Prepare to have your assumptions questioned

The best outcome of collecting client feedback is discovering what you can change that will improve your client experience.   Not to find out how happy your clients are but what difference would make them happier. It is also one of the most difficult things for some advisors to hear.

In preparing for one advisory meeting several months ago, I asked the principal of the firm “What do you most want to get out of this meeting?” He replied “To get affirmation on our new fee schedule.” If you are looking for affirmation, your advisory board will be a worthless feel-good exercise that will waste your clients’ time. To his credit, after some discussion we consciously committed to going into the meeting with the goal of discovering how the clients would feel about the fee schedule he had in mind, open to whatever they had to say. That turned out to be an important perspective change because the clients had a strong negative reaction to the ideas. Not the fees specifically but the method of calculating them. Having the opportunity to have heard that and rework the idea prevented what could have been a backlash.

I am sometimes surprised how invested in their processes some advisory firms are. One client I really enjoy working with gives me surprising pushback on quite a few ideas uncovered at the advisory board. For example, one request was to receive investment reports about a week before a scheduled review meeting to give the client time to review it and prepare questions to bring to the meeting. Requests like this are pretty common for advisory boards – it is probably suggested by about half the ones I facilitate. It is also one of the more benign requests a board might make, and pretty simple to implement. In our follow up call, however, the advisor strongly objected to the idea, going so far as to suggest that it would be impossible to do without hiring at least one additional full time staff person. To print and mail reports they already produce for these meetings.  In the end, I believe it had a lot more to do with changing the process they have taken years to design and refine than any additional work it would actually take.

Maybe the most important thing you can walk into an advisory board meeting with is an open mind. Nothing valuable happens in this exercise until you learn something new – or a client describes how something can be changed for the better. Accept it. Welcome it. Consider how you might utilize it. Your clients will be impressed that you were willing to give it serious consideration. And they will talk about it.

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