In our new world of virtual meetings and social distancing, it has become increasingly hard to deliver and maintain a “high-touch” client experience. At least for the foreseeable future, lunches or dinners with clients, educational events, golf outings and holiday parties can’t be used to socially connect advisors and clients. Quarterly or annual reviews delivered via a virtual meeting can keep clients well-informed about investment performance and the important wealth-management tasks that must be completed, but they don’t enrich the personal connection between advisors and their clients. Because the emotional connection is critical for maintaining client satisfaction, the prudent advisor needs to develop new ways of connecting personally with each client without using traditional social engagements.
Fortunately, we can adapt one traditional strategy to creatively connect emotionally with clients: the client advisory board. Historically, small groups of clients were asked to serve on these boards. In some cases, they met once and enabled the financial advisor to explore the opinions of a few important clients about how to improve her practice. In other cases, the boards met several times a year and looked at multiple dimensions of the practice model. Some financial advisors set up a structure where clients rotated on and off the board, allowing for a larger number of clients to participate. In all cases, clients on an advisory board felt a powerful connection to the practice.
In the past and today, board membership honors a client by elevating her status, acknowledging her experience and recognizing her as a valuable resource. It answers the two fundamental questions that all clients have of their relationships with their advisors: “Do I matter to you?” and “Do you get me?” (For more on the inevitable questions that every client has, ask to see the AB Advisor Institute’s Re-Inventing Client Satisfaction in the Age of Skepticism: Exercises.) For these reasons, a client advisory board is a great way to deepen engagement with select clients.
In our new virtual environment, the traditional dinner meeting and roundtable discussion are no longer options. But maybe this isn’t all bad. In the past, financial advisors found it difficult to get their best and most influential clients to participate on these boards because of the time commitment; two or three hours was a lot to ask for. While clients are flattered by the invitation, successful people can be reluctant to take time away from other commitments.
This is why the AB Advisor Institute is recommending a different approach to engaging clients. As part of our “Skills for the New Normal” practice design series, we are recommending a virtual advisory board. Instead of a single small group of clients gathering for dinner or a roundtable conversation, we recommend:
1) Building several groups of six to eight clients
2) Conducting 60-minute virtual meetings with a tightly defined agenda
3) Using a clear process that allows each person to meaningfully contribute at a convenient time
4) Creating a worthwhile experience for each person with less time required
Builds a Deeper Level of Engagement
Multiple boards that meet virtually benefit the clients and the advisors. For instance, they enable the practice to engage with many more clients. Clients feel their input is important (elevated value) and appreciate being asked to contribute, and the time and effort expended to attend the meetings is minimal. The practice also receives more high-quality feedback, deeper client relationships and greater efficiency in organizing and hosting the meetings.
The key to the strategy is a tightly defined agenda and clear process for the group to follow. We do not recommend conducting an unstructured, nonmoderated conversation. Instead, each agenda should focus on a single, open-ended question that is sent to the group before the meeting so each attendee can prepare to share his point of view with the group. For example:
1) “Tell me about a business, vendor or person you’ve worked with in the past two years that truly ‘wow-ed’ you. How did they accomplish that?”
This is a classic open-ended question that allows participants to share an unusual experience. When you send the question out, encourage everyone to think about any experience that was truly outstanding and not limit themselves to services or providers who function like financial advisors.
The benefits to this question are two-fold. First, listening to the stories teaches you how other providers are impressing their clients. Even if the experiences described are very different from the type of services you provide, by listening to six or eight stories you’re likely to get one or two great ideas that you can adapt and execute in your business.
Second, everyone will have a great time sharing one of their favorite and notable experiences. And, it’s likely that other people on the call will be intrigued by one or two of the other stories and want to hear how to take advantage of the opportunity they’ve just learned about! This naturally builds bridges between clients and causes the meeting to be a very warm and positive experience. Ultimately, despite the natural limitations of the virtual meeting and, because of the efficiencies of the virtual platform itself, you can intentionally and efficiently create a truly unusual and highly effective client experience that connects clients more deeply not only to the practice but also to each other.
For more resources from the AB Advisor Institute visit http://alliancebernstein.com/go/abai.
The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.