Three-time New York Mayor Ed Koch became famous for regularly asking, "How’m I doin’?" I'm sure he meant it as a rhetorical question at times. But often he really wanted to know. How often are you asking the same question of your best, and not so best, clients? Some of the industry’s top advisers regularly conduct satisfaction surveys with their clients.

Here are the best practices by wealth advisers who regularly commit the time, money and resources to polling their clients:

Ed Koch, Bloomberg
The late former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, shown at the 2004 Republican National Convention, had a signature question that is applicable to advisers' work. (Bloomberg News)

Define your firm’s value proposition from your client’s perspective A lesson I learned years ago from industry coach and consultant Richard Weylman was that setting a firm’s value proposition without getting input from your clients is a lesson in futility. It really doesn’t matter what you and your team think your value is. The only thing that matters is what your clients’ value about their relationship with you and your team. Here are some sample questions you can ask your best, and not so best clients:

  • What do you think is my and my team’s greatest strength?
  • If a friend asked you about us, how would you describe what we do for you?
  • If they asked you why you chose us to manage your family wealth, what would you say the reasons were?

Identify best communication plans — All too often, advisers make assumptions about how and when clients want to receive communications. Without setting a process to gather that information from a client, you may be missing a significant opportunity. Some clients only want to speak to their adviser quarterly and meet semi-annually while others want to speak monthly and meet quarterly. Tailoring a communication plan to meet each client’s unique needs and desires allows you to customize each client‘s experience with you and your team. Sample questions you can ask when surveying your clients in this section are:

  • Do we communicate with you enough, too much or too little?
  • Do you prefer phone calls or e-mails?
  • Are there particular hours of the day that are best for you to receive calls from me and my office?

Define overall satisfaction and areas for improvement — How do you know if you are doing a good job if you don’t ask the question? One of the biggest mistakes that wealth management firms make is assuming they know the answer to this question. Many make the assumption that clients must be happy since they are still with the adviser, that is, until the day that the ACAT comes in transferring their account to a new adviser. Then, they are shocked and they scramble to try and keep the client or find out why they are leaving. I believe that many advisers don’t ask the question because deep down they don’t want to hear the answer. Ignorance, in this case, is NOT a defense. Some sample questions you can ask your clients are:

  • What are three things we could do to improve our relationship with you?
  • On a scale of 1-5 (5 being the best) rate my team on;
  1. Responsiveness
  2. Ability to address your inquiries and issues
  3. Courtesy
Client surveys best practices

Once you have made the decision to regularly survey your clients, you need to decide which process to utilize. Many firms utilize an automated approach on platforms like SurveyMonkey. This gives you leverage and scale to survey a large sampling of your client base in an efficient, analytical fashion. The challenge I see with this approach is that it depersonalizes a project that should have a very personal approach, and it does not allow for a productive discussion about the client’s responses. The other approach is to personally, over time, call your best, and not so best, clients and walk them through the survey/interview yourself. Your call to the client could go something like this:

Mr./Ms. Client, as you know, we are always to trying to improve our client’s experience and the service we provide to them. I have always respected your opinion, and it would be helpful to me if you would take a few minutes to answer some questions.

Then launch into your questions and turn this exercise into a discussion. The information you get in return will make your business stronger and well positioned for growth.

One of the advisers in our network uses this opportunity, with great success, to ask for referrals. Be like Mayor Koch and ask the people who matter most: How’m I doin’?

Ed Friedman

Ed Friedman

Ed Friedman is director of strategic relationships at Dynasty Financial Partners. He leads the company's ongoing partnerships with its Dynasty Network advisers.