Better Every Day: From advisor to arbiter of elegance and civility

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No big surprise to anyone, I’m sure, that I find myself in a state of reflection. It comes with the advent of a new year and decade — that pull to evaluate how far you’ve come and where improvement is needed moving forward. While some entrepreneurs might be reflecting on growth and profits or operational processes and staffing (which are all important) — I find myself looking deeply at client experience.

Let me be clear, though: I’m not just referring to the experience clients have as part of our services. I’m talking about experience at a transformational level — where we are perceived not only as advisors, but as arbiters of modern elegance and civility. Elements of general society that I believe we’ve lost, in part, over the past few years.

As a profession, we have an immense opportunity to up our game. To not only lead clients in the right direction in terms of financial success, but to also make their lives better (both business and personal). To extend elegance, civility and basic goodwill in everything we do for our clients. This gives a new and elevated meaning to “putting the client first.”

Let me back up a bit and explain where all of this is coming from. I recently finished listening to Horst Schultze’s new book, “Excellence Wins.” Schultze is the co-founder of the Ritz Carlton Hotels, where he implemented the standard of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” This is what drew me in — the idea of ladies and gentlemen and how these terms embody the concept of modern elegance and civility. Where altruism is at the heart of how we serve our clients and the result is transformational, positive change in the client’s life.

When I think about improving the experience clients have with my firm, I’m pushed to look beyond efficiency and convenience — beyond reports and statements. I feel a calling to provide a bigger, richer and longer-lasting experience — to be ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen — working proactively to improve their lives overall.

How do we get there?

What does it mean to make a client’s life better? Essentially, it means moving beyond traditional services such as payroll and bookkeeping. It means taking the time required to consider all aspects of a client’s situation, to ask the right questions and to listen to those answers with intent. Only when we take the time to gather all relevant data on our clients can we truly serve them properly.

Our clients have both financial and broader life goals. However, more often than not, we are unaware of these goals because we simply haven’t asked. By identifying and tracking client goals, we are better positioned to proactively offer deeper insights and far more personalized services that can help not only achieve goals, but also enrich their lives overall.

What would our firms look (and feel) like if we were ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen — all in the pursuit of proactively making clients’ lives better? I believe it would result in three big wins:

1. Significant increase in client retention. A proactive approach to improving clients’ lives builds trust … and from that trust comes clients who don’t leave. This level of personalized attention embodies modern elegance and civility that our clients crave.
2. Transformation to a new client service standard. As clients embrace this new standard, they will become more and more engaged and excited about it, triggering conversations around how your firm can help them further.
3. Evolution of clients to advocates. A recent statistic showed that between 50 and 91 percent of all new business generated is the result of word of mouth. With a richer client experience, the client role will evolve into one of firm advocacy.

I firmly believe that rising competition and ongoing disruption in the profession does not have to affect our profession negatively. There will always be plenty of business for firms in the vanguard — those that not only offer exceptional service but also put client experience at the forefront.

What our clients want from us

To take a proactive role in your clients’ lives, it’s time to move past the evident needs and dig deeper. For example, the need for such services as payroll, tax return preparation and accurate bookkeeping is often a given. Clients are simply buying the standard services they know they need. But this means that we are not getting to their wants — that is, the deeper and more impactful support they desire.

This requires us to ask questions: Does the client really only want tax preparation or do they desire a deeper understanding of their overall tax situation? Do they want more guidance on how to save for retirement or their kids’ college funds? Until you dig deeper, you’ll never know — and you’ll never be able to work with clients in a proactive manner.

According to Horst Shultze, clients want three things from us:

1. No defects. Clients want a product or service with no defects. This means they expect quality at all times. They want to be able to count on us without pause. This includes both the products and services we offer, as well as the overall client experience.
2. Individualization and personalization. In a world where firms are standardizing processes and procedures, clients still crave a personal feel. Technology allows us to standardize while also personalizing the client experience. This can be as simple as acknowledging a client by name, or pinpointing their preferences, situation and goals in order to offer an individualized, personalized solution.
3. Awareness of changing customer expectations and preferences. There was a time when clients wanted to stop by the office and pick up paper documents. Today, client preferences have changed and we have to adapt. Now, it’s all about convenience: Cloud-based apps, digital documents and instant access are what clients want and expect. And soon it may be artificial intelligence.

We are living in a new era, where public discourse is all-to-often antagonistic and common courtesy can be secondary. We have an opportunity to lead a new movement — one where we proactively work to improve our clients’ lives. One where we help quell our clients’ concerns and insecurities about their futures and build longer-lasting relationships. One where we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.

The time is now to move beyond simply serving as an advisor to clients. To succeed in a fast-changing landscape, we also need to be arbiters of modern elegance and civility — which we all have in us. Putting the client first has never been more important.

For a deeper dive on the topics discussed in this column, listen to Darren’s “Better Every Day” podcast on iTunes or at rootworks.com/podcast.

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