March 19, 2013 / 7:36 PM / in 5 years

Thanking clients key to business growth, loyalty

TORONTO (Reuters) - Client hunger for great service, especially during a time of lackluster market returns, has pushed Anna Knight and other Canadian financial advisers to go beyond birthday cards to convey their gratitude to those who keep them in business.

Every six months she hosts wine-and-cheese events for 30 to 40 clients and sprinkles smaller tributes throughout the year, a practice she knows has strengthened loyalty and brought in new business.

“Clients really appreciate the effort when we add a personal touch,” said Knight, a financial planner with International Capital Management for seven years and a 16-year industry veteran.

Her twice-yearly events include a seminar on either financial issues or health and wellness, so attendees get more than just face time with their adviser. Thank-you gifts to new clients acknowledge personal tastes and she always encourages clients to bring friends they believe will benefit from the evening, not just her advice.

“My practice has doubled in the last five years, since 2008. I keep my budget tight, but I know my clients appreciate these events,” said Knight. “One of my smallest clients brought in this lady and to this day she is one of my largest clients.”

The financial market collapse in 2008 soured many Canadians on investing and still-mediocre returns have made it more important than ever for financial advisers to show clients that their business is valued.

But the prospect of showing gratitude terrifies some.

“When you say ‘client appreciation’ sometimes advisers panic. They think they can’t do that, because they just assume it is a big event, they have to invite all their clients,” said Joanne Ferguson, the president of coaching and consulting firm Advisor Pathways in Toronto.

Advisers might not want some clients meeting others or discussing specific investments or returns. No financial professional wants to be seen as spendthrift or profligate, since their money comes from clients’ investments.

“But client appreciation can be so many things,” said Ferguson. “It can be acknowledging milestones in your clients’ lives, a series of get-togethers throughout the year ... it could be putting a nice napkin and a glass of water in front of them as you meet them.”

The growing trend in customer relations has become attention to detail, a show of appreciation that goes beyond the old-school offerings to the little things that strategic coach Lee Brower calls “lagniappe” - unexpected and unusual extras that define the personal touch.

“The old school, the industrialist economy, is still rewarding (clients) with things - conventions, events, tickets to the Kentucky Derby or the Super Bowl,” said Brower, who specializes in coaching advisers who serve wealthy clients who can attain material rewards themselves and thus expect more.

“They should be asking: ‘How can I make connections with them?’ If we are moving into a connections economy, the real way to show appreciation is to be interested in them,” said Brower.

“In terms of client appreciation, the little things, not the great big things, on a regular and ongoing basis, matter.”

Ferguson and Brower said that means listening to clients, making note of personal tastes and passions, paying attention to family milestones or individual goals and accomplishments. The receptionist should know the clients’ names, up-to-date magazines should mirror client interests and gifts should be tailored. That means a chocolate lover gets a sweet gift basket, while someone touched by cancer gets a donation made in their name to a related charity.

Toronto adviser Knight said she switched from end-of-year gifts to charitable donations, a move clients welcomed.

“Several people called to say thanks - they didn’t need another gift basket,” Knight recalled.

But in another case she sent a new client a tea-themed gift, a personal touch that surprised the client, who’d noted her preference for tea simply in passing.

The goal, Ferguson said, is to both solidify the existing relationship and prompt clients to recommend the adviser to others, knowing their friends and family will be cared for by someone who listens and is committed to good service.

“The stronger the relationship, the more the client is going to think: ‘This team really cares about me, they understand me, and I think they need to have all my assets,'” Ferguson added.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins.; Editing by Frank McGurty and Andre Grenon

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