As we head into the final stretch of 2020, I’ve heard more than one person say they can’t wait for this year to end. The suggestion, of course, is that things will magically get back to normal on January 1. If only.
This year has changed us. It has changed how we feel, what we think about and how we cope. It has changed how we operate day-to-day and what we expect from the organizations with which we connect.
And that means, of course, that it has changed how you need to engage with clients. Over the next several weeks I’ll tackle some of the specific ways in which your client experience will need to evolve, drawing on our latest report ‘Your Comeback Plan’.
Specifically we’ll examine the following:
With that, let’s turn to the first question. How much contact is enough?
According to the advisors I speak with, 2020 was the year of increased client contact. There have been more client reviews, more outreach and more reassurance. And that’s no small feat when you are dealing with exactly the same challenges as your clients.
The question is this. Are we witnessing a permanent shift, an extended shift or a blip that has already come and gone?
I’m going to argue that we’re seeing two trends:
Confused? Let me explain.
The pandemic lit a client contact fuse across the industry. The need to reach out to clients was clear and advisors responded swiftly. You reached out once, then twice and perhaps a third time. And while the pandemic is not behind us, you have likely shifted into a pattern of communication with clients that felt comfortable. Phew. Job done.
But humans beings are funny (and not funny “hah-hah”). The feelings that accompanied the pandemic were intense and confusing and deep. And despite the fact that many of us have found a semblance of routine in our lives and may not be as worried about the markets, we are still living with uncertainty and vulnerability and anxiety. None of that has gone away.
So when you talk to clients and ask how they are doing, they will tell you they’re “ok” because it’s all they’ve got to describe how they feel. If you ask if they are worried about their portfolio or plan, they might say “no” because frankly it’s not the biggest worry in their lives. And if you press deeper on how they're doing, they might say “as good as to be expected” which doesn’t sound so bad.
But we’re not really fine, are we? Clients still need your support, even if they aren’t asking for it and even if they can’t easily articulate how they are feeling.
As a result, I truly believe that we’ll need to be in touch with clients more often for some time to come. The fuse may not be burning as brightly, but the fire is still raging.
That means we can’t go back to the normal cadence of client contact if we want to ensure we’re supporting our clients in a meaningful way. For some time to come, I believe we need to assume that contact level will be higher than in the past.
So far we've focused on an exogenous factor – the pandemic - and its impact on frequency of contact. However, there is a more systemic trend that may have a similar impact.
Younger clients are more likely to want more frequent contact. That means that even if the pandemic-induced increase wanes, it will be followed by a more fundamental shift toward increased contact.
The chart below shows the differences in expectations based on how far a client is from retirement (a reasonable proxy for age). It comes from investor research which we conducted in partnership with the Investments & Wealth Institute.
It’s important to note that younger clients not only accept, but demand, more virtual meetings. So while they may want more contact, it’s also more efficient. According to our research, clients are most likely to consider changing advisors when they are 10-19 years from retirement, so it’s important to get this right.
As you think about the client experience you will need to deliver going forward, I think it's fair to assume that you’ll need to incorporate more frequent reviews. You may want to consider augmenting direct contact with more meaningful communications or with small group workshops that deliver support to your clients. However you respond, you’ll need to consider how this will impact your internal processes and your overall capacity.
As a final word on the topic, it’s important – and possibly obvious – to note that the quantity of contact is not the same as the quality of contact. That is….connection trumps contact.
As I address how other aspects of the client experience will need to evolve in future posts, I'll look at how the client conversation may need to change as well. For today, let’s focus on getting the frequency right.
You can assess your own client experience and where you may need to evolve by clicking on the link below, accessing our free ‘Client Comeback Plan’ and taking the assessment. We’ll send you a personalized report and ‘readiness score’ to help you take action.
Thanks for stopping by,