Advisors: Why Delivering Great Service Just Isn’t Enough

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.

  1. 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’.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Sample Service Agreement

Julie Littlechild
Client Experience
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Julie Littlechild is a speaker, author, researcher, and founder of She helps successful professionals and entrepreneurs design businesses that support ... Click for full bio

NBA Player Carl Landry Demonstrates the Value of Persistence in Life and Work

NBA Player Carl Landry Demonstrates the Value of Persistence in Life and Work

Written by: Jon Sabes

When you meet Carl Landry, stand-out college basketball player and nine-year NBA player, you imagine that becoming a professional basketball star was a straight forward run for the 6-foot-nine-inch power forward. 

However, when you go deeper into Carl’s background, becoming a NBA professional was less than certain and little came easily to the 33-year-old from Milwaukee:

  • He was cut from his high school team as a freshman and averaged less than ten points a game when he did play as a senior.
  • He started his college career not at Purdue, but a junior college where it was not clear he would play.
  • When he finally got to Purdue, he tore his ACL in his knee his first year and reinjured it the next year.
  • While his family held a party for him the night of the NBA draft, he slept in the Philadelphia airport after missing a flight following a workout for the 76ers.
  • In the NBA playoffs, Carl had a tooth knocked out, but came back in the same game to make a game-winning blocked shot as the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz 94-92.

Landry, who I interviewed on my podcast, Innovating Life with Jon Sabes (, is a remarkable example of the value of “persistence.” In a time where technology creates the image that anything is possible at the touch of a button, persistence is an under-appreciated trait. When I spoke with Carl, I clearly saw someone for whom success has only come through a force of will that made him a NBA player, but it also made him a better player every year he played. That’s the kind of personality that has produced greatness in business as well as sports.

Carl was, in fact, drafted that night he spent in the airport. The Seattle Supersonics chose him as the 31st overall pick and then traded him to the Houston Rockets where he rode the bench for much of the first half of the season. When All-Star teammate Yao Ming was injured, he stepped in and played a key role in the Rockets astonishing 22-game winning streak (the third longest streak in NBA history). And, that season, after sitting on the bench for 33 of the first 36 games, he was named to the All-Rookie second team.

Carl was the first in his family to go to college. “I told myself that this was my ticket out, so I did everything I possibly could to be the best person in school and also on the court,” he said.

His family life in Milwaukee showed him what he didn’t want to do. “Just being honest with you, seeing some my cousins, peers, they went to work for jobs paying six, seven dollars an hour or they didn’t go to work at all and then living off welfare. I didn’t want that.”

When he was first injured, he had to contemplate the end of a career before it even got started. “When you have an ACL tear, it’s over…no more basketball,” he told me. “I said, God, give me health again and I’ll do everything I can to leave it all out on the line and be a successful individual.”

On my podcast, Carl pointed out another interesting lesson he learned in the NBA: Not doing things just to fit in.

“Fitting in was easy,” he said. “Doing everything that everybody else does was easy. If I stood out in some type of way, I’m going to have different results. I’m going to have stand-out results.”

That’s called the “Law of Contrast” and it produces that exact effect of changing the outcomes that everyone else is experiencing.  Carl is smart, he recognized that differences make a difference, and doing whatever it takes is what is required to make real, meaningful differences.

Every off-season for the last 11 years, he has run a camp for kids in Milwaukee where he tells youth his story of hard work and persistence. “I always tell the kids to apply themselves and always be persistent,” he said. “If you dream, apply yourself and be persistent. With hard work, man, the sky’s the limit.”

When Carl says the sky’s the limit he means it.  He is smart to recognize that it’s important to dream big, because if we don’t – we may be selling ourselves short. “You have to dream bigger than your mind could ever imagine,” he said. “I wanted a nice house. I wanted a nice car. I said, and I got all of that. So, what do I do, do I stop now? Maybe I didn’t dream big enough.” That’s a big statement coming from a kid who grew up to be the first in his family to graduate college and go on to be not only a top NBA basketball start, but a good businessman, father and someone who gives back to the community.

I’m convinced that in whatever he takes on as a basketball player or in his post-hoops career, Carl Landry is not going to stop getting better at whatever he does, and in the process of doing so, make the world a better place.

GWG Holdings, Inc.
Investing in Life
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GWG Holdings, Inc. (Nasdaq:GWGH) the parent company of GWG Life, is a financial services company committed to transforming the life insurance industry through disruptive and i ... Click for full bio