Going ‘full curbside’ during coronavirus to attract premium clients

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The call came in early March: “Can you meet with me, Kimberly? It’s really important.”

Given that the governor of our state had just issued an executive order that closed all non-essential businesses — immediately — due to the coronavirus, the answer was, of course, no. (At that point, I was still not completely certain whether my firm was included in the essential category of banking and financial services, but I decided to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. As it turned out we were included, so I had made the right call.)

When the phone rang, I was trying to figure out how my staff and I were going to serve our clients, many of whom are elderly and had never associated the word “zoom” with anything other than a sound effect for a fast car.

Did I mention the markets were in free fall?

Irresistible invitation

I had, however, been cultivating this particular caller for some time. He was a prospect who had gotten burned in the 2008 market crash, having essentially sold everything and had gone to cash.

That much I knew, but his next words really got my attention: “I missed out on the last bull market, and I don’t want to miss this one.” Has there ever been a more irresistible invitation issued to a financial advisor? He was financially sick and I had the medicine he needed!

But with the state in lockdown mode I couldn’t meet with him, either at his office or mine.

Fortunately for both of us, he was more tech savvy than many of my clients. We arranged a series of online video chats to talk through his situation. Keep in mind, this was before every laptop in every house in the country had the Zoom app installed.

But we made it work and, long story short, I was able to bring a significant block of assets under management. We set up a diversified, balanced portfolio that was the right fit for his risk tolerance and life stage, and he has participated quite nicely in the recovery from the lows we saw in March.

‘Full curbside’

Happy ending, right? But that’s not the whole story. In subsequent weeks, I was in touch with my new client’s attorney, his CPA and … his golfing buddy.

The attorney and the CPA you can probably understand — I needed to reach out to them to get a full picture of my client’s planning needs. But in addition to becoming helpful partners in my work for our mutual client, they also, independently, began discussing their own finances and exploring how my services might benefit them personally.

As for the golfing buddy — who happens to own a chain of retail establishments — the new client sent him my way after telling him the whole story of how he and I quickly found a way to communicate effectively under the constraints of pandemic.

The client’s friend was impressed. “I realized that you’re doing the same thing that I’m having to do with my stores. If we want to stay in business, we’ve got to adapt and find different ways to get our customers what they need. We’ve gone ‘full curbside’, and it sounds like you have, too.”

A client told Kimberly Foss she'd gone "full curbside" by adapting her client communications.

I’ve had two productive meetings with the retail magnate, and I expect him to come aboard in the next few weeks.

Survive and thrive

I’m confident that many of my colleagues in the industry have made similar, on-the-fly adjustments in workflow and procedures to accommodate the new and very strange reality we are experiencing.

Adaptation is how species survive, and it’s also how we survive — and even thrive — as advisors during this time we’re living through. One lesson I’ve learned from the situation described above is that resourcefulness and willingness to figure out how to get people what they need are qualities appreciated by the kind of clients we all want: people who have accomplished things themselves and admire the accomplishments and ingenuity of others. That appreciation, with very little encouragement, can be turned into referrals, which as we all know, are the lifeblood of any business.

An article from McKinsey & Co. offers a compelling observation: “Particularly in times of crisis, a customer’s interaction with a company can trigger an immediate and lingering effect on his or her sense of trust and loyalty.”

Crisis doesn’t build character; it reveals it.

I absolutely believe this. One of my favorite proverbs is, “Crisis doesn’t build character; it reveals it.” In the same way, I believe that crisis puts a spotlight on great client service. And great client service, it turns out, leads to a steady flow of referrals and increased business.

The McKinsey article goes on to highlight four essentials for providing a premium client experience during this time of crisis:

1. Focus on care and concern;
2. Meet your customers where they are;
3. Reimagine the post-COVID-19 world;
4. Build agile capabilities for fluid times.

As I review my experience with my new client, I can locate aspects of each of these touchpoints in our experience together. I’m especially mindful these days of No. 2: meeting them where they are. For the golfing buddy’s retail stores, that means curbside — or wherever the customer wants to take delivery. For most of us as advisors, that means Zoom, Slack, Skype, GoToMeeting or whatever other digital tools we have at our disposal to remain accessible and responsive to our clients.

‘Resourcefulness infrastructure’

But let’s not forget about the other points. Part of re-imagining the new reality that will follow this pandemic is empathizing with the challenges and uncertainties our clients and potential clients are facing now and in the future. When we lead with empathy, focusing on the care and concern our clients need, we position ourselves to provide maximum help.

As we become more agile and responsive to the shifting requirements of doing business in a pandemic, we also build what I call the “resourcefulness infrastructure” that will help us thrive when the world begins to move back toward a more familiar way of being. All of these qualities position us to provide superior client experiences — and to receive their appreciation in the form of referrals.

Anyone can be successful when the grass is green and water is plentiful, say sheep and cattle ranchers. But a drought is when you really build your abilities and your foundation for future success.

It’s the same way for us right now, I think. The more we can prove ourselves to prospects and referrals — by “going full curbside” if need be — the better our businesses will fare, both now and in the future.

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Client acquisition RIAs Coronavirus Practice management Client strategies