For the past 11 years, Agili has conducted an annual client survey as a way to obtain valuable client insights and help us chart our path forward. Over time, we have observed an additional, somewhat unexpected benefit: The annual survey has allowed us to engage honestly and openly with clients and has helped us demonstrate our commitment to improving our service to them, thus engendering trust.  For financial advisory firms who may not have endeavored to reach out to clients in this way, the following tips for engaging with clients through an annual survey—by making it convenient, developing targeted questions, requesting referrals, allowing survey to guide firm initiatives and sharing the findings—should prove worthwhile. 

1. Make it convenient and communicate ease. Just about everyone suffers from “survey fatigue” these days—so it’s best to make survey completion as simple as possible for clients. By launching the survey on the Friday of a typical, non-holiday weekend, ideally several weeks from any holiday, financial advisory firms can improve response rates. Clients seem happy to complete surveys when they have some extra time, but are more reluctant to do so if it impacts holiday plans. We have found it best to launch our annual survey near the end of each year so that the findings can guide our goals for the following year, but far enough ahead of Thanksgiving and Christmas so as to not interfere with our clients’ family time.

Limiting client survey questions to the most critical—so that the survey is not too time-consuming—is equally important. In the survey’s introduction, we recommend clearly communicating the anticipated amount of time it will take to complete. Otherwise, a client might avoid taking the survey, thinking it will eat up more time than it actually will! For example, our most recent survey took under four minutes on average for clients to complete.

2. Develop targeted questions, leaving room for unstructured feedback. Of course, careful question development is key to the success of any client survey. Direct questions about client satisfaction with various firm service areas, firm responsiveness or financial team performance can be posed using a satisfaction scale (i.e., where 1 is least satisfied and 5 is extremely satisfied). But it is also beneficial to add a comment field to scaled questions, allowing clients to give more candid and unstructured feedback. With client comments, a firm gains greater insight into the thinking behind its clients’ positions.

3. Request referrals. A carefully crafted survey can also positively impact financial advisory firms on the business development front. By simply asking clients how likely they are to refer the firm to family, friends or colleagues, they can develop a list of client referral sources. Then, during a client meeting or a specifically scheduled lunch, financial advisors should be sure to follow up with those clients who indicated that they would be “extremely likely” to make referrals.

4. Let findings guide firm goals and initiatives. Of course, financial advisory firms should use client survey findings to validate what they are doing correctly and explore areas where they can continue to improve. Each year, firms can use their client survey responses to chart the course for the next year. Firm leadership should review survey results to determine service areas that need tweaking and then develop process improvements to address those issues. When a team knows that a new firm initiative has been prompted by direct client feedback, they may be more motivated to make a change.

Several years ago, our survey data indicated that “client satisfaction with our follow-through on recommendations made in meetings and calls” had declined slightly. So, the following year, we implemented new process improvements to ensure better task completion and communication between team members. Our efforts paid off. That next year, client satisfaction with our follow-through rose by 5.3 percent. Targeting those service areas in need of improvement as highlighted by a client survey with better systems and processes certainly pays dividends. Including information in the client survey’s introduction about how results will inform future firm initiatives is recommended as well.

5. Share findings and gratitude. Finally, after a client survey has been launched and the results have been analyzed, financial advisory firms should share the findings internally as well as with clients. Of course, specific team member feedback does not need to be shared, but overarching takeaways and themes should be communicated. It is our practice to review the annual survey at a monthly company meeting—an annual highlight of which is the verbatim comments from clients praising worthy members of our team.

One way to update clients on survey findings is by emailing them a link to a blog summarizing the outcomes. By highlighting year-over-year score improvements (after an initiative has been developed based on a previous year’s findings), clients can see how their input directly impacts firm performance. This lets clients know that they have been heard and that changes have been implemented accordingly. 

Finally, firms should be sure to convey sincere gratitude for client participation in the survey—in the survey’s introduction and conclusion as well as in the survey findings reporting.

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