JULIE LITTLECHILD'S BLOG


Client Appreciation 2.0: How It Has Changed and Why You Should Care

It was a conversation with an advisor about multi-generational planning that triggered the thought.

Client appreciation has a new face but only a few have noticed, giving a handful of advisors a significant competitive edge.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “So, are you doing anything to support the children of your clients?”

Advisor: “We try but the reality is that I won’t manage the assets when they are transferred to those children so we aren’t really trying to build relationships with the next generation.”

In that one response, three things became clear.

  1. The advisor didn’t understand that working with the children of your best clients isn’t just about retaining the assets.  It’s a way to engage deeply with your existing clients.
  2. We’re getting client appreciation all wrong.
  3. Point 1 is an example of Point 2

Two Types of Client Appreciation

Client appreciation has been a part of the thinking advisor’s communication mix for as long as I can remember. The goal has always been the same – to find ways to let clients know that you appreciate the opportunity to work together.

It’s hard to argue that telling clients you appreciate them is a bad thing, so I won’t try. I will suggest, however, that if we are passively appreciating our clients then we’re missing a significant opportunity to engage.

In fact, I believe that client appreciation activities now fall into one of two buckets.

  1. Passive client appreciation is focused on the act of saying thank-you. The objective is to ensure that clients feel thanked, so you’ve succeeded when you have communicated that thought. Examples would include cards, social events, inviting clients to charitable events or sending gifts.
  2. Active client appreciation is focused on helping your clients to get better or solve problems. The objective is to ensure that you are actively supporting your clients, so you’ve succeeded when they succeed. Examples include providing clients with access to financial literacy content for their children or running a workshop that looks at stress reduction or how to protect your personal data online.

Acknowledgement Vs. Support

Put another way, passive appreciation is an acknowledgement of the relationship. The client is involved by ‘accepting’ the appreciation. Active appreciation provides real support. The client is involved by using the appreciation to affect positive change.

Neither passive or active forms of appreciation are bad, however active appreciation transforms this age-old process into a real differentiator.

 

In some respects, effective client appreciation is another form of leadership – it educates inspires or opens your clients’ minds to new possibilities.

The Downside of the Passive Appreciation (a.k.a. the past)

Traditional forms of client appreciation typically involve invitations to events that, I might add, can cost you a fair chunk of change. The problem is:

  • Clients probably don’t want to socialize with you and/or your clients.  Nothing personal, but they probably prefer their own friends.
  • If you run one major event it will necessarily only appeal to some of your clients. The rest go ‘unappreciated.’
  • Anyone can run a good social event. It’s nice but it doesn’t necessarily bind you closer to your clients.

The Upside of Active Client Appreciation (a.k.a. the future)

New forms of client appreciation are less likely to be social and more likely to focus on the things clients care most about. As a result, these communications or events:

  • Actively involve the client.  Involvement is correlated with engagement (and engagement with referrals).
  • Connect you to something important in your client’s life, which sets you apart
  • Demonstrate that you know what matters to your clients

What Defines Meaningful Client Appreciation?

Client Appreciation 2.0 assumes insight into what is most important to your clients. So how do you get meaningful input to help you decide what to offer?

You could, of course, just ask clients what kind of appreciation they would find meaningful however you’re unlikely to get usable information. At best they won’t respond because they don’t know what is possible. At worst you’ll end up with a list of 200 miscellaneous options.

To generate real insights, get creative in how you pose the question. Here are four examples of questions you might ask of clients that would lead to the creation of meaningful client appreciation.

  1. Focus on something specific, like their children. How concerned are you that your children are equipped to make good financial decisions?
  2. Identify areas where they are looking for support. What one area of your life would you most like to improve?
  3. Understand their biggest concerns. How would you rate your level of concern with each of the following? (Include a list of potential concerns such as caring for aging parents.)
  4. Uncover things they want to do. If you could take one week to learn anything new, knowing that everything at work and home was taken care of, what would it be?

You’ll Need Some Focus

You can probably see the potential pitfall of asking clients for this kind of input. You may end up with as many responses as you have clients – or more. In order to create some structure, offer them a list of potential responses rather than asking an open-ended question.

While open-ended questions are a great way to get to know clients on a deeper level, a ‘closed-end response’ question gives you a fighting chance of finding the common needs. And with that information gathered, let your passion be your filter.

What are the 2-3 things that are important to the largest number of clients and you are passionate about helping them accomplish?

Build Your Client Appreciation Plan

Now you can begin to build a plan that supports clients in achieving or fixing or 2-3 things that matter most. For example:

  • Clients tell you they are worried about their young children understanding money and responsibility. You send them a link to Warren Buffet’s website for kids at www.smckids.com
  • Clients tell you they want to improve their health and you bring in a health and wellness speaker for a workshop.
  • Clients tell you they wish they could do something creative, like painting, and you invite them to a small-group painting class run by a local artist.

For most advisors this kind of focused and active client appreciation will be reserved for your best clients.  There are ways to streamline the process to reach a wider audience, but you’re probably best to start at the top.

How Can I Get the Team Involved?

Some innovative firms are finding ways to make client appreciation a team effort. That is, they have created cultures in which client delight is the responsibility of every team member. To make that work, keep two things in mind.

    1. Finding ways to delight clients can’t be a ‘nice to have’. Make it something you expect from the team and ensure they track how they take action. Here you are looking for the little things that make a difference and demonstrate that you are listening, rather than the big events.
    2. If you want the team to step up, you’ll need to create a discretionary budget by team member or by client.

Ultimately, I think the lines between client appreciation and client leadership will become increasingly blurred – and that’s a good thing. Both objectives can be met by helping clients make meaningful change in their lives.

They will forget a wine and cheese, but they won’t forget when you solve a real problem, provide them with education that has a lasting effect or inspire them to do new things.

Thanks for stopping by,
Julie

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2 Responses to Client Appreciation 2.0: How It Has Changed and Why You Should Care

  1. John May 10, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    Hi Julie,

    I recently had an advisor ask me to help him remodel his practice. It’s good sized about 200M. He’s an amazing money manager. He asked me for help as I always talk about creating a client experience for which clients are thankful.

    I haven’t fully figured out what he is doing wrong, but I will. I’m going to dig into client appreciation. I guess that I will find Christmas cards and birthday cards that show pictures of nothing meaningful.

    Sorry, I am rambling, I will now getting to the point. It may sound strange. I was always reluctant to say to a client, “thanks for your business.” What I appreciated was not their business but their trust to let me do what I could to enhance their wealth (translation – help them get more of what matters most to them.) Thanks for your business always sounded hollow so that I couldn’t say it.

    So I always said, “Thanks so much for the opportunity to work with you.” I think that my clients must have understood that their money wasn’t what turned my crank. I got a thrill out of helping them. I say that because they always thanked me profusely. Should I be seeing a psychiatrist, what do you think? I could be wrong, but I guess that you might sometimes feel this way about your clients.

    I will not be insulted if you don’t reply to this. I may have written just to articulate my thoughts. If you do write back, do you have any thoughts on my hugely successful client (monetarily) that never gets a thank you?

    Thanks for stopping by.

    • Julie
      Julie May 11, 2016 at 10:47 am #

      Hi John. Your note is a good reminder that remembering to say thank you is also an important part of client appreciation. I think my mom taught me that as well!

      I’ll admit I hadn’t thought what causes a client to say thank-you, but it’s an interesting metric. I really like how you changed the phrasing – I suspect it was more comfortable but also more meaningful. I also think you make a really good point that clients may not fully understand how much we really appreciate what we do – maybe we’re not always authentic enough in expressing that and we probably should.

      In terms of your client, I’m not sure but suspect your “audit” will uncover if this is a problem or not. Perhaps his clients simply aren’t that effusive. Or, perhaps they really don’t feel that thankful because he isn’t connecting on a deeper level. Maybe this is a good opportunity to do some client interviews or a survey to find out.

      Take care (and I do appreciate that you take the time to connect and comment).

      Julie

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