By Kyle Van Pelt
Back in March, hardly anyone in the wealth management industry had the faintest idea how long most of us would be working remotely. As 2020 draws to a close, with some companies changing their practices to make remote work a more permanent mode of operations, it seems clear that virtual, digitally enabled experiences are here to stay.
The shift has been met with some nervousness. For an industry in which trust for so long was predicated on handshakes and face-to-face meetings, financial advisors are wondering how they will nurture strong connections with clients through digital channels.
Yet the new, remote-first environment shouldn’t be viewed as a threat. Rather, financial advisors should see it as an opportunity to make a great digital first impression with prospective and new clients, while reintroducing themselves to current ones. In either case, financial advisors and the firms that support them should think hard about how best to meet the new expectations that predominantly virtual client relationships raise, but they should still keep in mind the qualities that have always contributed to great experiences and how to translate them to the digital realm.
Crafting A First Impression Digitally
In recent years, many firms added positions to their staffs aimed at making any client or prospect who comes to the office feel comfortable, welcome and important. They have titles such as “Director of First Impressions” or “Chief Customer Experience Officer,” and their work reflects the traditional notion that firms that go the extra mile with well-designed offices and memorable customer touchpoints will set themselves apart.
In this new remote-first environment, it’s imperative that advisory firms approach designing a “digital home office” with the same enthusiasm and effort that they put into their physical offices. In doing so, it’s important to remember what customers are searching for in a service experience. As Dennis Moseley-Williams, an expert on crafting world-class experiences, notes, there are five general customer expectations, whether the experience is in person or virtual: value, understanding, predictability, involvement and belonging.
Value: Value for clients can be defined in different ways, largely depending on their individual short- and long-term goals. In the end, however, they want to feel that placing trust in their advisor yields something they couldn’t have otherwise achieved. Why do Starbucks customers pay $5 for coffee rather than make a cup at home? It’s because the Starbucks experience delivers value — it’s reasonably decent coffee, quickly prepared and in convenient locations. The lesson for advisors is that a virtual client experience can’t be a great one if it doesn’t deliver the goods in the end.
Understanding: Advisors should craft digital experiences that have prospects and clients feeling that they are truly being listened to – from their deepest concerns to their loftiest aspirations. Ours is an industry with significant nuance and complexity, and while advisors’ explanations provide value to clients, there is always a risk of clients feeling overwhelmed and unheard if advisors are doing all the talking. As in any strong relationship, communication and understanding are two-way streets, and advisors should build opportunities for real dialogue into their digital service experiences.
Predictability: We all have certain expectations for our online interactions through using products from Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Facebook. These tech giants have poured billions of dollars into refining their consumer experiences, and there is no reason that advisory firms should try to compete against them. For one, it’s difficult, time-consuming and expensive. More importantly, clients’ expectations are already tuned – down to how they should respond to visual cues and calls to action – to these companies’ products. Clients find comfort in having a degree of predictability in new experiences, and advisory firms should use big tech’s template as a starting point for building their own digital home offices.
Involvement: A client that’s involved and fully engaged in the advisory process is more likely to be satisfied with outcomes, whether good or bad. When building digital experiences, this translates to incorporating technology-enabled ways for clients to get involved in their own financial planning and wealth management processes, such as the ability to view and analyze portfolio performance for themselves. This can spark dialogue, and also is an opportunity to surprise, delight and impress clients through sophistication of the tools and platforms available to them.
Belonging: As people, we are all seeking belonging and connection. These qualities can help build trust, which in turn is crucial to all good relationships, including those between advisors and clients. Advisory firms should build digital experiences that speak to clients and prospects about their commonalities and shared goals, and everything from a firm’s mission statement to the colors in their branding should be viewed through this lens. When engaging with a digital experience, clients and prospects should immediately think “These are my people.”
When crafting digital experiences, advisory firms should be sure to check these boxes. The alternative is a fragmented experience that leaves clients feeling uninterested or worse, unimportant, lost in the shuffle and wanting out.
No doubt, 2020 has been a challenging year, and it has sped up the shift to digital client service that was already under way before the pandemic struck. Great service experiences are like good first impressions – they set the tone for all the interactions and collaborations to follow. With remote client engagements becoming more the norm, advisors and the firms that support them should seize the opportunity to double down on the digital experiences they are offering. In the end, doing so will help transform their relationships with clients as well as their own businesses.
Kyle Van Pelt is Skience’s Executive Vice President, Sales. Skience offers consulting services and an award-winning integrated platform that provides wealth management firms and RIAs an efficient way to unify their technology, increase back-office and advisor productivity and set the stage for a great client experience.