Few planners ask their customers to evaluate them. Julie Littlechild is on a mission to change that. For $499, Client Audit, her flagship product, surveys as many as 1,500 clients. For an additional $750, she will provide a consultant to interpret the results and develop a plan. Although clients can choose anonymity, 80% have agreed to open feedback.

When Littlechild started in 1998 as a practice management coach, she always asked advisors, "What do your clients think?" and "How does that influence how you structure, manage and grow your business?" Few advisors had data. Littlechild, who has an M.B.A. from the University of Toronto, had her staff conduct the research. "It seems obvious that we should gather feedback from clients in a client-centric business," she says. "Yet only a handful of advisors have taken the leap."

Feedback allows planners to identify unhappy clients, those who are willing to give referrals and those who might buy certain services.. "They can quickly run a list of clients at risk or choose a marketing opportunity and get a list of clients who have expressed an interest," Littlechild says.

"The most important tool, in my mind, is the Meeting Planner, which generates an agenda to go deeper on key results. Advisors might assess clients' reactions to a change, such as delegating contact to junior advisors." With extra questions, audits "allow advisors to support the price when selling their firm," she adds.

"Pessimistic advisors are often surprised at how satisfied their clients are with the relationship," she says. Yet many "are surprised that their clients are not as confident in their long-term plan as they expected."

Littlechild says she demonstrates how the surveys "absolutely contribute to the bottom line. Advisors can eliminate activities or communications that are not adding value. They may find that clients are happy with fewer face-to-face meetings. Often clients say they provided a referral and the advisor didn't follow up - a big missed opportunity. "

Getting client feedback is "just the right thing to do," Littlechild says. "A nice side benefit is that it uncovers a lot of new revenue opportunity in the process."

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