If you are a financial advisor, you might view your “product” as something you deliver tangibly to your clients like a financial plan or investment performance. Moreover, you might rightly view client experience as your most important product. To this end, you might have built touchpoints — quarterly meetings, monthly check-in phone calls, client appreciation events, quarterly newsletters and so on — into your client service deliverables. Perhaps you meticulously coded your process in a customer relationship management (CRM) application to not only increase efficiency, but also to maximize client satisfaction during those precious and critical face-time with your clients.
People are your product
In doing all this, let’s not forget that even if you build a perfect system for maximum client experience and satisfaction, it is ultimately delivered through your human employees. Said differently, the most tangible, and unequivocally the most important, component of your “product” as a wealth management firm is your employees.
This is true even if you maximize technology to automate your workflow and remove all friction in client onboarding, client communication and so on. How many of us enjoy calling our bank or cable company only to be greeted by an auto-attendant, a fabulously efficient piece of technology for the business, yet spectacularly unpleasant experience in every respect for us, customers? In frustration, you press zero, and are told, “That is an invalid entry.” You desperately want to speak to a real live human. But they won’t let you because, to them, you are not a human. Your call simply represents one of the seven most common reasons their customer call them for. (“Press 1 for this … press 7 for that. If you want to repeat the menu, press star.”) You manage to navigate through the menu and get to the right department after 7 minutes of trying, only to hear, “We are closed for business. Please call back tomorrow.” Even when you finally do get a real human on the other side, they can’t sometimes solve your problem. They might even be rude. Then after the call, you receive a call or an email to complete a survey. In the name of efficiency, these businesses must have lost their souls because managed to de-personalize their services in every possible way.
Thus, the real touchpoint of client experience is when your client interacts with your people in person, on the phone or by electronic communication. For example, the receptionist at one of my client firms stands up to greet each client with a big smile when they walk through the door. She knows in advance what kind of drink the clients like. (Thank you, CRM.) Does her act by itself turn their clients into raving fans of the firm? Probably not. But these seemingly innocuous and invisible acts do add up. When clients are exposed to consistent, positive and respectful human interactions with your firm — as simple as returning a call or email within an hour — they translate all of that in totality as awesome client experience. They can’t quite put their finger on it, but they enjoy it.
People are your top priority
If all this feel-good stuff sounds like mushy mumbo jumbo, read this article about how Chick-fil-A is leaving its competition in the dust with its well-trained workers. Come to think of it, the wealth management industry has more in common with the fast food industry than we might first think. For starters, it’s immensely difficult for firms in both industries to differentiate in the sea of sameness.
Needless to say, given the centrality of human interaction in client satisfaction, hiring and keeping good team members should always be a top priority for your firm. So how do you keep them engaged and motivated? How exactly do you energize them?
What business thinkers say
In his book, Drive, business thinker and author, Daniel Pink writes that human motivation is largely intrinsic. To motivate employees, he argues, give them these three factors to increase performance and satisfaction:
Autonomy: Our desire to be self-directed. It increases engagement over compliance.
Mastery: The urge to get better skills.
Purpose: The desire to do something that has meaning and is important. Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose will end up with poor customer service and unhappy employees.
While Pink focuses on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, Patrick Lencioni explores job fulfillment vs. misery. He summarizes job misery in his book, The Truth About Employee Engagement (formerly The Three Signs of a Miserable Job):
Anonymity: People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority.
Irrelevance: Everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment.
Immeasurement: Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person.
7 ways to energize your people
Your firm probably employs a great group of people. Collectively, you can do some wonderful things. So it’s important to keep your team members fulfilled and motivated. To this end, you can be intentional about a few things as listed below. I can personally vouch for them because they brought me great success in energizing team members in every setting. A word of warning — you can’t fake this. You cannot do these things mechanically and expect results. You have to be genuine. Your team members will see right through your hollow words and deeds.
1. Be genuinely interested in their lives
Learn the names of their family members, friends and roommates, and continue to solicit updates on what is going on in their lives. Refer to their family members by name instead of “your daughter” or “your husband.” Be genuinely interested in their lives. You do this for your clients. You can and should do it for your team members. They are just as important to your business as your clients.
2. Be personal
Treat them as human beings. Tell them explicitly that they are not just a means to an end or merely a function. They are valuable human beings with names, with their own stories whose lives exist outside of the office. Avoid de-personalizing your people at all costs.
3. Give them freedom — with a safety net
Free your people up to think on their own, to explore and experiment — and make mistakes within reason. Resist micro-management. Trust their judgment. Tell them, “I’ve got your backs,” and mean it. You will witness them stretch and grow like never before.
4. Provide regular feedback
Give them immediate feedback on a job well done as well as job not so well done. Don’t wait until the annual performance review. They want to know where they stand and how they can improve. They don’t want to wait a year before finding out they’ve been doing things wrongly all along because you never gave them feedback.
5. Communicate your strategic direction regularly and often
Frequently communicate your strategic direction — that is, your mission, core values and goals (or why your firm exists and what business it’s in, how your firm behaves and where you want to go when and how). Doing so gives them a sense of purpose and helps them through the daily grind. If you don’t know your strategic direction (or don’t have one), you should work on it, like, yesterday. If you don’t know where you are going, well, neither will your people. Pretty uninspiring.
6. Set the (right) tone
Make sure the atmosphere at your office is light, positive and fun. Celebrate victories; give kudos; project confidence about achieving your goals; in moments of doubt, inspire them. Believe that you can. And remember to thank your team members for their contributions.
7. Provide clearly defined career paths
A job without professional and personal growth is called a dead-end job. No one wants a dead-end job, and when they end up in one, good employees will find a way to leave. This seems like an obvious one, but surprisingly, many firms don’t have a well-defined career path for their employees.
Truth is, most people want to (need to) work. Furthermore, they want to work in a safe, supportive and positive environment where they feel trusted and are treated with dignity. They want to learn and grow, and be a part of something that is bigger than them. You can set your firm apart by making your firm a fabulous place to work. In turn, your people will treat your clients fabulously.