- Delivering consistent interactions with clients builds loyalty and strengthens relationships.
- Creating standard operating procedures for all aspects of your practice improves client satisfaction and increases efficiency.
- Having a written statement of procedures helps to ensure you’re always staying on track.
At Capital Group, we have identified three primary areas on which financial advisors need to focus to build stronger, deeper relationships with clients: credibility, consistency and connection. Of the three C’s, consistency is, by far, the one that advisors are most likely to overlook.
There is nothing exciting or interesting about doing things the same way over and over again. Developing processes for how everyday functions will be handled is tedious, and training your team on these procedures can seem like a major burden. But as uninspiring as consistency may seem, we have found that consistency, particularly in terms of how you interact with clients, is one of the biggest differentiators between struggling firms and those that thrive.
For successful advisors, consistency means doing the things that you and your team already do most of the time — regularly communicating with your clients, returning calls in a timely manner and conducting client meetings in a particular order — but doing them all of the time in a thoughtful, intentional manner. It is critical to share this commitment with your clients so that they fully appreciate the value you deliver. Do not take for granted the power of this step. Predictable, reliable service gives clients a sense of security that can withstand volatile markets. This kind of consistency also conveys the rigor with which you run your practice. It further inspires confidence in your team’s infrastructure, not to mention trust in you as an investment professional.
How to Reinforce Your Reliability
The difference between a good client experience and a great one has more to do with relationship management than portfolio management. Consistent processes and engagement strategies will help you keep your promises and demonstrate your reliability.
To achieve that level of consistent, repeatable service, there are three main areas that you need to focus on in your practice:
- Communications: Sixty-four percent of people need to hear information three to five times before they believe it, according to research by public relations firm Edelman. This speaks to the importance of having procedures in place to ensure consistent, recurring communications with clients.
In terms of incoming calls or emails, your firm should have a formalized policy for responding to client requests. You will want to set a time frame for how quickly you respond to client requests and have a process for how incoming calls and emails are routed. In terms of proactive (or outbound) communications, you will want to create and stick to a schedule for how frequently you will distribute marketing communications, such as newsletters, and create a standardized template for those communications. If your firm says that is sends out a quarterly newsletter, your newsletter needs to go out every three months — not only when you have the time to write it.
In addition to having a plan for when you communicate with clients, you also need to plan for the content of those communications. Your firm needs to present a unified front when communicating with clients. Across your website, social media, emails, phone calls and client meetings, your messages need to have a consistent tone, and information about markets and investment performance need to be communicated in a standardized format. This consistency of tone and format is especially important if you are part of a team. Research by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and State Street Global Advisors found that 80% of a client’s interactions aren’t with their primary advisor.
- Reporting: When meeting with clients to update them on their portfolios or when writing portfolio updates that you send to clients, you need to be consistent in talking about results, not performance. Results are about achieving the outcomes your clients’ truly desire — their goals. More precisely, you need to always talk about results relative to the client’s goals rather than compared to a benchmark or style box.
When you report performance in the context of a benchmark, you are putting yourself in a lose-lose situation, which we refer to as the “performance trap.” For example, if the S&P 500 is up 15% and your client’s portfolio — typically consisting of bonds and cash in addition to equities — is up only 12%, the client is likely to be unhappy that the portfolio “underperformed” by three percentage points. Conversely, if the market is down 15% and the client’s portfolio is down only 12% (again, as a result of having bonds and cash in the asset mix), the client still isn’t going to be happy about losing money. Focusing on progress toward goals helps advisors avoid this performance trap.
We believe that implementing goals-based planning leads to increased client satisfaction and allows you to focus on the most valuable services you provide as an advisor — helping clients achieve their goals and protecting them from making bad decisions. If you are committed to goals-based planning, your reporting about results should focus on the client’s progress toward those goals.
- Procedures: It is one thing to strive for consistency, but it is another thing to have a plan for achieving it. That is why it is so important to create standard operating procedures (SOPs) that outline how your firm will handle all of the regular tasks that go into serving clients and building a successful practice. Not only do SOPs help create consistent, reliable client experiences, they also allow your firm to operate more efficiently and achieve scale. We recommend that you develop SOPs for prospecting, portfolio construction and monitoring, client communications, account management, office management and client review meetings.
It is important to develop the SOPs as a team. This will improve the quality of the procedures and make it easier to gain buy-in from all of your teammates. You should print out the SOPs and have them on everyone’s desk. Also, note that the SOPs are not static documents. You should regularly review the SOPs and update them to reflect the evolving nature of your practice.
In addition to making sure that the SOPs are well-communicated (and enforced) throughout your team, you should also ensure that your clients know that they exist and are a central part of how your firm operates. This shows your commitment to client service and gives your clients assurance that your firm has strong systems in place that will allow the firm to operate smoothly through all market conditions.
Investing in Consistency
Many advisors undervalue consistency and avoid developing SOPs because advisors believe that creating procedures and training the entire team to follow them won’t be worth the effort. Also, some advisors think that having too many policies in place may get in the way of building a personal connection with clients.
We believe that devoting the time and energy toward developing procedures and policies is one of the best investments you can make in the growth of your firm. A corollary of this is that not having these systems will significantly limit your ability to scale and grow and will hurt your ability to provide reliably excellent experiences for your clients. Remember, your reputation with clients will be built not in a single meeting but by consistently delivering on your promises year after year.