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What If Being Customer-Centric Was Actually About…the Customer?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the terms “customer-centric,” “client-centric” or “customer-first,” just over the last few months, I’d probably have about eight bucks. Don’t get me wrong, I think these terms are important for every financial planner (and indeed, anyone who works in or owns any type of business) to understand and value. My beef is with how they are being used: “buy this product,” “purchase this data,” “take this course,” and you, too, can suddenly become more “client- or customer-centric.”

It seems to me that too many of these messages are about more—more data, more tools, more strategies, more insights. Personally, I think most of us (whether we are business owners, employed by a business or individual practitioners) need just the opposite. We have plenty of data; the issue is in finding ways to use it effectively on a consistent basis. We have tools at our disposal; if we’re not using them to the best of our ability now, are we likely to suddenly change our ways when we get new ones?

Understanding the Customer is About Learning How to Use Your Data (Not More Data)

I don’t think customer-centricity is something we can purchase, and more data for more data’s sake is only likely to further muddy the waters. To truly understand our customers, we must learn how to use the data we already have, simplify how we will use it moving forward and stick with our plans long enough to measure whether they are successful.

This is, of course, easier said than done, but I have an idea that I think is worth trying to help you get started, and it starts with one of my least favorite marketing terms: personas. Used effectively, personas can be an extremely valuable tool in enhancing customer understanding, but I’ve personally never been in an environment where they made a positive difference. It’s one thing I’ve seen fail more often than succeed in my time as a marketer.

When customer experience is the topic of conversation, the discussion inevitably turns to spending money on personas, and because the creation of personas is so enigmatic, mysterious and cool (i.e., so few people understand it), everyone gets excited about the initiative…until they receive them. Then, internal teams start changing them to fit their own biases, some are removed entirely while new ones are added and the hotly debated question of whether or not “Randy, age 55” actually does like to go to the movies ends up killing productivity for weeks. After that, they’re forgotten or relegated to the company shared drive, and everyone agrees that the agency really didn’t understand “us” well enough to get us what we needed.

HINT: If you think persona creation is about you, and not expressly about your ideal clients or customers, then your customer-centricity project was doomed to fail from the start.

Improving the Customer Experience by Starting Small

The idea is this: if there is truly an ideal customer, member and client out there for all of us, what would happen if we tried to create an exceptional customer experience using just one avatar (just so we don’t have to use “persona” again)? If we focused on crafting just a single avatar using the data we already have available, and committed to using it to test every interaction, we would find it simpler to make the improvements required to actually move the needle on customer/client experience. Further, the focus of this avatar is not on its creation, but on bringing it to life as part of our daily work.

I’m not saying that your avatar’s profile, interests, needs, wants, wishes and dreams should be arbitrary—far from it. I just want you to avoid getting bogged down in creating the “perfect” avatar, so that by the time you’ve achieved perfection, everyone involved resents what you’ve built. Creating the avatar should be fun, but it can be done relatively quickly as a group exercise. In addition to the standard profile items (age, gender, name, AUM, etc.), make sure to draw a picture or find one online, and to focus on the emotional and human side of your avatar, as these things will make him or her more real and tangible. Put a deadline on this part of the project, and when the group is done, you’re done (no adjusting—your avatar has been officially brought to life, warts and all).

Integrating Your Avatar: Meet the Newest Member of Your Team

Now comes the most important phase: deciding how you and your colleagues or team (if applicable) will use your avatar. This is so critical that you might even consider creating a social contract and having everyone sign to represent their commitment to seeing the process all the way through. I like to think of this part as inviting your avatar (let’s call her Perry for now) to join your team and to take part in every meeting, every discussion about programs and initiatives, and every company event…oh, and Perry is also copied on every email and participating on every inbound and outbound phone call.

You can take it as far as you want to, including leaving Perry a seat in the conference room for larger meetings, or having a specific place she sits and takes notes during client meetings. As you may not wish to weird out your clients, you can decide whether you want to let them know that Perry will be joining you in spirit, but you and she know that she’ll be there (and maybe just a little bit late, because that’s so Perry). You and your team will begin to see every touchpoint a client has through Perry’s lens, and begin to make decisions based on how she would perceive an idea or adjustment to the status quo. You can start with questions like:

  • “What would Perry think of this idea for a client event? Would she want to come and how would we make her feel comfortable enough to stay?”
  • “Would Perry approve of this prospecting email? How would it make her feel? How can we improve it so that it would make her happy and interested?”
  • “How would Perry have changed the environment or direction of the discussion in the last client meeting? How would she have felt afterward? What could we have done differently, and what should/could we do after the fact that would make her feel more comfortable and less fearful?”
  • “What would Perry think of the inflatable plastic pineapple in our conference room? Would she think it was odd, or should we add more things like that to make the environment more Perry-friendly?”

Common sense though it may be, customer- or client-centricity is about putting the customer or client first. That means making decisions with the customer or client at the forefront of your mind, and doing what they would want you to do, not what you want to do.

If you like the idea, how you go about it is entirely up to you, and you can make myriad changes based on personal preference. The most important pieces are that you and your team/group agree on who your avatar is and feel a connection to it, and that you’ve committed to integrating the avatar as much as possible.

Remember, the Primary Goal is Getting to Truly Know Your Ideal Client

This concept won’t be for everyone, and that’s OK. For example, you may have more than one type of client you are attempting to attract, and this may not (and potentially should not) change your focus. It does, however, force you to choose a very specific ideal construct, based not exclusively on asset size or life stage, but on who you actually want to work with.

I do believe that simplification can often provide us with insights we may not have been able to see through all the noise we are forced to sift through every day. If you choose to go down a path like this, you can measure many different outcomes, but if, at the end of the experiment, you and your team feel closer to your current and prospective clients, and have a better understanding of your ideal customer, you have set yourself up to be of great value to a host of future Perrys.

Dan_Martin_Headshot

Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional membership organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.

Disclaimer: The Financial Planning Association is independent of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (“CFP Board”), a 501(c)(3) organization that grants the CFP® certification to CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals in the United States. CFP Board owns the trademarks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.”


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Design A Great Client Presentation to Get Results in 7 Steps

Whether you are thinking about a workshop or something simple to use one-on-one with clients, here are seven steps to help you structure a presentation that communicates your message and is designed to produce the results you want.

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  1. Know your purpose. What do you want to happen after your presentation? It shouldn’t be merely about increasing awareness or educating your audience. Rather know in advance specifically what you want your audience to do as a result of what they see and hear.
  2. Define the problem. What is the problem your clients and prospective clients want to solve? Is it retirement income they can’t outlive? Or managing risk? Or maybe it’s the problem they didn’t know they had! The first thing you should do is define the problem as your clients would describe or understand it.
  3. What is the conventional wisdom about the issue? What mistakes do clients often make in dealing with it? How do you see it differently?
  4. Sufficiently challenge your audience so that they realize that they can’t handle it on their own. Help them recognize that they need your help. Oftentimes this is best accomplished by asking key questions that challenge common assumptions people have or errors they make when trying to do it themselves.
  5. Assemble your points clearly and logically in a way that creates the structure or storyline for your presentation. What are the five (or six or seven) areas of needs and concerns that your target audience has? What are the key questions that people should ask? What are the mistakes that people often make?
  6. Provide your perspective. Once you’ve helped them understand that they have a problem, and why trying to tackle it on their own would be a mistake, it’s time to provide your perspective. This slide should say, “How I (or We) Can Help,” followed by some specifics that describe what you do to help people address the concerns you described.
  7. Describe next steps. This is your call to action – what you want them to do next, and what you will do to help them get started down the road to success.

Once you’ve created the overall structure, look for stories and images that create connection points with your audience and support your purpose. Limit your use of PowerPoint to illustrate rather than duplicate what you plan to say. Now you have a presentation that is designed to be memorable and produce your desired results.

Adam Kornegay

Adam Kornegay is a co-founder of Pathfinder Strategic Solutions. He has a background in marketing and business analytics. Coupled with his experience as a financial adviser, he helps a broad array of clients, from relatively new advisers to experienced planners, and consults with various financial services firms. He is a coach in the Messaging and Marketing Strategies FPA Coaches Corner

Susan Kornegay Headshot

Susan Kornegay, CFP® professional, is a partner at Pathfinder Strategic Solutions. After more than 30 years as a financial adviser, branch manager and practice management consultant, Kornegay enjoys helping financial planners define a comprehensive and consistent client experience and then market that experience in clear, client-friendly language. She is a coach, along with Adam Kornegay, RCC™​ in theMessaging and Marketing Strategy FPA Coaches Corner.


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How to Help Clients Have Difficult Conversations in Later Life

In partnership with the Financial Therapy Association, the Financial Planning Association® recently introduced a series to help financial planners prepare for working with clients experiencing life-changing situations. The new three-module, self-study online courses focus on common emotional events and share researched therapeutic techniques that financial planners can immediately use in their practices.

The first of the three-part series—Difficult Conversations in Later Life Planning—was relevant to financial planning practitioners as the average age of a wealth management client is 62. In addition, a future orientation is essential to financial planning which will necessitate conversations about later life even with younger clients.

See what you missed in the first installment of this Difficult Conversations Program Series:

Why Is This So Difficult?

Discussions around later life are difficult. Some common reasons include:

One of the most daunting reasons behind the increased difficulty in navigating these types of conversations is the concept of the fourth age. The fourth age is when a person becomes increasingly more dependent on others for daily care, usually starting at around age 80 or 85 and continuing until end of life.

The third age—the age after retirement—has become an increased focus as overall health has increased and people look forward to talking about what life will look like when they have more free time on their hands. But the fourth age is marked by health concerns and mortality is often scary for clients to even think about, much less plan for.

Part of the fear for clients is the idea of ambiguous loss—which is when we begin mourning something or someone that is not completely gone. There are two types of ambiguous loss:

  • Type 1: a person is physically absent but psychologically present (a child leaving for college)
  • Type 2: a person is physically present but psychologically absent (someone suffering from dementia)

While there are many examples of ambiguous loss in financial planning, the majority occurs when talking about the fourth age. This includes ambiguous loss around one’s identity when talking about retirement plans, or around one’s vitality when talking about deteriorating diseases (like MS or Alzheimer’s) and having to plan for long-term care. Financial planning education programs provide incredible training on how to handle the numerical side of planning for later life, but many of us feel inadequately trained in how to handle the human side.

What Can Planners Do?

Mental health theories can be applied to the financial planning process utilizing financial therapy techniques. The first webinar in the series focused on helping financial planners aid families in building resilience in the different stages of ambiguous loss through the use of these techniques.

Here are guidelines for planners to use these techniques in their practices from the webinar:

  • Finding meaning. Allow time for your client to tell their story and use reflective listening to elucidate the meaning they are formulating.
  • Tempering mastery means helping the family control what they can control and let go of the things they cannot control. Create multiple financial planning scenarios to allow them to feel more in control.
  • Reconstruction identity. Planners help reconstruct identities and roles within the family to help the family come to terms with changes that will occur around identity. Focus on how their identity may evolve around the ambiguous loss and use open-ended questions to help them create a new sense of identity.
  • Normalizing ambivalence. Families will sometimes experience ambiguous loss, which could make people feel scared, anger, guilt and shame all at once. Explain the concept of ambiguous loss to your client and how multiple conflicting feelings is completely normal to avoid any sense of guilt or shame.
  • Revising attachments. Encourage your client to get involved in their community (church, volunteering, etc.) so that they can have the social capital they need to avoid isolation.
  • Discovering hope. Instill hope in the family by asking supporting family members about their future dreams and goals beyond caregiving needs.

These guidelines do not need to be utilized sequentially. There are times where you’ll need to circle back. Instilling hope is one of those guidelines that should be at the forefront of financial planners’ minds throughout the planning process.

What’s Next?

We all know that financial planning as a profession is evolving to meet our clients’ needs in more than just the numbers. Financial therapy allows us to provide more holistic care to our clients facilitating trust and understanding that fosters the planner/client relationship.

The webinar provided a brief introduction of all of this and more, while also providing wonderful supplemental materials to help financial planners integrate this into their practice, including a video role-play demonstrating how one financial planner does this with her clients.

The webinar recapped here, plus the other two in the series, will be available as an on-demand package later this year. Stay tuned to learning.onefpa.org for more.

Smodic

Shelitha Smodic, CFP® professional, is a private wealth adviser at Westwood Wealth Management, based in Houston, Texas. Prior to joining Westwood, Smodic worked in supply chain strategy and design for the consumer products industry, including roles at Sysco Corporation, Coca-Cola Refreshments, and The Clorox Company. She earned a bachelor of science in business administration with a dual concentration in supply chain management and international business from The University of Tennessee. She is currently pursuing a master of science in personal financial planning from Kansas State University. She is an active member of the Financial Planning Association of Houston where she serves as the Pro Bono Director.

McCoy

Megan McCoy, Ph.D., LMFT, is a professor of practice at Kansas State University where she teaches courses for the Financial Therapy Certificate Program. Her research interests focus on Financial Therapy and how to create more empirical evidence to support work that she has seen change so many lives in her clinical experiences. Her work has been published in The Journal of Financial Therapy, The Journal of Financial Planning, The Journal of Family Economic Issues, The American Journal of Family Therapy, Journal of Systemic Therapies, Women and Therapy, Journal of Couple and Family Therapy, Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, and Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. Dr. McCoy serves as secretary on the board of the Financial Therapy Association. She is the guest editor for the Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy’s upcoming special issue focused on financial therapy and the associate editor of profiles and book reviews for The Journal of Financial Therapy. Dr. McCoy has practiced financial therapy with clients in her private practice and alongside financial planners in conjoint sessions. She is currently developing a computerized version of Narrative Financial Therapy with Morningstar and plans to run randomized control trials later this year.