What do clients really want from you?
By Michael Lovas
American Express just released the results of a survey called the "American Express Global Client Service Barometer." It quantifies consumer attitudes about the firms they choose to do business with and, just as importantly, those they choose not to do business with. Your firm is directly affected by the findings. Let's take a look:
- Sixty-one percent report that quality client service is more important to them in today's economic environment, and they'll spend an average of 9 percent more when they believe a company provides excellent service. The relevance of this statistic is for people who sell only one product. Your target market's willingness to buy more from you implies that it's a good idea to provide them with other products/services, and communication and service based on what they value.
True story: An annuity producer called me one day and asked me to help him reconnect with his clients so he could sell them other products. Those "clients" were people he'd sold an annuity to in the past, but then never contacted again. In other words, he provided zero service, so why would anyone want to buy anything else from him?
- Forty-eight percent feel companies are helpful but don't do anything extra to keep their business.
- Worse, 21 percent believe that companies take their business for granted.
- Ninety-one percent consider the level of client service important when deciding to do business with a company. But only one-quarter (24 percent) believe companies value their business and will go the extra mile to keep it.
1) What are clients concerned about?
2) What's that extra mile look like?
To translate this, they want to know that they're safe in your hands (that you won't continually hit them with sales pitches), and that their questions/problems will be taken care of to their satisfaction. In the financial industry, that last point is often a matter of your hiring the right person to serve in that capacity. We've visited many advisor offices where the BOA or office manager was visibly annoyed that pesky people kept interrupting her work. That's what happens when you hire the wrong person for an important job. These points are especially poignant for annuity producers because many follow the business model of selling their product and then moving on to the next customer. That's the opposite of good service.
The psychology of how people make business decisions (and give referrals) is even more relevant in light of the numbers above. Most people do not want to be negative. Their natural inclination is to go along and then to say "yes." That's why typical sales training teaches you to get the prospect to say "yes."
Did you know that it actually takes more effort to frown than smile -- and it takes even more effort to complain about something. So, clients are more inclined to talk about a positive experience than complain about a negative one. They are reluctant to tell their friends about a producer who let them down, but will initiate conversation about a producer who delights them. The magic number is two -- they will go along until they feel they've been burned two times, then, watch out. In that case, you have turned a possible advocate into a real adversary. So, what's the solution?
In the end, it all comes down to the client's experience and perception of you and/or your firm. Consumers are far more likely to give a company repeat business after a good service experience (81 percent), than they are to never again do business with a company after a poor experience (52 percent). In fact, people in the AmEx survey listed the three most influential factors when deciding which companies they do business with as:
1. Personal experience (98 percent)
2. The company's reputation or brand (92 percent)
3. Recommendations from friends and family (88 percent)
Where do people go for information on your business? Personal experience, your company's reputation or brand, and recommendations from friends and family. Consider those as descriptions of three different communication strategies. For example:
- Personal experience. Focus on what it takes to give your clients a terrific personal experience. Determine what it takes to turn customers into loyal clients, and then turn loyal clients into referral sources.
Let's dive deeper into the specific activities you can initiate to improve the level of service you provide to your clients.
1. Train your employees in how to turn every client encounter into a positive client experience. This includes teaching them how to purposefully build rapport with your clients.
2. Get help crafting your firm's message and teaching all of your people how to deliver it.
3. Translate your message into short questions and comments that can easily be used in e-mail and social media communication.
4. Develop a series of communication pieces that teach your clients about the financial or insurance industries, thus clearing away any confusion. We refer to this as "magnetic marketing."
5. Get your clients to either write or record statements of endorsement for you -- not as an advisor, but as a person to trust.
6. Get help going through every marketing message your firm uses with the objective of eliminating all confusion and turning them into easy-to-understand messages.
Resources: 1. Investor and Industry Perspectives on Investment Advisers and Broker-Dealers, Rand Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission, 2008.
2. American Express Global Client Service Barometer, American Express, 2010.
Disclaimer: This research was completed online among a random sample of 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 18+. Interviewing was conducted by Echo Research between April 13 and April 20. Most of our AboutPeople clients do not seek to attract the 18-year-old market, so it's probably appropriate to toss a few grains of salt into those numbers. That said, the data here is still valid.
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