Consumers used to depend mainly on two factors when making a buying decision: Prior preferences or marketing, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.
In the past a third factor, other people’s opinions, had been only a minor influence. But with the rise of social media, the opinions of others have become a dominant force in purchasing decisions. Research indicates that this is especially true for purchases that involve higher levels of service interactions.
Planners have long understood that clients choose an advisor based on emotions and expectations of service, and so are heavily influenced by the power of other peoples' opinions.
As such, advisors need to be aware that word-of-mouth endorsements, as well as poor or absent online reviews, have more power than they did in the past. A decade ago, an unhappy client could tell a few friends, but these days, comments about you and your services can have a long shelf life and wide circulation in social media circles.
Here are five strategies to help advisors strengthen the power of these opinions in their marketing efforts.
1. Understand that clients value service above all else. Research from the Association of Financial Advisers shows that when choosing a financial planner, prospects cite “interpersonal skills” (communication skills, caring, listening, and empathy) above all other decision criteria, including investment expertise and fees.
Clients are more likely to leave their advisor when they are angry about the level of service they’ve received than when their investments are performing poorly. Yet, advisors often find themselves devoting more time and energy to choosing investments than to servicing clients and nurturing relationships.
Understand how highly your clients value excellent service and they will eagerly pass on their positive experiences to friends and family.
2. Resolve problems quickly. If clients are unhappy, it is often the culmination of several small missteps that have resulted in perceived client neglect. Systematically returning phone calls the same day and answering emails within 24 hours works wonders when it comes to client morale.
One key to resolving small issues that can add up to big problems is to empower your staff to do it for you. Susan Kaplan, the top-rated advisor on Barron’s list of top 100 women financial advisors, makes sure that her staff is qualified and eager to handle minor problems that arise. "The person answering the phone has the ability and knowledge to be helpful," says Kaplan. "It's not just, 'Susan will call you back.'"
3. Solicit client feedback. If you ask clients about their experience on a regular basis, you won’t be surprised if negative feelings arise. Clients who feel that you are listening and responding to their feedback can weather even the worst economic storms. Providing reassurance and being accessible during difficult economic times can help build faithful advocates that will sing your praises both online and in person.
There are many ways to solicit client feedback, including focus groups, advisory boards, and surveys. Beware of complicated surveys that can annoy clients rather than build relationships.
One simple and effective strategy is suggested by business strategist and author Fred Reichheld in his book "The Ultimate Question 2.0." Simply ask, “Would you be likely to recommend our services to a friend or colleague?” If so, why? If not, why not? Other variations include phrasing the question in a way that offers a quantitative measure, such as, “On a scale of 1 - 10, how likely is it that you would recommend our services to a friend or colleague?”
Regularly asking clients to rate your services can help improve client satisfaction and solve minor problems before they become major grievances.
4. Foster an atmosphere of transparency and communication. From your website and marketing materials to your first meetings with prospects, create a dialogue of transparent and open communication. Talk freely about risks, expectations, and how you are compensated. The more information you share, the more confidence and trust your clients will have in your services.
5. Provide valuable information to harness the power of opinions. It is critical to maintain high levels of client satisfaction and be a valuable source of information for your clients to make it easy for them to influence prospects.
Your website, social posts and newsletters should be full of interesting information that helps clients become better equipped to make decisions. Every time a client shares something they found on your site with colleagues or friends, you have increased the power of other peoples' opinions exponentially.
Craig Faulkner is CEO of FMG Suite, offering a complete inbound marketing solution for financial professionals, from websites to email newsletters to a customized mobile app.You can follow him @fmgsuite on Twitter.
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