It involves providing whatever a client needs-and redesigning offices.

    I had an experience a few years ago at a hotel in Boston that truly defined the term Concierge-Style. When I arrived at the hotel I was greeted at the door by name and ushered into the lobby, where I discovered that there was no registration desk. The young lady who greeted me escorted me and my wife to our room directly. No paperwork to fill out or sign! The luggage soon followed, and the bell captain refused my tip.
    It turned out that the hotel used a Concierge-Style of service. And, the interesting part of that was they lived that business principal right down to each and every employee. No request was too difficult for them to accommodate. The typical expectation of a concierge was certainly there; obtaining theatre tickets, giving directions to a landmark, etc. But, there was much more to this style of service. It made every person who stayed there feel special. If I needed my shoes shined, help with airline tickets, a suit pressed or even a torn shirt repaired in time for a speaking engagement that day, they were going to find a way to get it done.
    The above story is being relived by a number of financial advisory practices around the country, where the principals recognize that, in order to distance themselves from the competition and help with client retention, they have to do something different in the way they work with their clients. This usually means some heightened set of services offered to clients. However, to truly transform your practice into a concierge-style of practice, it has to mean more than presenting your clients and prospects with a laundry list of additional services.
    The concierge-style of financial practice takes on many of the same characteristics of that hotel I visited. It is a willingness on the part of the financial advisor to provide whatever their clients may need. It is a commitment to service in all that it can mean. And, believe it or not, it is not only being offered to the wealthy.  The so-called family office concept, a one-stop shop for advisory and other financial services, often means creating expensive internal service offerings to those with at least $5 million in investable assets. Let's differentiate the concierge-style of practice from the family office concept by first suggesting that the concierge-style of practice can be offered to clients of more modest means.
    The key to making this concept work is in how you structure your offerings. Many advisors offer ancillary services to their clients, and sometimes this may include services that are simply not practical for advisors to perform by themselves. Typical examples might be mortgage services or other lending, tax preparation services, and legal services such as wills, trusts, etc. These services may be performed by affiliated professionals or independent contractors who coordinate their services with yours. These are the tip of the iceberg in what can be accomplished in a true concierge-style of practice.
    The first step is to create a strategic vision for your practice that embraces this heightened commitment to service excellence. Follow that with a value proposition, a statement of what benefits your client can expect from experiencing this new service philosophy. Then build every procedure, task, activity and communication from the viewpoint of how those items can benefit the client. In effect, the strategic vision of the concierge-style becomes a filter through which every important decision of your financial practice must pass.  Finally, your practice is ready to embrace all the service offerings that are germane to this concept.
    This is where your creativity can kick in. Service possibilities can be as diverse as your imagination can take you. Such things as assistance with auto leasing options, affordability issues (Can I afford that new set of furniture?), real estate decisions, advice on buying or selling a business, setting up a partnership or building a business from scratch are but a few of the many options available to the concierge-style of practice.
    The service offerings are only a small part of a very large picture, though. To truly embrace this concept, you have to break down the walls of conventional office design, literally. Doing away with the typical office furniture in favor of more relaxed, client-friendly furnishings, such as couches and coffee tables instead of the big desk with the client chairs. Some have even torn out the reception area, replacing it with a comfortable, living-room-style area with overstuffed furniture and no reception "window" in sight-the dividing wall between the waiting area and the area where the receptionist sits. It is replaced with the 'concierge,' who greets the clients by name and offers a beverage in a real glass or mug, not a paper cup. 
    Verbal communications are another way to position your practice as different. Many companies are ditching the annoying automated phone functions with the endless, confusing menus, in favor of a real, live person. One approach that is interesting is to thank each caller for calling. The typical greeting might be, "Thank you for calling XYZ Financial Services, this is (name of receptionist), how may I help you?" If you use this approach, it is important for the receptionist to clearly state the greeting, speaking deliberately. If this greeting is rushed, it sounds phony and defeats the purpose of the greeting.
    Written communications with clients and prospects should appear to be personalized. Client management software can easily accomplish this with mail-merged letter templates that include personalized "field entries" within the body of the text to make the letter appear as though it was hand typed just for that person even though you may have sent out 50 versions of the same letter). Some practitioners of the concierge-style of practice suggest that holiday greeting cards should be hand-signed with personalized notes added. Yes, this is labor intensive, but it conveys a message that is unmistakable.
    Having the ability to pull up detailed information on your clients from your client database as they enter your office affords you the luxury of appearing to know important information about them such as anniversaries, birthdays, important events in their life, children's names, etc. It allows your staff to respond to the clients with knowledge of their situation and needs. Some client databases even provide for the recording of photos into the client file.
    If you keep a group calendar for yourself and staff, then everyone should know who is scheduled to arrive at your office. Greeting someone by name and knowing their specific situation conveys the message that you care very much about that person or persons. There is nothing more discouraging for a client than going to an office they have visited many times only to find that you do not know who they are or cannot remember their name. Therefore, training your staff to embrace this new concept of client relations is a key to its success.
    The concierge-style of practice is a facilitator practice. The goal is to position the practice as the client's first call or visit when they need something financial in nature. Depending on your style of practice, the type of clients you typically deal with and your budget, implementing even parts of this concept can have a remarkable impact on your financial practice and the loyalty of your clients.

David Lawrence is a practice efficiency consultant and is president of David Lawrence and Associates, a practice consulting firm based in Lutz, Fla. (