If you’re like many others I’ve met in this profession, you probably focus a lot of effort on finding new clients.
Personally, I consider it far more important to focus our efforts on current clients. And that requires a set of communication skills and methods much different from those I wrote about in my last column.
I often remind my colleagues and staff that keeping the lines of communication open with our clients is one of our most important skills. It requires showing our clients that they are our priority—all the time. It means providing exemplary service to them—all the time.
There are numerous channels you can use to engage with established clients: face-to-face meetings, e-mails, phone calls, personal notes, formal letters, newsletters, mass mailings and opinion polls and surveys, to name a few. You can (and should) vary the content of each of these, offering news in some media, educational information in others, as well as status reports, error identification/correction and general advice. My firm uses all of these at one time or another, depending on the situation and format.
Let’s take a closer look at six of these approaches.
1. Face-to-face meetings. When you meet clients in your office, being a good communicator means listening as well as talking. Clients need to feel that you value their input. While you might take some notes, they probably won’t, so be sure to summarize what was agreed on. Then invite the clients to give their feedback to ensure they feel it was a truly collaborative session.
2. Regular communication. Keeping the lines of communication open means each client must feel that he or she is your priority. This is normally done through e-mails (and regular mail) and phone calls throughout the year.
It’s especially important to do this when something newsworthy happens that’s likely to worry clients, such as sudden market volatility, natural disasters or terrorist attacks, or major legislation signed into law. It’s important to provide clients not only with the information they need, but also your perspective so they don’t make an unwise investment or financial planning move out of emotion (fear or greed) or error (misinformation). On such occasions, we quickly issue e-mails and letters to our clients, and our planners often follow up with phone calls.
For instance, we wrote to clients recently to explain the changes in Social Security retirement benefits resulting from the recently passed federal budget. Have you explained this to your clients?
3. Surveys and opinion polls. At my firm, we ask clients their views from time to time, and we study their responses carefully, looking for ways we can improve our service to them. You can construct simple surveys or questionnaires in house, or engage any of several online services, such as KeySurvey, QuestionPro, Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, Polldaddy and Zoomerang. Clients want to tell you what they think and feel; you need only ask them. (And if you don’t, they might leave for another advisor who does.)