You might be startled, delighted, relieved or frightened when you find out. But the truth hurts most if you never hear it. Client feedback can guide your decision making and point out subtle tweaks that may benefit your practice. It can also give you insights where you may need to shape up.
“Many advisors say that client feedback is nice to have, but few are actually taking the steps to formalize the process to ask for that feedback,” says Matt Matrisian, director of practice management at AssetMark, a management consulting firm that works with advisors, in Concord, Calif.
“Part of the problem,” says Matrisian, author of the book The Power of Practice Management, “is that advisors do not know how to ask clients what they think of the services they provide and often fear the answers they’ll receive.”
Matrisian recommends that advisors use a structured survey they can distribute to clients. They can get feedback on their service model, new initiatives, frequency of client contact, comfort level with providing referrals, and insights into cross-selling opportunities, he says.
CLIENT ADVISORY BOARD
Another method that Matrisian recommends is to organize a client advisory board or council consisting of the firm’s top clients and ask for input on topics of interest. Branding is a popular issue, he says.
Ron Carson, founder and CEO of Carson Wealth Management Group, an RIA based in Omaha, Neb., says his firm's client advisory council has proven effective in producing client feedback.
“If well executed, periodic council meetings with your top clients can yield a treasure trove of insights to help improve and grow your business,” says Carson, who advises limiting the council to eight to 10 members. He says one council member referral resulted in a “$1 million rollover just weeks after our initial meeting.”
Don Chamberlin, president and CEO of the Chamberlin Group, a tax and wealth advisory firm in St. Louis, says his firm uses a personal preference sheet, with information ranging from what kind of communication clients prefer to what kind of experience they want at the firm.
“What we find is that many people don’t like to respond to telephone calls anymore as much as email,” Chamberlin says.
The survey also divulges clients’ favorite pastimes, and the firm organizes events tailored to their likes. “We also know what kind of drink they prefer and give them that drink when they enter the office,” Chamberlin says.
As another way to elicit feedback, Chamberlin's firm holds a monthly “lunch and learn” event to which clients can invite friends and choose different topics. The programs have yielded both clients and referrals, he says.
Constance Stone, president of Stepping Stone Financial, an advisory firm in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, solicits client feedback more informally at the end of regular discussions and meetings. “I like to keep a pulse on how satisfied my clients are, and at the end of meetings I ask whether it was helpful or if anything needs further clarification,” Stone says.
Stone says she once used end-of-the-year surveys, but subsequently found candid discussions with clients more effective. “In my experience,” she says, “creating an atmosphere of candor from the first meeting enables clients to give honest feedback regardless of its nature.”
Bruce W. Fraser, a New York financial writer, is a contributor to Financial Planning. He is writing a book on the ultrawealthy.