At the 2019 eMoney Summit, I presented to colleagues on how I grew my business, retained clients, and increased my planning fees. The Summit focused on the Heart of Advice℠, or the core of what makes an exceptional client experience. eMoney research shows that financial advisors who take this approach with their clients have seen growth in the number of clients, assets under management, client retention, and compensation1.
This holds true for me. At my firm, Simonet Financial Group, LLC, we strive to put ourselves in a position where clients feel like we’re a necessary and integral part of their lives.
To me, an exceptional client experience means your clients believe in you. You’re doing something right if clients are leaning on you to be a trusted partner. Clients want to know you outside of what you’re doing for them.
So, if you’re chasing clients—or if they disappear and fall off the face of the earth—that’s probably something you did incorrectly.
How I Created an Exceptional Client Experience
My passion for getting to know clients started when I worked for an insurance company and spent time with families on their couches, in their living rooms, or at their dinner tables, talking about the things that were important to them.
When I opened my own practice in December 2013, I knew I had to take the same approach. People are more honest when they feel like they can trust and be comfortable with you, and the only way to build that rapport is to get to know them better. And I realized that when we discussed things other than money, I got more information about where my clients’ finances are. This helps my team provide better advice. We understand how our clients feel emotionally, know their thought processes, and can find solutions to serve them in that space. And for us, these conversations became easier to have when we moved from a traditional conference room to a more informal meeting room.
Learn Clients’ Communication Styles and Preferences
Working with clients taught me the importance of knowing them on an individual basis and not taking a one-size-fits all approach.
I ask clients their preferred communication method on our intake form to determine if they would like to talk face-to-face, over the phone, or by email or text. Some clients are more emotional than others. I’m more relational with them and often pick up the phone to call them. Others are more technical and prefer emails. Some clients prefer not to come in at all. They’re busy, and they only want to talk when it’s time to review something.
And over the years, one of the most notable things I’ve learned is to be flexible in how I work with clients. No matter the client’s preference, if they’re having a bad day or a problem, I always invite them to my office to talk. As a financial advisor, some days you need to act more like their counselor than their financial planner. And sometimes you need to change your approach entirely.
I recently helped a couple to pay off their credit card debt, only to find out they had been hiding a card or two from me. The wife called me in tears, overwhelmed with the amount of debt she and her husband had accumulated. She was worried I would fire them as clients.
While I scolded her at first, I soon realized I needed to alter how we worked together. I had stopped holding them accountable when they reached a certain level. We were out of touch, and they became concerned about how I would view their growing expenses. To get back on track, I set up an in-person meeting where we went through their expenses together, line by line. While it wasn’t the most enjoyable experience for anyone, it was necessary to get them back on track and make sure they had enough money to live the kind of life they wanted.
Be Real and Be Yourself
But in order to get you know your clients on a deeper—and a more honest—level, you must be vulnerable with them first.
I’ve noticed when some clients come into my office for the first time, they fear I’m going to judge them. They believe I’m successful and know everything about money. And while I am knowledgeable, I still have emotional ties and drives that steer me away from logical financial decisions.
The whole reason I fell into financial planning was because I made some bad spending decisions and realized there had to be a better way to do things. So as I work with clients—like the couple overwhelmed by their debt—I remind them that everyone makes money mistakes. But in order to move forward, they need to be transparent with me, too, and share things honestly.
This attitude has helped my business immensely. A while ago, there was a belief that the more accounts you had with a client, the harder it was for them to leave. Clients stuck with advisors—not because of the service they provided, but because it was too difficult for them to leave the advisor managing their annuities, retirement accounts, and car insurance.
But I’ve found I can be successful by developing personal connections with my clients—even if I’m only managing one account for them. I’m open with them about myself, and I’m transparent with my feelings on their decisions. They don’t feel like they’re held hostage. I’m retaining clients, and my profit margins have gone up.
Use Technology to Support the Relationship
Technology plays a critical role here by supporting the client relationship and driving their engagement.
At Simonet Financial Group, we rely on our financial planning solution to illustrate complex concepts in a user-friendly way. I don’t want my clients to have to understand all the nuts and bolts of a plan—I’m going to scare people away if I focus too much on the details. Our technology facilitates productive conversations, and clients feel like they can grasp what goes into their financial plan.
As I worked with that couple to tackle their credit card balances, technology provided another layer of accountability. Not only were we speaking frequently to discuss their expenses, but they also were tracking their own budget and spending through our planning software’s client website. At any point in time (or from any device) they could log in and see how they’re progressing toward their goal.
The wife recently called me to say she feels like a huge weight as been taken off her shoulders. Logging in and seeing that process kept her and her husband a lot more conscious about their spending and their debt.
Having technology to keep clients accountable and help them see the big picture makes a huge difference in the financial planning process.
Discover How You Can Deliver More Value to Clients
Providing the Heart of Advice to my clients has helped me deepen my client relationships and offer a competitive advantage in today’s changing industry. It’s changed my perspective, made my clients happier, and even made my own life more full.
Read more on how firms are delivering more value to clients in eMoney’s eBook, Living the Heart of Advice: How Firms Combine the Head, the Heart, and the Hand to Offer an Exceptional Client Experience.
1. eMoney Heart of Advice Research Report, September 2019.