“Make the customer the hero of your story.”
― Ann Handley, Digital marketing pioneer, writer, speaker
It’s becoming more and more difficult for wealth managers to stand out. Even for those with big budgets to purchase advertising, create content for social media, send email campaigns, and more, many firms are still hard-pressed to reduce client churn and increase wallet share.
Let me know if any of these sounds familiar:
- Clients are becoming more cautious when deciding to hire an advisor.
- Advisors are facing increased competition from traditional industry players, robo-advisors, fintechs and mobile apps.
- Navigating online marketing is harder as new strategies are required every few months to maintain visibility end engagement.
- Price compression doesn’t seem to go away and clients expect more for less.
Because competition for client assets is fierce, there’s one strategy that has been proven to address these problems:
Provide an amazing client experience.
When thinking of the client experience, it’s all about putting yourself in your clients’ shoes and leveling up the way you do business at every touch point in order to ultimately make your clients happy.
As part of our work to help our enterprise wealth management clients get the most benefit from their data assets, Ezra Group has partnered with Xtiva Financial Systems to produce a series of webinars. Our goal is to bring leading industry experts in data strategy, data architecture and systems implementation to share their experiences and best practices.
The third webinar in the series was called The Last Mile: Data-Powered Client Experience in Wealth Management and included panelist Julie Littlechild, Founder and CEO of Absolute Engagement. She delivered some valuable tips on how to gather client input, increase personalization and engage in more meaningful client conversations.
In case you missed webinar #3, you can click here to unlock your access to the full recording.
Going Beyond Client Surveys
“Don’t be lulled into complacency that a client survey alone can provide the voice of the client. Ideally, you want to integrate data from more than one client input method to ensure that you have a complete view of the client.”
— Julie Littlechild
Littlechild explained that the data gathered from multiple input methods will better reflect what you’re trying to understand. If what you want is a measure of how your relationship is doing, some advisors still think that an annual Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a fair representation of loyalty value, she stated.
There are a number of problems with relying solely on NPS to the exclusion of all other metrics, Littlechild explained. One issue is with how NPS is interpreted and how it relates and combines with other metrics to provide a better understanding of client satisfaction.
Capturing NPS once a year may seem to work, but if what you’re trying to do is drive deeper conversations, then once a year isn’t enough, Littlechild noted. It’s got to be done on an ongoing basis.
Net Promoter Score is a polarizing statistic. On one hand, there’s a Cult of NPS that believes it’s the chosen metric, one customer-experience number to rule them all. On the other, there’s a group that sees a vanishingly thin and arbitrary line between a “promoter” and a “passive,” which can cause massive scoring differences despite similar results. People in the latter camp often argue the whole exercise is worthless.
At her company, Toronto-based Absolute Engagement, they’re seeing the best results by integrating multiple inputs conducted using a cadence that aligns the data capture with key events in the client relationship, such as annual reviews, tax day or end of year.
Both Brown and Littechild agree that a firm’s NPS score doesn’t matter. What matters is how the actual number changes over time and how the firm rates when compared to their competitors. So when tracking NPS changes, it’s useful to overlay the results with operational or fund flow data to provide a more accurate representation of the depth of the relationship.
Wealth Managers must get smarter and more sophisticated about bringing these disparate data inputs together, Littlechild emphasized, since the combination will reveal deeper insights that be turned into actionable advice.
The Drive Towards Greater Personalization
“Client needs & expectations have shifted, Client Experience must become more personalized, training for financial advisors to actively leverage client input.”
— Julie Littlechild
Personalization is important, but personalization based mainly on assumptions is dangerous, Littechild warned. Assuming that you know what a client is looking for based solely on their age or whether they have children or because they’re a woman is dangerous and will most likely not provide the best Client Experience for them. It’s flawed thinking to run your business based on these assumptions.
At Ezra Group, the first thing we do on a strategy project is to review all the assumptions that we think the client’s executive team has made, because a lot of times they are wrong. And this goes for the assumptions made internally and across different groups. Assumptions are made that one team knows are incorrect, but there’s no communication between teams, so these false narratives continue to drive decisions until we have the teams sit across from each other and hash them out.
According to Tech Republic, these are the areas where wrong assumptions cause the most damage:
- Business strategy-related assumptions are by far the most important. If projects are undertaken with specific business goals in mind, and those goals don’t remain the top focus, it can be a disaster in the making.
- Resource-level assumptions play heavily into the success or failure of a project because a large portion of project management is based on available and allocated resources. If throughout the project, certain resources are overextended or unavailable, it can compromise timelines, task dependencies, and ultimately the entire scope and goal.
- Technology-based assumptions outline the technologies (e.g., software or IT infrastructure) that are available to meet project goals. Technology resources may be internal or outsourced; be aware that outsourced resources may be impacted by the vendor’s resource availability, capabilities, and internal policies and procedures. Be sure to identify any constraints that may exist internally as well as to conduct the necessary due diligence on outsourced technology service providers.
An advisor would never create a financial plan using only broad assumptions about what they think the client wants, Littlechild pointed out. The plan inputs the answers to a set of very specific questions that feed the engine that generates the client’s financial plan. Similarly, developing a client experience requires its own set of specific data points.
Measuring client satisfaction via NPS is different from gathering multiple inputs to drive a conversation across multiple levels of communication, Littlechild stated. She believes that this is the future because it allows firms to personalize their messaging and be more responsive, which is also more respectful of the client, she noted.
But even the most seasoned advisors sometimes struggle to take a step back, change up their standard conversation look to go deeper, Littlechild observed. It’s difficult to ignore the list of 12 items they were supposed to cover with their client today and instead focus on personal issue that could drive a more in-depth discussion.
Industry leaders should be requiring advisors to have these kinds of conversations, Littlechild insisted, using multi-layered data while making fewer broad assumptions. Getting advisors out of their comfort zone is the first step in delivering a different kind of conversation.
Avoid Relying On Averages
“Relying on your ‘average client’ when making decisions is a huge risk. Every client is unique and their advice should be personalized to deliver the best results.”
— Julie Littlechild
Littlechild shared an old joke told by statisticians that goes like this, “If you stood with one foot in a bucket of ice and the other in a bucket of boiling water, on average, you should be comfortable.” But of course, you’re not! One of your feet is freezing cold and the other is uncomfortably hot. The average is only useful for large data sets that are normally distributed. Which in layman’s terms means the data distribution pattern looks like a bell curve.
Unfortunately, in very small data sets, the average can be skewed by just a few large values. Don’t be fooled Littlechild warned, consider each client to be a singe data point, don’t think of them as the statistical average.
We fail to think about the distribution when talking about statistics. Indeed, that’s why the 80/20 principle was so revolutionary. It reminded everyone that normal distributions aren’t really “normal”. Because 20% of clients usually bring in 80% of revenue, most firms should be focusing more than their 20% of their effort on that high revenue 20%.
Question Conventional Wisdom. Everyone has heard the stat that the average divorce rate in the US is “about 50%”. But this assumes a normal distribution across all married couples without considering factors such as age, education level, profession, race, geography, religious beliefs, etc.
In one study published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall average divorce rate was 43% (not quite half, but pretty close), but for those with a college degree it dropped to just 30%. When age at time of marriage was considered, the divorce rates varied further. In the same cohort with college degrees, those that married before age 22 had a mean divorce rate of 47%, but if they married between the ages of 35–40, the average divorce rate was only 13%!
Any advisors that planned on roughly half of their clients having to go through a divorce will be quite surprised by this!
“Clients’ feelings about the future change & evolve over time, so financial advisors should look to refresh their profiles before the review meeting to have more meaningful conversations.”
— Julie Littlechild
“Engagement defines the highest standard for client relationships, describing clients who are not only the most satisfied and loyal, but who provide the vast majority of all referrals. Client experience is, as a result, the single most powerful business development tool available to financial advisors today,” Littechild said.
- Spread the News – If you’re looking for a natural way to start a conversation, you can’t go wrong with business or industry trends. Your clients want you to be a source of insight and expertise. Showing that you’re knowledgeable is a powerful way to build trust.
- Ask for Recommendations – Another easy way small business owners can engage customers in meaningful conversation is by asking questions. People like sharing their opinion, but they really like feeling like their thoughts are valued.
- Be a Pain Reliever – If you want to engage your customers in meaningful conversation, ask about their pain points. Lessons learned often make effective conversation starters on social media.
Featured Image Credit: Retrorocket