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Make Your Practice Stand Out: Don’t Let Contentment Become Complacency

What kinds of experiences do your clients have with you? Would they say that you’re reliable and that they’re satisfied with your services? If so, watch out. In a highly competitive industry, keeping a client “satisfied” may not be enough. Lack of conflict or complaints doesn’t necessarily equal loyalty. It could just mean the relationship is forgettable, and thus, vulnerable to disruption.

According to a study by Russ Alan Prince and David A. Geracioti, only 33.5 percent of “satisfied” clients and 13.4 percent of “moderately satisfied” clients said they would give their primary financial advisers additional investable assets. Yet 94.5 percent of those who identified as “loyal” said they were extremely or very likely to stick with their advisers. This study was published in 2005 in Cultivating the Middle-Class Millionaire; Why Financial Advisors Are Failing Their Wealthy Clients and What They Can Do About It.

Think of your own experiences as a customer at a luxury restaurant, hotel or department store. Chances are your mind jumped to interactions that were either extraordinarily good or extremely bad. But experiences that are just okay? Those typically rank low on recall.

What Are Your Clients “Saying” About You?

The quality of your relationship to each individual client matters more than ever. Today, 72 percent of online adults use social networking sites, with the 65-plus population tripling in the last four years to 43 percent, according to Pew Research Center. Your clients talk, and now they can talk to hundreds and thousands of their peers at once. What do you want them saying about you?

Sending your client a signed holiday or birthday card is a nice gesture. But it’s also a predictable one—the “go-to” for any service professional. So think about your practice from the perspective of an outsider and consider creative and consistent ways to make positive impressions.

The Difference Between You and Everyone Else

According to Thomas Fross of Fross & Fross Wealth Management, one of the most successful independent financial planning firms in the nation, there is no silver bullet for client management and retention. Key to your success is varying your strategy based on how your client likes to be engaged.

“Just as a balanced investment portfolio should include a variety of investments, a balanced practice management strategy needs to include multiple ways to engage clients and prospects,” Fross says. “Different clients will respond to different actions.”

However you choose to engage, there are three underlying principles that Fross recommends to help your practice stand out above the rest:

  1. Image is (almost) everything. It isn’t everything, but it matters more than you might think. Think about how your image would be perceived by current and prospective clients. Do you exude professionalism? Having an office, wearing a tie and taking the time to craft a consistent personal brand are all important to your bottom line.
  2. Talk to your clients. Your clients need information and reassurance on an ongoing basis, especially in a volatile market. Make it a priority to engage in frequent and meaningful communication with investors. If you don’t, studies show that they will move on to an adviser who will.
  3. WOW them. Do you make your clients feel special? Do you acknowledge them in unique ways? Average isn’t good enough. But when clients feel valued and important, they are more loyal and more likely to refer you.

Providing extraordinary service can also expand your client roster. According to the Prince and Geracioti study, those “loyal” clients provided nearly 12 referrals to their primary advisers, compared to just 2.1 from “satisfied” clients and 1 or fewer from “moderately satisfied.” So that time and effort spent going above and beyond truly pays off in more ways than one.

John L. Evans

John L. Evans Jr., Ed.D., is executive director, Knowledge Labs™ Professional Development at Janus Henderson Investors. In this role, Dr. Evans works with the Professional Development Team and provides extensive consulting, training and practice management expertise. He is a sought-after expert and keynote speaker. He regularly contributes to The Orlando Sentinel newspaper on business and politics and is featured in the Advisor Center section of Barron’s magazine. Dr. Evans has authored books on client retention and client acquisition, including The Book of WOW and “A Genuine Persuasion System.” He also serves on the board of advisers for the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Florida, and Elevate USA in Denver, Colorado. Prior to joining the financial services industry, Dr. Evans was special assistant to former U.S. Senator Connie Mack and director of business development for the state of Florida’s No. 1 registered investment advisory firm, according to Wealth Manager Magazine, for 2007. Dr. Evans holds an MBA from the University of Miami and an Ed.D. in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University. 

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Setting Your OOO Message: Best Practices

Your out-of-office (OOO) message is a simple communication tool that’s essential to use every time you won’t be answering calls or emails promptly. Whether your normal response time is a few hours or a business day, you need to alert those who contact you when that time has changed. If there’s an unexplained delay, clients may wonder what’s wrong, asking themselves, “Is he sick?” or “Did something bad happen?” After all, you’re usually so attentive. By immediately informing callers and emailers that you’re unavailable, you’ll prevent any confusion or disappointment when you don’t respond as quickly as expected.

Whether your OOO message is received by clients, prospects, business associates or others, it’s always a great opportunity to reinforce your image as a highly responsive and attentive adviser. But what exactly should you say? Your message should represent your authentic self, while keeping the following best practices in mind.

What Should You Say?

The best messages are clear, short and simple. Here’s a good example:

Hi, this is <NAME>. I’m out of the office until <MONTH DATE> and will be responding to messages on <MONTH DATE>. If you have an urgent need, please contact <NAME> at <XXX.XXX.XXXX> or <EMAIL ADDRESS>. Thank you for your message. I look forward to connecting soon.

A straightforward response like this works well for callers and emailers who have a business need. And, remember, if you’re recording a message for phone calls, speak articulately so those contacting you don’t have to replay your message. If necessary, spell out the email address of your contact person.

If you’d like to elaborate on your message, here are several options, along with some caveats, to consider:

  • Conveying your personality. Perhaps you’d like to mention where you’ll be (e.g., I’m hiking Mount Kilimanjaro!) or add a clever tie-in regarding an upcoming marketing event or newsletter distribution. If that’s in character, it can work. But if a “cute” message isn’t you, just keep things simple and authentic.
  • Adding industry info. If you’re away at an industry conference to keep up with the latest regulations, investment ideas or trends, a brief explanation may be useful. By doing so, you’ll let clients know that your unavailability is for their benefit.
  • Giving advance notice. If you’re going on “sabbatical” of four or more weeks, it’s best to tell clients well in advance. Let your clients know when you’ll be gone and whether you’ll be in communication or not. Ask them to think about any issue that may come up, so you can handle it proactively or alert your team to be ready. And, of course, you’ll want to reassure clients that someone will always be in the office to help them and be in touch as needed.
  • Working from a different location. This situation is increasingly common for advisers, given that technology typically permits seamless communication. If, however, your location does present technological challenges and/or a time difference is in play, it’s best to prepare clients. Use your OOO to convey the reality of when you’ll be responding to messages or not answering calls.

And while I’m on the subject, if you’re taking a vacation, take a vacation! If you answer phone calls and return messages while on vacation or don’t want clients to know you’re gone, think twice. That’s not a great long-term strategy for either you or your clients.

Remember Your OOO!

Your OOO message is a courtesy to clients—and even your staff members (who will need to respond to client queries). It’s also an opportunity to prevent any dings to your credibility. When you’re back in the office, make returning messages your top priority even if your staff assures you that all issues have been resolved. And, finally, remember to turn off your OOO and change the message on your phone as needed.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network in Waltham, Mass.


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Implement the SCARF Model with Your Clients

Say a client has been overspending on his credit card. You have a chat about it, and he leaves your office, assuring you that he’s going to rein it in. But at your next meeting, he hasn’t decreased excessive spending and he seems frustrated.

Why is your client acting like this? Perhaps it’s because he felt threatened when you told him to curb his spending at the previous meeting. In this case, the SCARF model might come in handy.

David Rock developed the SCARF model, which is rooted in neuroscience, in a 2008 paper titled, “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others,” published by the NeuroLeadership Institute.

According to Rock, status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness (SCARF) are the five areas that activate our brains to think we are either being threatened or rewarded.

In Daniel Crosby’s keynote speech at the 2018 FPA Annual Conference, he spoke about how our brains are wired for survival and the decisions we make are to ensure that we do just that. Because of this, our brains can’t tell the difference between a well-meaning person who’s offering constructive feedback and somebody threatening our safety. So, here’s how SCARF can help you.

According to the Mindtools.com article, “David Rock’s SCARF Model: Using Neuroscience to Work Effectively with Others,” you can minimize threats and maximize rewards in the following ways to better help colleagues and clients:

Status

This is our importance relative to other people. People like to feel important. Talk to your clients patiently and gently or frame your constructive feedback in a way that eliminates the so-called threat.

Certainty

This is our ability to predict what’s going to happen next. If we are uncertain, we feel threatened and we can’t focus because we’re too busy trying to make sense of things. If what you’re explaining to your client is too complex and causes uncertainty, break it down for them.

Autonomy

This is our sense of control over things. Show your clients that you trust their judgment. Delegate, include them in decision-making, let them take on more responsibility and let them try new things.

Relatedness

This relates to how safe we feel with others. Connect with people. Build up a strong bond by scheduling regular meetings or check-ins.

Fairness

This relates to how fair we think exchanges are between people. When people think things are unfair, they feel incredibly threatened. Minimize this by being honest and having clear expectations.

Ana TL Headshot_Cropped

Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org, or connect with her on LinkedIn