How much can you de-personalize your office before it is no longer efficient?

    In a fast-moving world where communications are becoming increasingly de-personalized (i.e. phone messaging systems with multiple layers of menu choices before you speak with a live person), operating a financial advisory practice that emphasizes the personal touch can distance you from the "corporate" competition. One question, though, is how far you can go with the personal touch before it is no longer cost-effective. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to approach this issue.
    Let us first tackle the phone system. If you are a single practitioner and have little or no support staff, you might be tempted to use an automated phone messaging system. There are other, more personalized choices available that just might permit your clients to feel as though they are valued. One choice is to use a VoiP phone system with a follow-me forwarding feature that allows calls to first ring into your office and then be auto-routed to your cell phone or other numbers if you are out of the office. If you choose not to take the call, it would rotate to your voice mail. (Some services permit the recording of several voicemails to be used in different situations; i.e. after-hours, during business hours, holidays, etc.) With this concept, at least you have given yourself a chance to answer the call live no matter where you may be.
    Another choice is to use a phone answering service with live operators. For this, using an Executive Suite Service (offering office space, clerical and phone services) might be preferred, as the population of receptionists who answer your call is smaller (presumably local) and you could customize the phone message any way you want (with predictable results). You also might be able to communicate your schedule with such a service so that they know when you are available or not.
    The goal is to have a live person answer your business phone line whenever possible. If you have staff, using client relationship management software (CRM) in conjunction with the phone system is ideal. With this concept, you might be able to "recognize" the incoming caller and generate a client information screen (from your CRM software) for that caller with important information, such as names, addresses, birthdates, etc. Recognizing a caller is a high complement and is impressive when you can recall details such as an upcoming birthday, anniversary or other important dates. Some CRM software programs offer the opportunity to post a photo of your client on the client information screen. This could help the recognition process for your staff and yourself.

Though the phone system is generally regarded as the most important communication device in the office, it is by no means the only communications device. The Internet and e-mail have gained popularity for their ease of use and ability to communicate quickly. The danger with e-mail is that brevity of communications can often lead to misunderstood messages. In addition, batch emails can look suspiciously like junk mail. Many computers now have spam blockers and firewalls that can detect e-mails sent to hundreds of recipients. Therefore, what might be intended as an honest effort to get information quickly and cheaply into the hands of your clients could go unread. If you work with batch e-mails, a number of software and service solutions can overcome the issue of spam blocking.

Most practitioners recognize that applying the personal touch to communications involves multiple forms of communication. An interactive Web site with communication features such as contact forms, information links, lockbox-type storage of client documents and other features can add an additional source of information for your clients to access and use. The lockbox feature is offered, for instance, in Junxure-I from CRM Software (
    Their new ClientView service ties an Internet-based lockbox with the ability to store client documents and batch upload client statements and messages with its heralded client relationship management software, a value-added service that can greatly improve efficiency in delivering such information to your clients. Advisor Square from LiveOffice Corp. ( also offers a lockbox feature with their Web sites (as does EMoney Advisor, Recently, Advisor Square added a WebSuite package for those practitioners who would like to have fully integrated collaboration tools added to their Web site. The WebSuite Package includes podcasting (the ability to record a message, seminar or other communication and post it on your Web site). Web conferencing is also offered, along with a cost-effective version of teleconferencing and even a "click to call" feature that permits an instant telephone connection to a live person in your office.
    Podcasting has become increasingly popular with the use of free content services using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds. Most major Web sites and hosting services offer RSS feeds with subjects ranging from financial topics to just about anything you can imagine. Adding these to your Web site permits your clients to customize what information they choose to receive and how they wish to receive it. With the ease of access to such content, care must be given with respect to compliance issues.

Despite the increasing use of electronic forms of communications, there is still a need for more traditional forms, such as letters, postcards, etc. Letter writing can be greatly improved and personalized with templates. Most word processing programs (Microsoft Word and Adobe Word Perfect, for instance) have the ability to build highly customized templates, with auto-insertion of names, dates, ages and other information to provide the look and feel of a personalized letter, while retaining the speed and efficiency of a templated letter. Adding a client's name inside the body of the letter can greatly improve the likelihood that your client will distinguish the letter from a bulk-mailed version. Most Client Relationship Management programs that offer letter writing capabilities with merge document features to a client database also permit custom templates (Junxure-I, Goldmine, Act!, ProTracker and many others offer such customization).
Remember a few rules about writing letters (or e-mails) when you construct your templates:
    Good business writing is clear and lean, both suited to its purpose as well as economic in its use of words.
    Plan the document; determine the purpose (informative or persuasive) and consider the potential readers.
    State the main point of the letter early in the document; most readers lose interest after the first paragraph if you have not grabbed them with the topic.

Organize the document logically and visibly; emphasize key points with highlights or bold print.
    Use 12-point type (Arial or other clear font); older readers have trouble reading smaller type.
When writers consistently employ these principles of effective business writing, their readers understand clearly why the letters/e-mails were written and what should be done after reading them.
    If you work with a broker-dealer, templates may prove to be more efficient in gaining compliance acceptance over the submission of individual letters and/or e-mails. They may also be simpler to compile for compliance purposes when used with a CRM program that can sort and batch-print the letters generated from the template(s). Check with your compliance department for details. 

David Lawrence, AIF  (Accredited Investment Fiduciary), is a practice efficiency consultant and is president of David Lawrence and Associates, a practice-consulting firm based in Lutz, Fla. (