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Delivering an exceptional client service experience pays off

SEP. 27, 2018

It’s no secret that over the past decade customers have come to expect – even demand – more from companies than ever before. Brands like Amazon, Starbucks, and Zappos have paved the way in creating best-in-class customer experiences, and have helped to set a high bar for consumer expectations. While a greater focus on customers has led to innovations and conveniences many of us know and love (who doesn’t love same-day delivery?), I must admit that it’s left me wondering how the highly regulated and complex financial services industry will keep up.

The reality is, once customers have experienced best-in-class service they come to expect it every time and from every company, including their financial advisor. Creating a stellar experience for clients can be challenging as one size does not fit all, but using a few best practices can make a big difference in helping advisors keep clients and even generate referrals. Consider this: 72% of customers share good experiences with others and 67% of customers will pay a premium to companies that offer superior experiences.1

It starts with knowing your clients

Over the years, no matter where I’ve worked as a Marketer, I have always found it very helpful to align the team on a persona for the target audience. By creating a fictional person and story about them, you will help your team remember who you are there to serve, what they expect, and how you want to treat them. One way to do this is to think of a client everyone knows who represents your target client. Name the persona after them or a name that will remind the team of them. You can then use this persona as your example when you and the team discuss the consistent actions and behaviors, or service standards, you want to be a part of your clients’ experiences. While there are “table stakes” expectations we all have, your target client group(s) will undoubtedly have unique experience preferences and expectations you can tailor to. Moreover, knowing the unique challenges faced by each can help you deliver more relevant guidance and value to your clients.

For example, maybe one of your target client personas is “up and coming millennials”. You probably know that this client type will likely need help in setting financial goals and may be worried about paying off student loan debt. But flexible communications can be equally as important for this group. Offering text message communications and virtual meetings can be a game changer in terms of client experience for millennials.
Here’s a test: If you asked everyone in your office to describe your target client(s), would they all be able to? Read more on personas here.

Create a client-focused culture

Often, we can become so focused on the day-to-day tasks that we can forget the small touches and interactions and how little things can add up. We might think we’re doing a great job, but are we really? The reality is, 80% of companies believe they deliver a “superior experience”, while only 8% of customers agree. That’s why being very deliberate about who your target clients are, creating personas for them and creating specific actions and behaviors you want your team to take every day is critical. Portfolio performance is one part of the equation for clients, but an exceptional client experience and the referrals it will generate can’t be overlooked.

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, is famous for asking his teams to leave an empty seat at the table for the customer, who he calls the “most important person in the room”. This simple action helps ensure that every discussion is focused on the customer. Simple actions such as this ensure the customer is baked into the culture.

Based on your clients’ expectations and needs, determine the customer experience you’ll commit to providing. What does it look like? How does it sound? Determine the concrete behaviors you and your team will always deliver, and stick to them. For example, in today’s fast-paced world clients often expect immediate response – how do you and your team meet this demand? Does your team have a habit of providing positive reinforcement when positive steps are being taken by your clients?

Seek feedback and do something with it

We’ve probably all heard the saying “feedback is a gift” – though often said jokingly. But I truly believe in this statement because receiving feedback from clients is always an opportunity to learn. That said, often when we receive negative feedback or complaints we focus all our effort on remedying the situation and then move on. Successful organizations and individuals not only actively seek feedback from their customers, but they then use that feedback to take meaningful action and improve.

At Nationwide, we conduct surveys with advisors throughout the year to better understand their experiences and where we have opportunities. We then take this input and use it to determine where we’ll invest in new technology, training, resources and more. We also use crowd sourcing technology to enable Nationwide associates to share customer feedback and get problems fixed; everything from small errors to systemic issues.
At least twice a year, make a concerted effort to get feedback from clients in a formal way and then make an action plan to use the feedback. Revisit the consistent actions and behaviors you and your team have agreed to. Are you following them? Do they need to be adjusted based on your clients’ preferences?

Providing an exceptional client experience will not only help you retain your clients, but it can pay off in new business as well. While everyone on a team has a hand in the client experience, to effectively deliver it takes leadership and ownership.