JULIE LITTLECHILD'S BLOG


Will You Stand Out or Fade Out?

Without a doubt, there’s great innovation in this industry and it deserves our attention and applause. The explosion in fintech is helping you become more efficient. And it’s helping to enhance your offer to clients.

And while these advances are both important and significant for the industry, many of them are invisible to your clients. And that makes them very hard for clients to value or appreciate. Clients aren’t ‘on the inside’ so they may, in fact, assume you’re doing the very things that new technologies have made possible, faster or more accurate.

I believe that we’ll see a new form of innovation in future and it will involve facilitating deeper client engagement. And while technology will play a role, there are simpler changes that you can make now that will enhance the experience and set you apart from the crowd. These opportunities to innovate are less about enhancing efficiency and more about actively supporting clients across their entire journey.

Changing Your Perspective

In Dead Poets Society, Professor John Keating (Robin Williams) implores his students to look at poetry and life from a different perspective by standing on a desk. In a slightly less dramatic fashion, I believe that’s what we need to do to uncover opportunities to innovate the client experience as well – to look at the client experience from a completely different perspective.

Today, when we think about innovation, we tend to do so with an internal lens, examining our existing processes and asking how we can make them better or more efficient. In so doing, we’re innovating our own experience in order to reduce cost, increase revenue or add more value.

But what if we used the client’s experience to drive innovation instead of our own experience? To do that I believe we need to focus in on the client journey. And I believe that the process of client journey mapping will be critical to your ability to spot opportunities to truly innovate and differentiate what you do for your clients.

What is Client Journey Mapping?

Client journey mapping is a relatively involved but highly important process. It tells the story of the client’s entire experience, all the way from uncovering a need, through the process of engagement and into a long-term relationship. It provides a single view of the experience, through the eyes of the client, focusing on his or her motivations and challenges.

To create the map, you walk through a series of steps that highlight how clients experience working with you and how they decided to work with you. Rather than thinking about what you deliver, you’re forced to think about exactly how clients move through the process and what questions, emotions and needs they have along the way.

You may find that thinking about the client journey challenges many of the assumptions you have about client experience, including the following:

  • We assume the experience starts when a prospect becomes a client. 
    • The reality is that a client’s journey is not the journey of working with you, but the journey of reaching their financial goals. That means it starts well before you even get on their radar.
  • We assume the experience focuses on how your offer is delivered.
    • Because the client journey starts before you meet and because it involves other people, it goes beyond your offer.
  • We assume the experience is between you and the client. 
    • You are one person, among many, that influences the client’s journey. In reality, your clients are part of an ‘ecosystem’ of people, all of whom influence or who are involved in the financial decision making, whether that’s a spouse, a child, extended family, business partners or other professionals. The client journey includes those other people.
  • We assume clients judge the experience rationally. 
    • It’s easy to assume that the client journey is entirely rational – that clients will be satisfied if we can deliver on their stated needs – but it may not be true. Colin Shaw is a consultant, speaker and writer on the subject and he suggests that when you only look at the rational side of the experience, you’re only looking at 50% of the full experience. The other 50% of the experience is irrational, he says, which includes emotions and subconscious reactions. Focusing on the rational not only means that you’re leaving half of the client experience to chance, but you could be missing out on opportunities to build an emotionally engaging experience which impacts key metrics such as satisfaction and referrals.
  • We assume the experience is within your control.
    • Because the client journey starts before you meet, goes beyond your offer, involves others and involves emotion, you don’t control it. And while you may not control the client journey, you do need to understand it.

How Does This Create Opportunities to Innovate?

When you think about these assumptions and the reality of the client journey, you might wonder how you can make a meaningful change.  I believe, however, that it’s this very complexity that creates opportunities to innovate.

Let’s look at an example in the travel industry. A travel website might define the client experience as starting when a customer comes to their site to make a booking.  As a result, all of their effort goes into providing as many options as possible, allowing for sorting based on needs and executing quickly and accurately. What if, however, they went beyond their offer to examine the client journey and discovered something new:

  • What if they discovered that a big part of the client journey was coordinating travel with co-workers and focused their efforts on making that easier, more convenient or even fun?
  • What if they discovered that clients cared more about life experiences than travel and focused on curating those experiences beyond the actual flight and hotel?

Wouldn’t those things set them apart, despite the fact that neither relate exactly to booking travel or involve them directly at the moment?

Perhaps in our industry we also need to look beyond our offer.  Perhaps we can innovate by facilitating family discussions between review meetings, how we help clients co-ordinate across their professional advisors, or how we support them in solving issues that are not directly related to money and finance. Without mapping out that entire journey and examining how clients think and feel at every step, we won’t uncover those opportunities.

Creating a Client Journey Map

Client journey mapping is a process used by some of the largest and most successful brands and organizations in the world. It’s not, therefore, client experience ‘101’.  However, there are ways to make the process simpler and more relevant for our industry. In fact, this process has become core to the work we are doing to help advisors raise their game.

To keep things (relatively) simple, let’s focus on five key steps.

  1. Identify the stages a client moves through in their journey
  2. Identify the specific steps or actions a client takes at each stage
  3. Identify the questions, emotions and needs involved for each step
  4. Identify the ways in which clients connect at each step
  5. Identify areas to improve and innovate

Step 1: Identify the Stages of the Client Journey

It’s easy to assume that the client journey starts the day he or she signs the paperwork. But that’s just your journey together. The client’s journey started before he or she even knew you existed. It began as a (potentially vague) need.

From the client’s perspective, the stages might look like this:

Stages

 

Step 2: Identify the Steps a Client Takes at Each Stage

This next phase involves ‘exploding’ each stage to identify the individual steps a client might take. To do that, ask yourself:

  • What are the specific actions my prospects/clients take at this stage?
  • What are the specific actions they take between each stage?
  • Who is involved in each step?

The impact of this step is that you get a clear view of the entire experience, much of which happens without you.

  • Prospects don’t magically show up on your doorstep looking for advice – there was a journey to that point. They might have had long talks with their spouse about the future, looked closely at their retirement account or searched for information online.
  • Clients don’t arrive for a review meeting without having had discussions or experiences that influence their needs. They might talk to the family about the future, meet with their accountant to discuss tax planning or chat with a life coach about the future.

Sometimes it’s hard to put yourself fully in the client’s shoes. To help you understand this process, consider mapping out all of the steps involved in a major purchase you made recently and it should become clear. I recently did this for a family trip to Disney World and identified 15 separate steps before we even arrived at the hotel, all of which influenced the overall experience.

Step 3: Understand How Clients Think at Each Step

With the actions identified, let’s go one step deeper and examine what clients are experiencing at each step. For each step, ask yourself:

  • What questions would your clients have when taking this step?
  • What are your clients feeling at this point?
  • What information do your clients need to move to the next step or stage?

Picking up on earlier comments about the rational vs. the emotional, this step is about understanding what clients are thinking, asking and feeling. This allows you to uncover opportunities to support them as well as to understand at which points enhancements to the experience might have the greatest impact.

For example, you might discover that the highest point of emotional intensity is during the on-boarding phase, when a client has questions, and feels uncertain about the decision. That could cause you to focus on enhancing that part of the experience to acknowledge that fact and to support them.

Step 4: Identify the Touchpoints

At this stage you’ll have a clear picture of the overall experience and what clients are thinking and feeling through their journey. There is one last element that will help you understand how and where you can enhance the client experience and that’s by identifying the touchpoints.

The touchpoints are the different ways in which prospects and clients connect with you and they change depending on who your clients are and what they’re trying to accomplish.

At a minimum, the touchpoints will include:

  • in person
  • telephone
  • your website
  • social media, and
  • online search

But touchpoints could also include connections made through friends, family or other professionals.

Let’s consider a simple example to highlight why this is so important. Assume for a moment that one of your goals is to be highly responsive to your clients. To do that, you’ve set a goal to ensure that, when a client calls the office, the phone is picked up within two rings and the client’s question is either answered or a next step is identified. And you’ve hired a wonderful receptionist who embodies everything that’s important for you to represent as a firm. Now imagine a client goes to your website and, instead of that wonderful experience, they receive an automated email that says your goal is to respond to inquiries within 48 hours or less. The experience is inconsistent across touchpoints, which means your goal isn’t met.

Step 5: Improve and Innovate

It’s at this point that the real opportunities to improve or innovate emerge. In the past you may have been constrained by a narrow and internal focus when you looked at client experience. It was natural, then, to look only at ways to improve efficiency or add more value to existing processes. That’s all good, of course.

Now, however, you can look for opportunity across the entire experience and that’s where the opportunity for real innovation may be lurking. It’s my personal view that firms that take this approach will lead the charge by creating an integrated experience that is engaging, sticky and fully differentiated.

So what form might innovation take, from small changes to completely new forms of engagement?

  • At a tactical level, you might uncover unmet needs that you can support, beyond your direct relationship with the client.
    • You might help families document their history and define their legacy with a tool like Wishlife.
    • You might design a discussion guide to help couples talk about money or provide access to tools to help them design their futures together.
    • You might help them educate their children on financial issues.
  • At an organizational level, firms might invest more in helping prospects and clients to understand how they think about money and how that is impacting their future. In so doing you’ll be providing access to insight, not just data.
  • At an industry level, the big minds might begin to focus on how we can better deliver exactly the right information at the right time.
    • This is where Echo, Alexa and Artificial Intelligence will play a role. When I’m talking about where we can afford to live in retirement with my husband, I don’t want to pull up my last statement and try and do the math, I want that question answered.  And while you’re at it, maybe you can provide some options based on what we can afford.

Where Do You See Innovation?

I began by pointing out that the industry is being transformed by technologies that make us better and more efficient, and I trust that will continue. At the same time, I think we need to put ourselves in the client’s shoes and acknowledge the entire journey to find new opportunities to innovate. Client journey mapping is an approach that can get you there.

I’d love to know more about how you are innovating in your business to support clients in new ways.

Thanks for stopping by,
Julie

P.S. We know that advanced client experience work can feel complex and we’re here to help. If you’re interested in more guidance in taking your client experience to the next level, check out the Engagement Edge. The next group kicks off on September 7!

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