You have a concept of what it is like to work with your firm. It plays like a movie in your head. How do you make sure the actual client experience is the same as that movie?
My son works at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. When I visited him recently we had lunch in a restaurant in Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney. He explained the Disney Springs was one of very few areas on Disney property where retail outlets were operated by outside companies. On a walk after our meal we stopped into a shop to get some ice cream. We submitted our orders and moved down the counter to be served. Once out of earshot, my son leaned over and whispered “not Disney trained.”
Only then did it strike me. Unlike practically everything else in the park, ordering our ice cream was an ordinary, lackluster experience. The person who took our order slouched in her chair, was courteous but not cheerful, acknowledged the transaction without thanks, and turned to the next patron without a goodbye. In any other retail exchange, I would not have given it a second thought. It was fine. But it was not what we have come to expect from the Magic Kingdom.
It wasn’t a bad experience. More important, to the extent that the interaction did not live up to our expectations, it wasn’t the fault of the person delivering the service. She is likely a conscientious staff member doing the best job she knew how. Any gap between her behavior and what her employer promises is the responsibility of her employer.
You might pride yourself on delivering exceptional service. What have you done to make sure what you envision your firm delivering actually happens at that moment of truth when a client interacts with your staff? Here are a few ways you can protect your brand and deliver the experience you promise.
Have standards – The difference between a company with a brand and a group of practitioners who happen to share a common logo and address is agreed-upon and documented touch points and milestones in the client experience. One standard might be that each client inquiry gets some kind of response within one business day. Every client meeting is followed by a letter summarizing the conversation. Clients have a review meeting every six months. The ones you choose may or may not be one of these. Whatever you consider germane to what defines your client relationship needs to be documented and discussed.
I have facilitated client advisory board meetings where we learned that clients of different advisors in the same firm had somewhat different experiences – some got agendas in advance, others were called to ask about what they want on the agenda; some got most of their routine service from the paraplanner, others always dealt with the advisor when they needed something. What got discussed in client update meetings differed from one lead advisor to another. There was not consistency between relationships because the leadership did not design or communicate their vision of the client experience.
Have processes – The best way to make sure that you provide a consistent experience is to have documented instructions for every activity that happens on a regular basis. You will be more efficient and profitable to boot. Similar to setting standards, if everyone is carrying out their client responsibilities the same way you can help assure a consistent client experience.
Provide training – Documented standards and processes enable you to communicate to staff exactly what is expected of them. Once you have developed them, help your staff develop proficiency at carrying them out. Teach them to new staff when they join. They are then in a position to deliver on your promise.
Get client feedback – You designed the client experience the way you did because it’s what you believe your clients want. You cannot be sure until you ask. Do they value what you believe is valuable? One exercise we do in client advisory boards is to systematically go through the client experience. We step through the onboarding process. We deconstruct a client review. You might be surprised what you learn.
Here is one recommendation we have heard from this exercise with several firms: clients told us when conducting review meetings, spend less time presenting to them and more time talking with them about the issues they are working through. What’s on your client review meeting agenda?
Hire a “mystery shopper” – I was at Fidelity Inside Track recently and they announced the introduction of a mystery shopper program they are offering to advisors. Participating advisors meet with a consulting firm to discuss their processes, target clients, and develop a scorecard. The consultants then review their network of “mystery shoppers” to find candidates will match the personas of the advisor’s ideal clients. Those shoppers then contact the advisory firm and participate in initial and follow-up meetings. The researchers posing as clients then document their experiences and rate the advisor on the agreed-upon criteria. The consultants then meet with the advisor and review the firm’s performance and identify improvement opportunities.
Deliberately and consistently delivering a particular experience is central to building a brand. What can you do in your firm to confirm that the experience you intend to deliver is what the client wants most and that you provide it to everyone who walks through the door?