Advisors: Why Delivering Great Service Just Isn’t Enough
This week-end I was reminded that a good product and good service aren’t enough. A quick experience with Apple reinforced (in a good way) that a great experience is all about managing client expectations.
What Does Managing Expectations Look Like?
On the home-front my son was desperate to download a new game on his iPad (obviously). For some reason, I was getting an error message that I couldn’t fix so I ultimately resorted to the ‘contact support’ button on the Apple site.
I clicked on the support link and a screen came up to tell me that help was on the way. Apparently I would hear my phone ring in less than two minutes. Having spent nearly an hour, earlier in the day, trying to find someone to help me at my internet service provider, this was music to my ears. Better still, it actually happened; the phone rang within 60 seconds.
At this point, Kyle (my new best friend) came on the line and immediately put me at ease about what was happening and went about fixing the problem. After some time, he came back on the line with an apology. He had contacted the wrong person and was now on the line with the right person. He didn’t want me to wonder what had happened to him. At every point of this small interaction, Apple effectively managed my expectations.
I felt better about Apple after the call (and the problem) than I did before.
Why Should You Care?
Here’s what we know from our 2016 study of 1,000 investors.
- Eighty-four percent of clients, who provided a referral, said their advisor had outlined the service they could expect in the next 12 months, dropping to 68 percent among those who did not.
- Seventy-eight percent of the most satisfied clients said their advisor had outlined the level of service they could expect in the next 12 months, dropping to 48 percent among dissatisfied clients
4 Things You Can Do Differently
When it comes to managing client expectations, Apple did a lot of things right and I think we can learn something from this simple experience. This example relates to managing around a potential service issue, however the lessons relate to how we manage client expectations more broadly. There were four specific things that made a real impact.
- Make a commitment. Apple drew a line in the sand and said they would call within two minutes. Managing expectations effectively means setting the parameters so everyone knows if the experience falls short or is better than expected. In our world this is the difference between saying “we’ll return a call within 2 hours” and saying ‘we’ll get back to you as soon as possible”. Trust me, we all have a different definition of ‘soon’.
- Tell them what you’re going to do and then exceed it. Once the parameters have been set, exceed them. If Apple had called within two minutes without telling me that they were going to do that, it would not have felt quite as extraordinary (and I probably wouldn’t be writing about it). And, if they had committed to two minutes and been just 60 seconds late, I would have been mildly disappointed, despite a quick turnaround.
- Describe the next experience, not the final outcome. For me, this is the most important point. Notice that Apple told me exactly what I would experience next – the phone would ring. They didn’t jump straight to the ultimate goal (which was to resolve my problem). This is genius. They created a series of small wins that they could actually control. Let’s face it, when I first called they didn’t know if (or how quickly) they could resolve the problem because they didn’t know what it was. Despite that, they made (and made good on) several smaller promises that they knew they could control either way.
- Stay in touch. Once you shift from the simple things, like response time, keep the client informed. Kyle came back on the line so I didn’t have to wonder if my call had been dropped. By the way, Apple also gave me a choice of the kind of music I wanted to listen to while on hold. Nice touch.
The Elements of an Effective Plan
Managing expectations is, of course, about more than response times – it relates to the broader relationship. When it comes to managing overall expectations well, I think there are three things we need to do:
- Define it. Define exactly what a client can expect, ideally linked to client segment. At a minimum that definition should include frequency of contact, other communications (e.g. education), client appreciation and scope of offer.
- Document it. I’m a big believer in using a written service agreement that maps out what a client can expect. (You can download a sample here.) It’s something that is created and reviewed at the outset of the relationship and then as part of the annual review so you can look back and ensure you have delivered on your promises.
- Communicate it. Don’t assume that because you have told a client what he or she can expect on the day you met, that they’ll remember. Expectations love a vacuum and they will expand to fill the empty space created by lack of communication. Review your service agreement as part of an annual review to remind clients of what you have done and discuss any gaps
Create a Service Agreement
The reason I love a service agreement is because it goes beyond managing basic expectations. Written well (and reviewed regularly) it can help clients understand: exactly what you provide, their role in an effective relationship and everything that you do to ensure that you are the best possible advisor.
For example, you might include the following in a service agreement:
- Set the stage. Let them know how important they are and why you feel it’s important to map out what they can expect. Articulate your commitment to your clients.
- Plan or portfolio reviews. Let them know how often you will meet with them and how (e.g., face to face or telephone).
- Define the services you provide. Use the opportunity of a service agreement to reinforce the full range of services that you provide.
- Service standards. Define your commitment to core service issues, such as response time to calls or problem resolution.
- Team. Reinforce the importance of your team and the individual roles they play in delivering on your commitment to the client.
- Client Education. Let clients know if and how you will educate them to help them make better decisions.
- Continuing education. Let clients know how you invest in yourself and your team to stay current on technical or other client issues.
- Client input. Let clients know if and how you get feedback from your clients to ensure you are delivering what is expected.
- Your expectations. A service agreement isn’t just about what clients can expect of you. Take the time to explain what you expect of them (e.g., attending meetings) in order to do the best possible work.
If you’re interested in downloading a sample agreement, click the link below. You’ll need to edit to reflect your business, but it’s a good place to start.
Why People Believe What You Tell Them
At some point in our lives, we’ve all been told “you won’t be able to achieve…” something by a teacher, boss or even a parent. For many, this type of discouraging mentoring propels them to do just that thing. However, for other this can prevent the very learning, practice and dedication needed to achieve whatever that “something” is.
Remember this rule; your team will believe you.
It’s entirely possible that some of your team are driven by the idea of achieving that unattainable goal or proving you wrong. The risk of using this strategy is too great. I was once told by a hiring manager that they “couldn’t see me managing people”. If I had even the slightest hesitation, based on that comment, my career would have stalled. I fought the subconscious effect of this comment and pushed through it. I was aware that this comment could subconsciously hold me back. It’s not safe to assume those on your team can do the same. When my manager attempted to give me “advice”, their intention might have been good. I don’t honestly know. It’s possible that this manager didn’t see the qualities they thought a good manager had. It’s possible they also didn’t see the ability to improve my skills either. Regardless of the intention, this advice could have stopped my pursuit towards a leadership role right there. At the time, I had just read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink and was introduced to the idea of priming.
Priming refers to subtle triggers that influence our behavior without our awareness of it happening.
An example that Gladwell uses is in Spain, where authorities introduced classical music on the subway and after doing so, watched vandalism and littering drastically decrease. I was determined not to let priming effect my behavior. I would in fact begin to do the exact opposite of what priming does. I would change my behavior to act more like a leader. I slowly began to change the way I dressed, moving towards more professional choices at work. I began reading leadership books, blogs and listening to podcasts.
Always assume you are priming your team members.
No matter what your thoughts are on a team member’s future career aspirations or goals, don’t shoot them down. As leaders, simply decide that every team member should be given the benefit of the doubt. That way you won’t negatively prime them. For example, that team member that applies for the open management position. Who does it benefit if you tell them they “aren’t management material”. Maybe you, the next time a role opens, won’t have to deal with the discussion again. Does it truly benefit you? The demotivation, the priming has taken place. Why would that team member attempt to work harder, learn more or stick around?
Priming doesn’t only happen with major life changing or career changing situations.
Priming can also happen when a team member presents a new idea or concept. If a team member comes to you with a horrible idea and you immediately respond with “that won’t work”, you’ve primed them. Some people are more resilient than others, some believe they are more resilient than they are. Regardless, it’s not about your opinion on the idea, if it truly won’t work then it won’t work. The objective is to change how you respond to avoid negative priming. The over used term, “it’s not what you say it’s how you say it” is accurate. Instead of saying it “won’t work” ask for more details, or explain the history or approach you’ve tried before. Avoid jumping to the conclusion or verbalizing it. “I’d love to see you in a management role in the future, we’ll build a plan and I’ll help you get there” for the management material example. For that “off the wall” idea that won’t work, “here’s what I’ve tried before, do you think your approach would have a different result”? Have a conversation, after all…..
“People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
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