enabler. It should be used to deliver the experience directly with clients as well as automate the delivery of the experience via advisory and support staff. Technology expectations have dramatically changed in the last few years. We outlined this in a prior article. The key here is achieving the right balance between a digital and real-world experience. Real-world and digital parts of the experience should feel related and complementary.

Fees are also a part of the client experience. They don’t have to be a touchy subject. Clients understand they pay you for your service. The key is to align the fees you charge with the service you provide and the overall experience you are delivering. More than any other area, communication and transparency are paramount here.

Pulling it all together

We’ve talked a lot about the components of a great client experience. In our next piece, we’ll discuss pulling it all together. How do you set your overall client experience objectives? How do you assess your current client experience and find areas to improve? We’ll also talk about how to build a specific plan tailored to your firm to implement your new and improved client experience.

  • Kevin D. Flynn

    Kevin D. Flynn is a former Head Coach at Blueleaf and founder of Flynn Consulting, LLC, a business and financial coaching service for startups and small business owners.

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