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Financial Planning: Why Customer Experience Matters

I counsel a lot of financial services clients, and in that regard I have to keep up on the various trades, InvestmentNews, Private Wealth on practice management, the movement to and fro of warehouse brokers to RIAs, and the occasional marketing column.

As I was reading my copy of ThinkAdvisor, I came upon a wonderful article by Michael Kitces that discusses why meeting with financial planners is compared to “a blend of a dental exam, a math class, and marriage therapy.” It contrasts the experience a person will have in a Build-A-Bear workshop to that of meeting with a financial planner. And while this article is especially germane to the world of financial planning, it makes excellent points for any service industry and merits a read.

1. Some of the key points that Kitces makes is that meeting with a financial planner should be a client-centric experience, and instead it becomes advisor-centric. Clients are asked to come prepared by organizing all of their assets—this is often one of the hardest parts of the exercise—collecting and sorting through papers, financial statements and investments. Kitces asks why the organizing process is not made part and parcel of the advisor’s service model. It makes an advisor a hero to assist in this thankless task, and probably helps get reluctant clients through the door. I think of so many service professionals that could heed this advice—to examine a new clients’ anxiety and see how best to relieve it. Forcing a client through a difficult process without considering their needs is unnecessary.

2. The delivery mechanism for client requests has to be thought through more, and using technology could help ease the burden. Instead of sending duplicate mounds of printed materials every time a request is made, advisors could use technology to do virtual meetings with clients using Skype, FaceTime or Google Talk. This would allow a client to explore different scenarios with a virtual advisor, and would save multiple trees in the process. One of the recurring complaints I often hear when interviewing advisory clients is that they are overwhelmed by the amount of material to read and wish they were not sent so much.

3. The client experience matters. This is true of every service brand. When you are selling advice, the delivery of that advice is critical. And the client experience is shaped by a whole host of things—from providing free parking coupons and good coffee to delivering advice in a professional compelling manner. How many advisors present illegible charts, confusing graphics, or jargon-laden sermons instead of finding ways to engage listeners on their level? And how many advisors fail to respond to requests on a timely basis or are not proactive in contacting existing clients? The client experience is becoming increasingly important in financial services and Kitces puts it eloquently, “The simple reality is that customized, individualized personal financial advice delivered by a professional with extensive education and experience just isn’t much of a differentiator anymore, but having a fantastic client experience is. Although we’re likely a long way from financial planning services becoming fully commoditized, there is nonetheless a rising challenge to maintain differentiation.”

Kitces inherently understands that brand building in the professional services arena can not ignore service as perhaps the key component. While marketing can elevate a brand, and can to some extent reposition it, an excellent customer experience will make a brand memorable.

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