What are the best practices for creating high-level service for your clients?
Speaking of the client journey and creating engagement (see previous article), Julie Littlechild of Absolute Engagement in New York and Toronto (https://www.absoluteengagement.com/), author of “The Pursuit of Absolute Engagement” and the recently released “The Three Things Successful Advisors Do Very Differently,” has recently created something called the Engagement Edge platform.
For the past several years, Littlechild has been on a journey, searching for strategies that would help advisory firms deepen their relationships with clients and provide ever-more-excellent client service and client touchpoints. Some of you may remember that her initial venture was an outsource solution called Advisor Impact, which, over the course of 15 years, surveyed the satisfaction levels of clients of over 3,000 advisory firms. Being intimately familiar with 3,000 firms and having studied their clients’ level of engagement allowed Littlechild to identify companies that excelled at client service—and ultimately to study what they’re doing differently from the rest of their peers.
The results of this research have been made available as they emerged, and undoubtedly that process will continue. So what’s different about the Engagement Edge platform?
“Engage Edge puts a clear framework around the processes we’ve developed,” Littlechild explains. “We looked at everything we’ve delivered and said: how can we translate this into a very clear step-by-step process that would give advisors a better sense of where they’re at, what they’d need to do next, and then package all that up in a way that we could deliver from anywhere, from on-demand right up through more guided and coached.”
The goal is to deliver access to the step-by-step improvement in your client service processes through enterprises (independent broker-dealers and custodians), who will integrate it into their own practice management platforms. Although it is not marketed that way, Engagement Edge is also available directly to advisors for $495 a year.
The journey starts with a seven step process whose goal will be familiar with anyone who read the previous article: defining your ideal client profile. Littlechild has created a unique methodology where advisors build a rating scale with various factors and weightings, and then look at which clients gain the highest ratings. In some cases, the results might be a surprise. “For example, you’ll see an advisor go through the process and say, Bob Smith, he is not a top client,” she says. “But then he’ll look at the model and say, oh, yeah; he has provided us with five client referrals this year. So he really should be treated like a top client.”
Instead of using this information for marketing, Littlechild is focusing on service. The rating process puts every client into a category, usually three to five segments. “Then the final step in the ideal client profile is process,” she says. “How would you rate a new client or prospect if you don’t have all the information? How will you update client segments?”
Once you know which clients will receive your highest level of service, you define your offer for this group, and assess your firm’s capacity and profitability in these relationships. There’s a lot involved in each of these areas, but together they define what Littlechild calls the “satisfaction zone,” where you’re making sure you have all the elements you need to keep your most important clients satisfied.
Now you enter the “engagement zone,” where Littlechild takes you into some of the more advanced concepts—things that are not done widely in the profession. The modules include co-creating the client experience; mapping out and understanding the client journey; crafting a communications plan, process, managing expectations and feedback.
Let’s delve a little deeper into one of these modules, which happens to fit nicely with the previous article. There, we touched briefly on the part of the journey that starts after a client signs on to become a client. Engagement Edge provides a framework for going into much greater detail on this part of the journey. “At each stage,” says Littlechild, “we’re encouraging advisors to think about what the client is thinking, feeling and doing—to see themselves and their services through the eyes of the client.”
What’s unusual about that? Just about everything. Most advisory firms think about their side of the relationship: what they offer as a core product or service, rather than how that product or service is being experienced. “I think of examples like Starbucks,” says Littlechild. “They don’t just focus on coffee. They focus on the whole experience of consuming coffee, and that’s the differentiator for them. Not the actual product.”
Another difference is when you’re onboarding the client or processing a check request. “The traditional approach would be to think first about efficiencies,” says Littlechild. “How do I get the paperwork done? What’s the fastest way to transfer these assets? All of that is important,” she concedes. “But we turn it around and say: What’s the client thinking and feeling and doing at that stage? Are they feeling anxiety? Are they wondering what’s going on? Are they about to receive a statement that they don’t understand? If so,” she concludes, “the advisor needs to ask: what can we do in our process to help them, based on what they’re actually experiencing? All of a sudden, it creates a different kind of client experience.”
Moving clients from satisfied to engaged—the client journey after onboarding—involves thinking about who is involved in the client’s part of the journey; what members of the extended family, other professionals, perhaps business partners. Of course, you also have to map out a plan for ongoing communications, and how these can be customized to each client.
The rollout of Engagement Edge is still in the early stages, but there’s a chance that your custodian or broker-dealer has reached an agreement either to provide the service for free, or is incorporating it into a practice management consulting offer. Otherwise, you can pay $495 for access to the step-by-step process, and jump in anywhere where you feel like there’s room to improve your own client service. You can find it here: https://www.yourengagementedge.com/partner.
There’s additional news out of Absolute Engagement, which should interest some of those 3,000 firms that Littlechild did client survey work for from 1998 through 2015. Littlechild is introducing, literally this month, a more advanced version of the client survey service, called Client Insights.
This is a survey template that can be customized to your firm, which Client Insights administers and collects the data—and clients are encouraged to identify themselves so you can see the responses mapped to each client.
Unlike Advisor Impact, the new survey tool also gives you a personalized dashboard so you can see all the results for each client on your computer screen. Better yet, the service provides, based on the feedback data, an action plan that provides step-by-step ways to follow up with clients who may be at risk, or with the firm as a whole to drive greater satisfaction and engagement. (The first CRM integrations should be up and running as you read this.)
“The survey software has come so far in the last few years, in terms of making it more engaging,” says Littlechild, “so we wanted to make sure we have all that built in. But the biggest shift,” she says, “is not just to give data, but really link it to an action plan. We can measure satisfaction and identify clients who are at risk. I wanted advisors, on their dashboard, to be able to say, show me my clients at risk—and then, right beside that, here is your action plan and here are some of the templates and resources, so they can literally tie the data into an action plan.”
Clients have the option not to identify themselves, so some of the surveys will be anonymous. “In the past, we found that about 70-80 percent of clients do provide a name,” says Littlechild. “If you don’t allow them to be anonymous, you’d probably get 20-30 percent fewer responses, and we felt like it was more important to have the data for the overall metrics.”
But… does that mean that advisors have to breach client confidentiality by giving names and contact information to Client Insights? No. “We have two processes that we use,” Littlechild explains. “In some cases, we connect their list to the data on the back end. But in many cases, we give the advisory firm the full invitation and the link to the survey, and they send it out to their clients. If the clients decide to enter their names, we can connect it back to the data.”
You can learn more or register for Client Insights here: https://www.myclientinsights.com/dispatch.php?action=show_login&ca_access_key=OTNQc2NyYW1ibGU=. The cost is $995, but there’s a discount voucher for 15%; type in FEEDBACK15.