We all tell ourselves lies.
That might sound harsh. But the truth is that we all make excuses, seek out the path of least resistance, find validation for the views we already hold or simply stick our collective heads in the sand. Those are all different version of "lies". It doesn't make us bad people - just human.
It's easy to fool ourselves in our personal lives and in our professional lives. And one of the ways we fool ourselves, professionally, is by believing that we know what’s best for our clients - that we intuitively understand what they need, want and expect when it comes to client experience.
There are times when I start believing I can articulate what's on the minds of advisors, drawing on our research and our many, many conversations. And then, just as I start feeling smug, one of our Client Insights clients comes along and captures an issue far better than I could ever hope to do.
And that just happened.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with the team at Foster Group for many years. They are, as the saying goes, “good people”. They believe deeply in helping their clients, they work incredibly hard to deliver a great client experience and they always put the needs of their clients ahead of their own.
"We had starting telling ourselves lies."
But recently Travis Rychnovsky, their Chief Growth Officer, shared something important.
“We had started telling ourselves lies,” he said.
He stopped me in my tracks with that comment. And it wasn’t because it wasn’t true (for them and for so many others) but because it was so honest.
You see, Foster Group had questions about organic growth, specifically their net inflows from existing clients. It was an important, strategic question for the leadership team and the firm as a whole. They looked at their own data, they compared it to industry benchmarking studies and then they started to make some assumptions about why clients were behaving in a certain way.
And that was the problem.
Assumptions are dangerous things because they can drive us in the wrong direction, sapping our time, energy and resources on the wrong activities. And when we make assumptions about what our clients are thinking, or what they need or what they expect, it’s even worse.
"We aren’t a proxy for our clients."
Buck Olsen, Foster Group’s CEO, captured the sentiment exactly when he said, “our leadership team isn’t a proxy for our clients.” That was the second ‘stop me dead in my tracks’ comment from this same team.
Travis describes the internal narrative that had been building around their organic growth questions, the things they believed to be true. Until the day it stopped and they asked another question.
“Why don’t we ask the people who have the answer – our clients? And then….thank God we did. “
The story has a happy ending. Foster Group tested its own assumptions by gathering direct input from their clients. And they went further to gain a deep understanding of the client experience they need to deliver in future.
The data made it clear that the assumptions they had been making about net inflows weren’t accurate, that their own concerns about things like client satisfaction or how clients were evaluating their performance, were unfounded. The data showed them, quite clearly, that what they were experiencing was a natural – and valid – outcome of how they worked with their clients to live a better life. And the same data provided them with a path forward, shining a light on the activities that would make a meaningful difference.
To some extent, this story highlights the need to gather on-going input from your clients. But it’s more than that. It’s a cautionary tale about the lies we tell ourselves and the impact that can have on our businesses and our clients.
This is a story about the most important leadership skill of all – having the guts to ask the right questions of the right people and having the courage to test our own assumptions.
Thanks for stopping by,
P.S. Ask yourself. How will your client experience need to evolve going forward? You're welcome to join us on March 4 at 4:00 ET for a webinar to examine how and why the client experience you need to deliver has changed forever.