We have all heard that the best way to have loyal clients and get referrals is to consistently exceed your clients' expectations. I believe that meeting expectations is actually more important, for a couple of reasons.

  • First, you cannot consistently exceed peoples’ expectations. (If you disagree, please post a comment below -- I will be happy to respond to it.)
  • Second, when you meet expectations, you build trust. As long as you deliver on whatever you promise, particularly the small things, people's trust in you will grow.

Here are five ways to make sure you always meet your clients’ expectations.
1. ASK ABOUT THEM

This may seem obvious, but it is astounding how infrequently advisors actually ask clients what they expect. And not asking can lead to disappointment, particularly on the small things that corrode trust. I know one advisor who accidentally angered one longtime client when she got stuck in traffic and turned up five minutes late for a meeting. For years she had faithfully arrived at meetings five or 10 minutes early -- but this one time, the client seemed unsettled; for the next two years, in almost every meeting, he mentioned her tardiness.

Petty? Perhaps. But it turned out that the client had a serious pet peeve about lateness -- something the advisor should have asked about when she initiated the relationship. Knowing it was a significant issue for the client, she could have planned on arriving 10 to 15 minutes early, instead of the usual five or 10.

Try to address  potential issues in your intake process. How often do you expect to meet in person? How often would you like to speak by phone? Do you prefer phone or email? If you leave me a message, how soon do you expect a return call? Do you have any pet peeves we should be aware of?

2. RUN A SURVEY

Of course, things change over the course of time. So, it is a good idea to periodically survey clients. Beyond an overall satisfaction score, seek more detailed information by asking specific questions about your operations.

Changes in scores may be more important than absolute scores, by the way. If you have done three surveys over the past six years and received a 4.8 out of five on a particular question and suddenly get a 4.5, that should be a signal that it's time to look into the issue more closely.

3. HAVE A CLIENT ADVISORY BOARD

Surveys and individual interviews can be valuable but they have their limitations. Holding a facilitated conversation of a group of your ideal clients helps you explore issues in detail, in ways that other types of feedback cannot provide.

In addition to discussing which services could be improved, this group can also help you evaluate different ways of implementing a change.

4. ESTABLISH DETAILED PROCEDURES

You may understand what your client wants and you may be diligent about providing it -- but even dedicated staff members may have different interpretations about what constitutes the level of service you hope to provide.

Create written procedures that explicitly spell out your expectations -- and, by proxy, your clients'. Clearly articulated procedures make it much less likely that your firm will fail to deliver on a promise when someone other than you is personally responsible for taking action.

5. MEASURE & MANAGE

Having procedures is one thing; making sure they are carried out is another. I know lots of firms where there are procedures outlined for customer service are not regularly consulted by staff.

A management truism is, “What gets measured gets done.” Train your staff on processes; then audit them periodically, to make sure people are following the plan. To emphasize how important those procedures are, include the audit results in staff performance reviews.

You may ultimately find that your staff will become involved in actually improving the standard procedures, becoming more fluent in carrying them out.

Meeting expectations builds trust and client loyalty. Being deliberate in uncovering expectations and creating systems for fulfilling them is the surest way to consistently delivering satisfaction.