A Client Feedback Confession

I have a confession to make. I feel pretty good about the 17-ish years I invested in building Advisor Impact and about my self-appointed role as the champion of gathering and using client feedback. There is, however, one dark cloud hanging over that time which suggests I must have done something wrong and it is, well, bugging me. This post is designed to set the record straight so I can leave regret behind. (Thanks in advance for letting me use this space as a form of therapy.)

Here’s the problem. Based on some of the questions I get, I don’t feel I fully communicated the role that client feedback plays in an advisor’s business. So here it is, in a nutshell and in two parts.

  1. The benefit of client feedback is not only the information you gather; the very process of asking for feedback drives deeper engagement, provided you do something with the results.
  2. Because of the above, client feedback needs to be seen as a process and not an event; it is a critical part of an on-going conversation with your clients.

The only exception to the second point, of course, is if the needs, thoughts or expectations of your clients never change, in which case I stand corrected. However, I’ll be bold enough to say that if you gathered feedback once and it is not in your plans to repeat that exercise consistently, then you are not only treating it as an event, but are likely missing some (perhaps most) of the core benefits of gathering feedback in the first place.

Don’t try this at home

Let’s think about this in practical terms. Imagine for a moment that, because you are a caring partner, you sit your significant other down for a chat. You ask about how he or she is feeling, what really matters and what you could do better. You are a super-spouse and things go very well. A year later you are reminded about that conversation and how wonderful it was and you say, without a hint of irony, that you don’t feel the need to ask about what your partner is thinking again because you already know. After all, you asked a year ago. This time, things do not go so well.

In fairness, part of the reason that many advisors only gather feedback once is that there are different ways to use the information. At the risk of over-simplifying the process, I would say there are four primary ways to use feedback, three of which demand access to the most current input and the other which requires updates but on a less frequent basis.

  1. Understand. You can use feedback to understand the needs and interests of your clients and structure your experience around those needs. You might look at preferences around frequency of contact or the format of meetings. These things are all subject to change however the baseline information you gather can be used effectively to shape or refine your service plan or client experience.
  2. Measure. All of the research that I have conducted on great advisors suggests that they love to measure – client engagement, team engagement and personal performance. When it comes to measuring client experience, you can certainly benchmark yourself to industry data but the reality is that that is the fastest way to institutionalize mediocrity; your goal becomes to be as good as everyone else. The most important benchmarks are the expectations of your clients and your own performance. Great advisors focus on continuous improvement so unless you have a way to measure improvement over time, you are forced to make assumptions.
  3. Engage. Quite honestly, I think the most important way to use feedback is as part of an engaging client conversation and this one use has driven my nagging regret. After nearly two decades focused on this issue, my personal view is that the one best way to use client feedback is as a prelude to a deeper conversation. It drives a new conversation that is focused on client needs, as expressed by the client. The conversation about the results creates a new form of value that begins with the client’s needs. If you buy into this notion then you need to keep the pump primed with new insights. You should literally get to the end of the year and need to gather more feedback in order to keep the conversation fresh. I promise you, this conversation will be engaging, different and put the client squarely in the driver’s seat when it comes to the agenda.
  4. Grow. For more than a few years I’ve talked about using client feedback to increase referrals. I still consider this the single best way to capitalize on an extensive untapped referral opportunity. But this is like the gift that keeps on giving. By using feedback you identify clients who have referred in the last year whether you know it or not. In order to tap into that opportunity the data needs to be current so you can follow-up while the client still remembers who they referred!

The other thing to remember is that it matters to clients. 70% of engaged clients said that providing feedback was important according to some research I conducted among investors multiple times over the last decade. This fact does not change.

Make it a Process

So I’ll leave you with this thought. An effective client feedback process should be built into the way in which you run your business, part of the process every year (or two, if you prefer). Just as you have defined a process to meet with clients, design one to invite them into the conversation.

If you aren’t convinced, then stand in front of a mirror and answer this question out loud. “Why don’t you think it’s important to gather client feedback on an on-going basis?” If, upon hearing your answer out loud, you would be uncomfortable sharing that response with your clients you may want to reconsider your approach.
OK, I’m done, I have purged and this was cheaper than therapy. Onwards!

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