How to be Client Centric: Using Client Experience Tools Efficiently and Effectively
“90% of businesses agree that Client Experience is vital – but less than 51% use Client Experience as part of their strategy” (Source: 2015 Global Customer Experience Peer Research Panel Survey)
By David Barks, Wealth-X and Noelle Buckley, Wealth Management Association
The wealth management industry is a sector where it is essential to focus on clients’ needs and expectations and how best to serve them. A cornerstone of ensuring a wealth manger is client centric is Client Experience (CE) research. An effective research program will provide measurable, timely and actionable insight into the health of the business and areas of focus. This paper, written by the Wealth Management Association (WMA) and Wealth-X, seeks to highlight why CE is important, what to measure and how this intelligence can be used to ensure clients are central to all business activities.
Client experience is the subjective response clients have to any direct or indirect contact with a company. Direct contact can consist of client calls, reporting, transactions and so on. Indirect contact can be what your client reads about your firm or interactions with the firm’s brand or advertising, etc. The goal is to provide a positive experience for the client at all times. How a client interprets and internalises their experiences with your business strongly shape their behaviours and hence the health of your business.
Not all financial services are the same and therefore client expectations will differ from service to service. It also varies from company to company within the wealth management industry given the differing propositions, delivery channels and touchpoints different clients may experience.
Trust in the banking industry and associated financial services has been damaged since the financial crisis, especially for millennial clients, causing changes in client behaviour. To adapt to these changes a well planned and executed research program can identify gaps in the service offering, key touchpoints and what your clients value the most.
The wealth management industry has traditionally had stronger referral rates than other financial services due to the very personal interaction many clients have. Wealth management transactions tend to be more involved, of a higher value (financially and emotionally), and based on saving and investment goals. Monitored and used correctly CE can be a strong retention tool for the industry.
So, what information do you need to gather from clients to assess this effectively? Commonly, the first step is to identify any issues, so an approach which gathers quantitative measurements is often used first. Each of these measures tells us something different about the health of client relationships and their impact on the business.
Very broadly, there are two measures – client satisfaction and client loyalty. Although equal in significance, these measures are often mistaken for each other and assumed to be essentially the same thing. They are, in fact, different but intrinsically linked and it is important to understand these differences.
- Client satisfaction: Tells you how happy a client is with the service(s) you provide. It relates to the results of a process whether it is the process of sales, service, product performance or a combination of all of these. It is a natural and well received question, or set of questions, that can identify areas of concern in the business. However, it doesn’t relate to financial metrics of growth and retention well.
- Loyalty: Measures how likely clients are to stay in the relationship and to provide further assets. Often a blunt measure but it clearly identifies relationships or types of relationships that require action. As 95%+ of clients don’t change wealth managers in a typical year, and it is far more expensive to gain clients than keep them, even small changes on this metric make a huge difference when a single client can represent a huge portion of wealth and assets under management. Multiple adviser relationships are common (the average number of relationships is two), so knowing if you are first or second choice, and what for, can make a big difference in strategy.
A third measure that is often quoted in CE campaigns is the Net Promoter Score (NPS). This provides a metric related to growth by asking how likely clients are to recommend your firm/service/product. This is followed by a simple but intuitive calculation to get a score. With referrals being a key source of new business, this metric should be very important. Positive scores indicate likely growth, negative scores a contraction; with the size of the score indicating the possible scale. Clients can be broadly satisfied with your service and loyal but if, across your client base, more speak of issues than enthuse about you to their peers, business growth will be hampered.
Choosing the metrics, and the importance with which they are regarded, therefore needs to match the business aims (e.g. growth or retention). Every business goes through periods of growth and consolidation, peaks and troughs, so recognising that the information provided by clients can predict the likely future size of the business and any changes required are very important.
Once chosen, all these metrics give you an indication of business health, but much like a doctor, you can easily find out how healthy you are with straightforward checks, but it takes expertise and investigation to diagnose what the symptoms mean.
Once you know the health of your business, your client relationships and the areas that may require improvements or developments, a different type of research is often then required. Follow up research will help to understand the issues, potential improvements and the effects of developments in detail. Here, the benefit to the company is getting the change right and avoiding investment in something that has minimal positive effect or even negative consequences. For example, you may find that clients believe your online system to be out of date. Further in-depth research can then understand the particular aspects requiring attention and/or test new propositions.
A key element at this stage is to have a hypothesis or proposition, i.e. something to test. This gives the greatest benefit and direction to this type of research whether qualitative or quantitative.
Again, different approaches can be taken to get these specific insights. They are often more qualitative and targeted primarily at the area in question, but also often targeted at the specific clients that the changes may affect most. This typically involves fewer interviews of greater depth and non-metric information. It gives a deep understanding of the pros and cons, elements to enhance, avoid or give clarity on, and often gives inspiration for potential actions.
As with any business activity, understanding what you want to achieve and developing a plan around it is vital. Before going any further, discussing these with experienced researchers is key. They will be able to advise what information and insight is possible to achieve and how this can be best collected.
There are many factors to consider when thinking about what to investigate and how. Some of the key ones are:
- Method of contact: How are you approaching them? If your organisation employs a primarily face-to-face strategy, it may be incongruous to email your clients with a survey. Equally, if this is a common means of personal contact, this won’t be a problem. Essentially, the research should ideally match your organisation’s contact strategy and brand.
- Regularity of interaction: How often do you interact? If only an annual meeting takes place, approaching them twice a year for feedback may be out of keeping with their expectations.
- Client importance: How vital is the client to your business? Treating them with respect and attention during the research is important but some clients will require a very personal touch.
- Segments: It’s also important to bear in mind that even within a single wealth management firm, clients may not be treated the same, or have the same type of relationship. Thinking about how the research should approach different sub-groups by understanding which factors and elements differ, will help determine which metrics are most important and how can the approach can be made.
- Total number of clients: If the business has less than 300 clients, aiming to get 100 to take part is ambitious. A more qualitative approach might be better to capture the key health metrics you want. If the business has thousands of clients, you don’t need to survey all clients to have a good representation – as long as you don’t select a biased group.
- Source: Who is asking for the feedback? Is it the relationship manager, head office, the client service director, or an independent third party? Who the request comes from will affect response rates, the accuracy and the detail of responses.
- Introduction: What are you asking for? Honesty is the best policy and providing insight on what you intend to do with the information will encourage clients to respond.
A census that approaches all clients may not be necessary for good quality data, but may be an excellent communication exercise. Equally, wealth management typically has very stable and long-term relationships with clients so getting data every month or quarter may not be required unless there is a vital need to understand the effects of short-term changes: The last thing we want is for clients not to want to provide their feedback again because they’ve already told you the same thing multiple times before and nothing has happened.
If relevant, employing the lessons learned from other business units, e.g. premier banking or corporate banking arms, can be beneficial. Many clients could have joined the wealth management or private banking service through these channels. However, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach for measuring client satisfaction and loyalty in firms that have corporate, retail & wealth management business units. Each has a different relationship with the client and arguably different aims for the relationship. Some alignment is positive but the services and relationships do tend to be different.
After any research, the company should speak to those invited to take part to tell them what is being done on the back of their comments and responses. If this, and everything else, is done well you can expect a positive effect on the relationship with the company and relationship manager. This is often referred to as ‘closing the loop’.