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

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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 looked 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 here, I'll go over differentiation in regard to:

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

1red.pngKeeping Your Team on Track

As I discussed in Part One of this series, each of your team members that may come into contact with your clients, prospects and vendors needs to be aware that their interactions play an integral role in setting your business apart. In terms of differentiation, in terms of crafting a unique client experience, the whole is truly only as good as the sum of its parts. So, how do you foster and maintain the level of team cooperation required to set your office apart from the other offices providing essentially the same services as your own?

Build Your Team

When hiring for your office, do so with the culture you want to achieve in mind. In addition to hiring people who have skill sets that complement those of your current staff members, you need to do your best to also weed out those who seem likely to poison the well of the approach you are trying to take in favor of those who seem willing to embrace a collaborative culture geared toward making your delivery of client experience paramount. It’s your job (during the hiring process) to make sure that they understand your vision for client experience and your expectations in regard to that vision.

_note_red.png You may already have your team in place, with no immediate plans for growing your staff. The above would still apply. Regardless of whether you are entering upon this journey to differentiate your business with an entirely new staff or an established team, you must clearly lay out your expectations and provide the resources to make them achievable for all involved.

User Adoption

You understand the importance of the tech solutions you've implemented in terms of how they can streamline your processes and allow you to concentrate on the client experience. But, sometimes, you have to formalize the process of user adoption in order to get everyone on board and meeting your expectations of their tech usage. In regard to Redtail, by making sure your team adopts and uses your CRM, you dramatically improve the chances that in each and every contact with clients that all team members have everything that they need to know about the client at their fingertips and can personalize the service accordingly.

You can see a previous piece we put together here that details what Redtail does to assist with user adoption as well as some suggestions on how you can map a course that ensures adoption.

Tech Training 

Closely related to User Adoption, training on the technologies your office uses can often be the deciding factor on whether or not your staff actually puts them to their best and most efficient use. If Redtail is going to play a critical role in helping you to differentiate your business, it is imperative that you make sure your staff receives adequate training. While the basics are certainly easy to master, a formalized system of training will allow you to ensure that your office not only knows what is expected of them but knows as well how to meet those expectations. You can see a piece here on all the opportunities Redtail provides for training.

Stuff Happens — Be Prepared For It!

Important processes need to be mapped out so that if a crucial team member is out unexpectedly (which will happen at some point) you don't see a drop off of your service levels. Workflow and Checklist Tasks, as well as Activities, can be reassigned easily within Redtail, and this should be a high priority when this type of situation arises.

Along these lines, there may be some processes that you currently don't have mapped out in the form of Workflows or Checklists. Ideally, you should have every process that someone in your office performs present in Redtail in the form of a Workflow or a Checklist, with as much detail as is needed for someone jumping into the task to be able to carry it off without a hitch.

The January 28, 2014 snowstorm in the southeast that brought Atlanta to a standstill is a perfect example of "stuff happening" that isn't planned. And, it's exactly these types of situations that reveal what a smart business practice it is to have your processes clearly defined for those taking them on in an emergency situation. If your clients see that you don't miss a beat, especially during times of turmoil, you are clearly establishing your office as one that merits their trust during whatever "storms" may come.

Survey Your Clients (and Your Team)

Sometimes the best way to know if your office is exceeding, meeting or failing expectations is simply to ask. This "ask", however, can come in a number of different forms.

You may have some clients where you are completely comfortable with just posing the question during the course of a review with them. If so, do it! Save it for the end of your meeting with them so that you aren't taking time away from the purpose of the review, but don't hesitate to use it as a meeting closer. What can we do to make your client experience better? Where have we fallen short? With those clients that you are comfortable directly asking, you are likely to receive useful and actionable feedback.

You might also consider forming a client advisory board, consisting of a small number of your best clients, that you meet with on a periodic basic for open discussion of topics regarding client experience of which you want to gain a better understanding or for which you want to develop a game plan. Just be sure to provide the participants with an agenda of the topics you'll be discussing beforehand so that they will have time to digest them rather than coming in cold. And, while you can certainly hold these advisory board meetings in your office, you might also consider tying them to an event outside of the office that may include dinner and other forms of entertainment.

If you have a rather large client base, you may not be able to get a complete picture of the overall mood of your clients from either of the above. That isn't to say you shouldn't make use of each of those methods, but you might want to use them in conjunction with client surveys that are sent to all of your clients. Just remember when crafting these to do so in a manner where those who respond to the survey can do so in a way that allows you to gather useful answers. In other words, you can set them up to numerically rank different areas of your practice, e.g., communication, accessibility, results relative to expectations, value of newsletter, staff helpfulness, etc., but you should also provide ample room for them to expand upon their answers as they see fit. There are a lot of methods for surveying, from physical mail to email to online surveys — just find the one(s) that you think will work best for your clients and then retool if necessary, based upon response rate.

Whatever combination of these three methods you may use, make sure that you or someone in your office is responsible for gathering the responses, interpreting them and making that information available to the entire team. Once enough data has been collected, it's probably a good idea to have a staff meeting to discuss the results and what changes may need to be implemented. All team members should know where your office is succeeding and, perhaps more importantly, where it can perform better.

These meetings provide you with a good opportunity to survey your team as well, to address their areas of struggle in terms of meeting your vision for client experience. Where are they running into stumbling blocks? What processes can be improved? Where can further efficiencies be realized?

Now, how do you act upon all of this information you've gathered from your clients and your team? One solution you might consider is creating contact records within Redtail to track both the data and the actions required. You'd create one contact record, perhaps with a name of Client Experience, to which you can add Notes or Documents that contain the results of your surveys. You can then also attach Workflows or Checklists or Activities to that record and assign them out to the individuals on your team that will be responsible for addressing those areas of concern. As an example, let's say that your survey results have indicated dissatisfaction with your firm's monthly newsletter in regard to its professionalism, organization and/or coherence. To see that this is addressed, you might create an activity for those responsible for putting these together (that might include you) to research and implement ways to address those concerns. And, you'll want to keep these Activities open until future surveys indicate a marked improvement in these areas.

Similarly, create another contact record, perhaps named Staff Experience, where you can track staff concerns and manage the actions required on your part to address these.

To sum all of this section up, you often won't receive feedback if you don't ask for it. Find a way to do so that works for your office and then make sure that you track and manage any concerns that are voiced.

Celebrate Successes Proportionately

A big part of keeping your team on track is providing them with a work environment where their efforts are appreciated. Celebrate the successes they bring to your office — recognize those that are helping you build the kind of firm with which clients love working. Dependent upon the magnitude of the success being celebrated, your recognition might come in the form of something as small as a lunch or as big as an all-expenses paid vacation. And, because you've taken into consideration that Stuff Happens (see above), your office should be set up to function while any team member is away celebrating the fruits of their success.

The end goal of all of the items mentioned here is to build a unique experience for your clients. The no-less tangible result of your efforts is that you will be building a highly cohesive team that appreciates how your firm is different and develops a loyalty toward both you and toward achieving the vision you’ve set out for the firm. Hiring and training new staff, like acquiring new clients, can be an expensive proposition. If any of the above can help you to retain clients, increase referrals and retain loyal staff, this differentiator is not only a formula for increased revenue but also one that helps with decreasing expenses.

2red.pngTimely Giving of Information

“As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher

In Part Two of this series, I discussed some tips for client review summary letters and mentioned that in Part Three I'd be looking at some other natural opportunities for client touches. That's what I'll be covering in this section, i.e., those circumstances that provide you with the natural opportunity to make a point of contact with your clients in order to strengthen the relationship and differentiate your business. Bear in mind here that I'm not necessarily talking only about information that pertains to your status as your clients' advisor, but also as someone with whom they have a strong relationship, someone who they trust to have their best interests at heart. And, while some of your timely giving of information (or points of contact) won't necessarily be unexpected, other things you share with your clients can really drive home the fact that you are wide awake in your dealings with them. But, to be able to provide these types of communications, you actually have to be awake and taking advantage of every available opportunity to learn more about your clients. How can you learn more and how can you manage what you learn? And how can you then give?

Common, but Important, Communications

There are certainly some common communications that many offices are already pretty adept at staying on top of, such as cards (Holiday, Birthday and Anniversary) and newsletters. If you're already handling these well, keep doing what you are doing. If you are not, you are missing out on several of the most organic client touches available, and consequently missing out on great opportunities to connect further with your clients. I won't go into any detail here about the creation of any of these pieces other than to point you to my piece from last year on Holiday Mailings, which should give you the information and links you need to create any of these types of pieces using Redtail or one of our various integration partners. Also, I'll mention that Reminders for your clients' birthdays and anniversaries will show up on your Dashboard in Redtail, allowing you to stay on top of those common communications.

Accumulated Knowledge of Your Clients

If you haven't already, you might want to take a look at the section on taking thorough notes from Part One of this series prior to reading this section. As an advisor, you already understand the importance of being a great listener. No matter how well you listen though, with a large client base and the passage of time you are certain to forget many of the things your clients mention, particularly those things that don’t directly pertain to your responsibilities toward the client. But, that’s exactly why we encourage you to take very detailed Notes and subsequently track that seemingly less pertinent information using the Redtail fields best suited for the type of information at hand.

You’ll see in Part One that we looked primarily at using User Defined Fields (UDFs), but Keywords and Personal Interests are also integral in terms of storing the various types of data that will allow you to know what to share with whom. And, while we probably see offices making greater use of UDFs and Keywords, you don’t want to neglect the potential the Personal Interest field provides you with in terms of really making an impression / connection.

As an example, imagine you're meeting with one of your clients and the conversation turns to cinema. Imagine further that you discover that the client has a passionate interest in the films of Akira Kurosawa, the late Japanese director considered one of the most influential filmmakers ever. This is exactly the type of information that you might want to list as a Personal Interest for this client.

If I can carry our imagined scenario a little further here, let's say that two years later you stumble across the news that a film Kurosawa never completed is now in post-production, piecing together the scenes he actually shot with new footage following his screenplay. This bit of news may not have any import for you personally, but you vaguely recall having a conversation with one of your clients about Kurosawa at some point. If you've added Akira Kurosawa as a Personal Interest for the client, you can now search your database easily to find the client and reach out to him or her with a phone call or an email to share your discovery. Sure, they may already be aware of this, but, either way, they are going to really be impressed with the fact that 1) you remembered their passion for the topic and 2) you reached out to share this information. You're building trust and strengthening the client relationship, while most certainly providing customer experience that goes beyond the ordinary.

Regardless of how you choose to store this type of data within Redtail, it's available to you so that you can find it easily and make that connection point (phone call, email, text, Facebook message, etc.) with your client(s) and/or prospect(s).

Social Channels

The emergence of social media has dramatically expanded the avenues available to you to learn more about your clients and prospects. WealthManagement.com's 2014 Financial Advisor Social Media Study found that those advisors who bring in business through Facebook "identified 'monitoring major life events' as the number one benefit for using Facebook – hands down." Put simply, you can now learn a lot more about your clients and prospects than you would have been able to at any time in the past. As I mentioned above, track those items that may later present you with an opportunity for timely giving of information. It's not strictly about the "major life events" — those, of course, are very important to acknowledge, but it's certainly not a stretch to apply the old adage "it's the little things that mean so much" to crafting your client experience processes and communications.

Niche Information Sharing

You've likely heard a lot about "niche marketing" over the years, and perhaps already practice it to some degree, targeting certain marketing communications to specific subsets of your client base or prospects. This can certainly be of great benefit to your business, in that it allows you to cut down on your marketing costs by only incurring the expense of delivery to those most likely to be interested in a particular message.

You can think of niche information sharing in similar terms, except that the point of this type of communication is the exact opposite of the "always be closing" mantra. As an example, you might want to send a communication outlining online resources for teaching one's children about money to all of your clients with young children. Or, you might send a piece on the hidden costs of being a snowbird to those clients that you know are considering that option. In both of these cases, and in many more that I'm sure you can think of, you're providing these clients with a service, though it's neither one that falls under your typical responsibilities toward them nor one which involves you selling them anything. You're simply "creating light" for others through information, while at the same time "lighting your own way" to deeper relationships through the client experience you are providing.

3red.pngConsistent Messaging and Service

A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

Colin Powell


Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/colinpowel385927.html#ZYfm4QXgblbfzFM0.99

A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

Colin Powell


Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/colinpowel385927.html#ZYfm4QXgblbfzFM0.99

A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

Colin Powell


Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/colinpowel385927.html#ZYfm4QXgblbfzFM0.99

"A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work." — Colin Powell

With all of the topics I've discussed in this series, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that none of these should be treated as one-off processes. Creating and maintaining a stellar client experience in order to differentiate your office from your competitors is an ongoing project that will evolve over time. But, if you truly want to differentiate your office, your staff will need to be vigilant in their commitment to the client experience, which means everyone must consistently deliver. Standing out is unlikely to be achieved halfheartedly.

That said, if you've recognized the need for differentiation, then you understand how vital it is for the ongoing growth of your practice. If you look back over all of the suggestions in this series, you might be tempted to draw the conclusion that it's simply too much work to perform all of these actions. But, many of them overlap and many of them require the bulk of the work on the front end, such as setting up your Workflows and Checklists for your office's processes. So, while there may be some additional work in actually getting started, the end result is likely to be a much more efficient and systematized office (and certainly one that is better prepared to consistently provide an outstanding client experience).

In the end, if you can provide your clients with both excellent financial advice and a magical experience that rises above their expectations, you are positioning your office to thrive in an increasingly competitive climate.

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