Amid the economic turmoil over the last couple of years, advisors have struggled with efficient ways to meaningfully communicate with their clients. Traditional methods such as newsletters, stock letters and e-mails have not had the same impact for clients who want answers to specific questions. Larger practices may not have the time to customize content, or it may be too costly.
Still, there are solutions. Web sites, for example, can offer custom content for clients. But regrettably, few advisory practices are willing to take the time to update the content. Sometimes it's easier for advisors to offer only the simplest functions on their Web sites rather than embrace new tools and applications that would require them or their staffers to do extra work. Yet it's important for advisors to take these new approaches to the design and maintenance of their sites if they want their Web efforts to succeed.
The first and perhaps most fundamental step is to determine which clients actually visit your Web site and what they look at. Some site providers offer tools to evaluate your traffic so you can see which pages are useless and which ones frequently visited. This lets you know where to expand and where to reduce or eliminate unneeded content.
Another fundamental step is to determine what tools and services your Web site provider can give you to customize. One of the many functions of the so-called "Web 2.0" is that you can "recognize" visitors when they enter your site and then lead them to a "splash page" or some other home page with content only for them. That kind of ability speaks volumes to the client about how far your firm is willing to go to offer exceptional, highly personal service.
Lightport (www.lightport.com), for example, offers a function called "Targeted Navigation" that embraces Web 2.0 functionality. According to the company's Web site, this technology creates a "smart site" that recognizes each logged-in user and displays only the navigation and content pages targeted to him. He sees only what he is allowed to, and the site may look entirely different to another user. In effect, the technology allows the user to avoid clutter and condenses what would otherwise be multiple Web pages for multiple users into one.
Many software providers also now offer a "secure vault" or some other secure online storage for a client's personal use. The Family Office Network, for one, (www.familyofficenetwork.com) offers a secure platform for file management, total account aggregation and client relationship management (CRM) software. It also gives a unique offering of password management for clients where clients can store their own Web sites/passwords and select whether they want the advisor to have access or not. This platform can easily be integrated into any existing Web site with a simple link. Advisor Sites (www.advisorsites.com), Lightport and other software applications offer similar features.
As you create content more specific to each client, you will also want to use your client relationship management software database in better ways-in other words, for more than just recording names and phone numbers. Many CRM platforms now allow you to put a client's likes, interests (such as sports, recreation, etc.) and reading preferences into his or her records. With some rudimentary filtering, you can easily develop lists of clients grouped by those interests (into groups of baseball fans, for instance) and send out targeted messages (e-mails or letters) to them. How much you customize it is up to you, and you can develop as many or as few communication tracks with your client as you deem necessary or appropriate. The goal is to match up the most compelling information to those clients interested in reading it.
The fact is, when clients receive the same communications, say a stock newsletter, each and every month with subjects that may or may not be of interest, they may quickly grow tired of it and simply not read. Even when you add a personal letter or article, the clients' interest could wane if the rest of the document is not relevant to them. At the same time, it isn't feasible for you to develop a single newsletter for each person. Some advisors have chosen to "up the ante" by sending out more and more stuff to clients, following the theory that, if you throw enough stuff up against the wall, some of it is bound to stick. But the reality could be that you are creating the exact opposite effect by alienating your clients. Too much information could be just as bad as if there were not enough. According to David Freedman, a consultant, there are three keys to creating an effective client newsletter:
Key #1: Create a good impression;
Key #2: Provide useful information; and
Key#3: Prompt readers to take action.
When building publications for clients, all too often advisors focus too much on Key #2, while ignoring Numbers 1 and 3. To create a good impression, you have to offer bottom-line benefits, not self-serving fluff.