Walk in the shoes of your best clients

By Shawn O'Brien | October 29, 2007 | Last updated on October 29, 2007
5 min read

(November 2007) Winston Churchill once stated, “if you mean to profit, learn to please.” It was his secret for a profitable and successful career — as British Prime Minister, orator, and celebrated author. Today it could be considered sage advice for advisors as well.

Churchill makes it sound simple. Advisors can spend too much time in their own heads, wondering how they can do a better job or become more referable. The key is to understand the client’s needs — get client feedback. By getting the client’s perspective we begin to uncover opportunities to elevate their satisfaction.

There are two strategies I encourage advisors to use when seeking client feedback. The first is discussion with a client advisory board. The second involves client phone surveys.

Both techniques are powerful, each for different reasons. Bear in mind, though, that both methods are only effective when the common denominator — demonstrating genuine concern for your client’s opinion — is first and foremost on your mind.

Client advisory board

The principal purpose of a client advisory board is to gather a group of important clients and seek feedback on the direction of your business. An informal version of the focus group, this method allows you to personally interact with your clients, while obtaining pertinent information about the direction of your business and whether or not you are meeting client needs. • Identify a list of 15-20 important clients. These clients may not be your largest clients but they are those you resonate with. (Hint: Think about your ideal client profile, then choose clients that most closely resemble this profile.)

• Invite clients by simply saying, “I am conducting a client advisory board. Consider it a focus group with great food. The purpose is to get your feedback on my business that will assist us in areas where we can improve. It is really important to me that you participate.” By being upfront and honest about your reasons you will have a better chance of scheduling your clients and getting them to participate.

• Find a venue. Restaurants with private dining rooms are best. Conduct the session over dinner. This allows the social lubricant of drink and food to help ease the clients into conversation and aid them in becoming forthright with their answers.

• Hire a third-party facilitator to guide your clients through the process. Sit quietly and observe.

• Create an agenda. The feedback session should last no more than an hour. The agenda should include an introduction (purpose), a discussion of your business, its existing challenges and a series of questions for feedback.

• Hire or employ a scribe to take minutes.

• In the introduction of the session, remind the group that they were selected to participate because you value their opinion and that you want to build your future business around them and people like them.

• At the end of the session, summarize important points that have been identified.

More Shawn O’Brien columns:
Walk in the shoes of your best clientsDo you have a brand?The Puf PrincipleHow do you earn trust?

• Close the event by saying thank you. Consider taking a group picture that you can display in your office. Ask the respondents if they would be interested in participating in future sessions.

• Send a letter that summarizes the feedback with timelines attached to suggested improvements.

• Enact your clients’ suggestions. Let them know you are focused on making small incremental changes. If there are recommendations that are not feasible, explain that to them as well.

The secret to using client advisory boards is following through with the recommendations made. If you don’t follow through, you run the risk of losing the confidence of your board members. If the initial event was successful, consider meeting biannually. Your clients will be eager to participate if they feel it is beneficial to all parties.

Client phone surveys

The principal purpose of a client phone survey is to extract raw feedback from your clients.

• Make a list of 15-20 important clients. The candidates should resemble a list similar to those on your client advisory board.

• Hire a third-party facilitator.

• Call each client and ask them if they would be willing to participate in a 15-20 minute phone survey. Explain to them that the purpose is to get important feedback from a small group of important clients.

• Set aside two days for booking one-on-one calls. Provide the facilitator with a list of pre-scheduled phone appointments and have the facilitator write out their answers.

• Clients are often uncomfortable having the comments recorded. Assure your clients that their feedback is confidential.

• Create a list of survey questions. Keep these questions straightforward and open-ended. Here is a sample of effective survey questions: 1. What is your perception of the financial services industry in Canada?

2. Do you find the marketplace of advice confusing?

3. How long have you been working with [advisor’s name]?

4. Has your perception of [advisor’s name] changed?

5. Do you recall how you were introduced to [advisor’s name]?

6. What have been the most positive experiences you have had with [advisor’s name]?

7. What have been the least positive experiences you have had?

8. What are your primary financial concerns?

9. Do you feel these concerns are currently being addressed by [advisor’s name]?

More Shawn O’Brien columns:
Walk in the shoes of your best clientsDo you have a brand?The Puf PrincipleHow do you earn trust?

10. How does your current experience with [advisor’s name] compare to that of previous advisors?

11. Are there specific areas where [advisor’s name] can improve [his/her] service to you?

12. How would you explain your experience with [advisor’s name] to friends or colleagues?

13. Is your confidence in [advisor’s name] growing?

14. If you were [advisor’s name], what would you do to grow your business with more people like you?

When you’re finished with the client phone surveys, compile the feedback and send a letter to your clients with a summary of key points and your timeline for implementing the suggested improvements.

Collecting feedback from clients through an advisory board or through phone surveys can tie up resources and it can be time-consuming, but the results are powerful and important.

The initial result you might see is a change in client perspectives. Almost immediately they realize you care about your business and about your relationship with them. As tips and suggestions from the feedback are implemented, clients develop a faith and trust in your practice and its services. This faith and trust allow you to effectively live up to Churchill’s sage advice about learning to please, allowing you to live up to your goal of earning more profits.

Shawn O’Brien is the vice-president of national sales at Investment Planning Counsel. For more information, contact Shawn at shawn.obrien@ipcc.ca or (877) 212-9799.


Shawn O’Brien