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Differentiating Your Business Isn't Magic (But Your Clients Don't Have to Know That), Part Two

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In Part One of this series, I discussed some of the ways that you can use Redtail to help your office move toward a more client-centric approach. In Part Two, I'll look at ways that Redtail can assist you with some other differentiation techniques:

  • SLAs and client expectations
  • summary letters and other client touches
  • keeping clients on track

In Part Three, I go over diffentiation in regard to:

  • keeping your team on track
  • timely giving of information
  • consistent messaging and service

1red.pngSLAs and Client Expectations

Discussing the details and providing a copy of a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to your clients very early in your relationship with them serves several purposes. One, it allows you to document for both your office and your clients what should be considered a mutual understanding of the services you provide and the responsibilities of all parties. Two, it provides you with an opportunity to highlight your other services.  Three, it can greatly assist with keeping your clients on track, something I'll discuss in greater depth when I talk about that differentiation technique in the last section of this article. And, four, it exhibits to your clients from the outset your stated commitment in writing to follow through on those items that fall within the scope of the Agreement. Let's look at each of these in more detail:

Mutual Understanding

Engaging an advisor for assistance with one's financial well-being can (and should) be a cautious, thought-out process. Many of your potential prospects with assets to grow or protect who recognize the need for assistance are understandably reticent about just diving into the deep end with an advisor they may have only recently met. Explaining and documenting the services you provide, the responsibilities you will diligently execute and the responsibilities that are expected of your clients can go a long way toward overcoming this reticence and building early trust in the relationship.

_note_red.png Should conflicts arise later in your relationship, an SLA may prove instrumental in smoothing out any issues, provided your firm has lived up to what was agreed upon. This is another reason that it's important to go over and provide the client a copy of this early on. If they haven't seen your SLA until the time of the conflict, you might be perceived as trying to disclaim responsibility rather than as working from a place of mutual and agreed upon understanding.

Highlight Your Services

You already know that each of your clients doesn't take advantage of all of the services you offer, even though in many cases it may be to their benefit to enlist you for more than they currently do. As you should list all of your available services within the SLA, this can be a great tool for communicating to your clients other areas where you may be able to assist them, in addition to the areas that led to their initial engagement with you. While they may not initially want to use those additional services, you've made them aware that you are a resource, which can work to your favor later in the relationship should they decide to pursue those service options.

Keep Your Clients on Track

Getting the necessary information and documentation from your clients that you need in order to perform your job effectively can be a challenge at times. When I referred above to "the responsibilities that are expected of your clients", providing these is a huge part of the responsibility that lies with them. If you spell out what you need from each client within your SLA with them, you've made it much easier for them to provide you with those materials and, in turn, made the data gathering process easier on you and your staff.

_note_red.png I referred to a Michael Kitces piece at the beginning of Part One of this series, but I want to point out as well a piece he wrote in 2011 that deals with the data gathering aspect of dealing with your clients. If you want to introduce a little magic into your early dealings with your clients, his recommendations for data gathering would be pretty tough to beat. I'll dive a little deeper into this in the final section of this article.

Exhibit Your Stated Commitment

When you put your services and responsibilities in writing, and provide a copy of this to your clients, you are indicating to them that you intend to follow through on these commitments. You are creating the expectation within them that you can be trusted to do what you have said you will do.

You can see a piece I wrote earlier on setting and managing client expectations here. SLAs are, in effect, another tool in your arsenal for setting client expectations, but they also provide you with much of the information you need for setting up the Activities, Reminders, Workflows and Checklists necessary to stay on top of all those expectations you've created.

While Redtail doesn't provide a tool for creating SLAs, it works very well as tool for making sure that you are meeting all of your SLA commitments and, consequently, your client expectations.

 

2red.pngSummary Letters and other Client Touches

You should always send a summary letter to your clients after a review. Aside from this being an opportunity to reiterate what you covered in the meeting (and to keep your clients on track in regard to their responsibilities), it's also a natural opportunity to stay top-of-mind with your clients. As such, when drafting these letters you might include the directly relevant:

  • a summary of what was covered in your meeting, as well as any follow-up that will be required of either party. TIP_blue.pngIf you do a good job of taking contemporaneous notes on your meeting, all of the material you need for this section of your summary letter should be available to you to draw upon from the Notes section of the client record when drafting.
  • a reminder of your next scheduled meeting. This, of course, should be tracked within the Client Review area in Redtail for the client.

You should also include the following items, even though they are not as directly relevant to the meeting just held:

  • an opening section offering your thanks for the continued relationship. People like to feel appreciated and you should take every natural opportunity to ensure that you are expressing your appreciation.
  • a separate sheet outlining your additional services. Again, each time you put this information in front of your clients you are raising the likelihood that you will be utilized when their need for those services arise.
  • a request for referrals, should they know individuals who might benefit from the type of service that you just provided the client.

Aside from review summary letters, you should take advantage of other natural opportunities that come up throughout the year to "touch" your clients. I get more into the specifics of what some of those natural opportunities may be in Part Three. What I want to cover here are the tools available to you through Redtail to make this part of your job easier.

Whether it's a summary letter or some other type of correspondence that you regularly send, you can store templates of the correspondence within Redtail. While you'll likely need to make edits to the template, particularly for a summary letter, you can do that after merging your template piece with the client's personal data. This capability is a great time saver, particularly when you consider the number of these you may be sending in any given year.

For some of your client touches, you may elect to use email rather than physical pieces. This too can be accomplished from within Redtail, using the Broadcast Email functionality, or, if you are a MailChimp or Constant Contact user, by taking advantage of the integration we offer with each of those vendors.

Whichever route (physical mail or email) you think will work best for a particular type of contact, just make sure that you are aware of the different ways that Redtail can make the task more efficient.

3red.pngKeep Clients on Track

In order to help your clients achieve their goals (and thus hopefully retain them as clients), it's likely that oftentimes, in addition to your usual services, you'll have to spend a fair amount of time keeping them pointed in the right direction. With potentially hundreds of clients to stay on top of, how can you make sure that you're doing your part to keep them doing theirs? Stated simply, unless you can retain it all in your head, you've got to find a way to automate the reminders within your office so that you can follow-up with your clients when an action is required on their part. Within Redtail, that may be as simple as adding an Activity or entering a date to trigger a Reminder or it may be a more complex set of tasks that can be managed using Checklists or Workflows. Whatever the case may be, using Redtail CRM you can make sure that you pop into your clients' lives at just the right time to ensure that necessary actions are performed when they should be.

I referred to a Michael Kitces piece above in the SLAs and Client Expectations section. If you didn't check out that link, I encourage you to do so after finishing this piece. Here's why: Kitces outlines a great technique to aid you in getting all the information you need from your clients in regard to their finances. Additionally, he offers a sample of the guidance verbiage you might send them prior to the meeting in order to get the ball rolling, text which you can modify for your use and store as a merge template within Redtail. I'm going to briefly summarize his suggestions, but to really understand the technique you should go directly to the source.

In summary, Kitces indicates that you already know the minimum requirements you'll need from clients in order to begin understanding their financial picture and, at a minimum, you should request that they bring in documentation to support that information. It's often this early step that can prove uncomfortable for clients, but it may help for you to frame the request for documentation as an opportunity for them to get their information into an orderly and accessible state, just as they are looking to you to get their financial affairs into order. What you are looking for here is information covering cash and liabilities, protection (insurance and estate plans), taxes and investments (and anything else that may be relevant to your services).

By setting this highly organized tone early on, you're instilling confidence in your clients that your office is up to the task of helping them manage their financial affairs while also laying the groundwork for efficient retrieval of information when needed in the future. And, don't forget: if you are also a Redtail Imaging subscriber, you can scan any relevant documents into your Imaging database and link it up to the client record within Redtail. Going forward, even if the client is unable to turn up a document (a common problem you've hopefully helped them to overcome with this initial organization meeting), you'll be able to quickly access it from their contact record in your CRM.

I hope the above has given you some more ideas about how you can differentiate your office from your competitors. While a lot of detail goes into appearing "magic" in your clients' eyes, Redtail will allow you to automate and/or template many of the associated tasks that mold your clients' perception of you.

In the final part of this series, I'll look at three more areas where Redtail can assist you with your differentiation efforts:

  • keeping your team on track
  • timely giving of information
  • consistent messaging and service

 

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