With this past weekend’s Academy Awards taking place just up the highway I couldn’t resist incorporating the phrase preceding all awards presented at that event in my title. This phrase isn’t unique to the Academy Awards, it is uttered when giving out almost any award, anywhere. What? You’re still waiting for the answer? Oh, okay.
The award for the most significant growth driver in business goes to..Client Service!
You weren’t expecting me to say something about sales or business development were you? Well, if you were that would put you in the majority. When I ask the question, “What aspect of your business do you feel has the greatest impact on your long-term sustainable growth?” the majority of people I talk to every day say something about sales. Whether it is improving close rates, or increasing prospecting, or asking for more referrals, the majority of people feel that improving something about their sales effort will have the biggest impact on their firm’s growth.
On the surface, they’re correct. Increasing sales will absolutely increase firm growth. However, sales growth tends to be lumpy for most companies.
A year or two of strong sales tend to be followed by a few years of lackluster sales, and so on into the future. That’s because sales is an ever-evolving part of business. What worked before tends not to work going forward as clients’ access to information, the innovations of competitors, and emotional drivers of clients change across generations.
Client service, on the other hand, is a more consistent aspect of a business’ sustainable growth over time. Clients’ desire for service does not waver across generations, nor do the key ingredients of great customer service. Delivering excellent client service allows a business to retain a greater percentage of its existing clients, generate greater repeat and add-on business from those existing clients, as well as turning existing clients into raving advocates of your firm and founts of high-quality referrals. All of which drive sustainable growth over the long haul.
Here are 5 drivers of excellent client service to help tune up your current efforts:
- Shut up & listen – Nothing, and I mean nothing, improves a client’s perception of service quality more than simply listening. Yes, we’re all busy with more things to do than we have time in the day. But please, Please, PLEASE resist the urge to hurry a client off the phone or interrupt to get a meeting back on track. Listening more than you talk with clients is key if you want to..
- Create an emotional connection – Clients buy, and stay engaged, based on their emotional drivers. Some clients may regularly ask for data, numbers, or performance statistics, but even these clients ultimately make their decisions based on how well they believe you understand, connect with, and can satisfy their emotional drivers. Custom investment portfolios, detailed portfolio reviews, and idle chit-chat about wine and travel don’t cut it. Clients don’t just want to know they have enough money to retire comfortably, they want to know that you are helping them to buy their dream retirement house that will serve as the family gathering place for their children and grandchildren even after they are gone.
- It’s all about your culture – Firm culture is a key to most everything you will achieve. Have a strong sales culture, you will generate better sales than most firms. Have a culture where all associates are listened to and where firm leadership creates emotional connections with associates, you will have excellent client service. As you treat your associates, so they will treat clients.
- Invest in technology – You can’t take the time to listen to clients and build emotional connections with them if you are spending time manually filling in account applications, individually printing and mailing client reports, or reconciling trade reports in Excel spreadsheets. The evolution and innovation of technology, especially around the more rote administrative and operational tasks is mind-blowing in how fast it moves. Invest in systems, applications, and services that will automate as many of those mundane tasks as possible. The time saved on those tasks is time that can be spent with clients providing higher-level service.
- Request feedback – What’s that? You conduct regular client surveys. That’s great! But that’s not enough. When’s the last time you completed a client survey for a business and felt they were personally connecting with you and that your voice was going to be heard? Right, you didn’t. Because the survey you got was the same one that every other client of that business got. No, no, I’m not suggesting you ditch the client surveys. They have a purpose, to see how well new processes, offerings, and messages are having the desired impact, in general. In addition to client surveys, I recommend taking a percentage of your clients – 10%, 20%, 25%, some number you can comfortably reach out to each year – and have one of your firm’s leaders reach out to “see how everything is going.” Then, shut up and listen!
Client service isn’t easy. It takes time, effort, and attention to reach a level of “Excellent.” Following the five steps above will go a long way toward generating the long-term, sustainable growth driving client service engine your clients deserve.
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