Stanley Marcus Jr. is considered one of the forefathers of modern day customer relationship management. He's credited in the industry with the innovation of maintaining a card box behind the counters at Neiman Marcus, featuring all kinds of personal customer information gathered during shopping experiences including names, family members, size/color/style preferences, birthdays, favorite sports teams, and so on. This enabled sales associates to tailor the sales experience in a world of mass merchandise department store shopping.
During one of my lunch meetings with him back in the late 1990s, he observed, "By adding a personal touch to service, we create a personal connection. By treating each customer like an individual, we differentiate in crowded market spaces. But in our go-go world, it's harder than ever to keep that habit."
Fast-forward about 20 years: Today we live in a world where everything that can be digitized and automated, will be. The personal touch is rarely made, as most seek efficiency. Still, personalization and high-touch service is as critical to success as ever. In a vast study of marketing and customer insight professionals, media firm Conversant found that for 94% of their respondents, personalization was important to retention. This jibes with the findings of research firm Genesys, which surveyed thousands of consumers, looking for their top suggestions for service provider improvement. The number-one answer was "better human service."
Think about how this applies to financial services and wealth management. More than ever, day-to-day pressures cause us to look for simple solutions that scale to our client base. We compete with robo-advisors and online publications that offer faceless but inexpensive alternatives to face-to-face professional services. While they might be sufficient for a client looking for simple answers about their financial situation or market conditions, they should not replace the dynamic service of professional human advice. If you want to stand out in today's high-tech world, maintaining a high-touch, personalized service approach is the key to success.
The personal touch should be delivered in each client interaction. First, consider your email correspondence. While much of our messaging is cut-and-paste, it's easy to insert a few sentences at the top of a note to make it highly personal to the recipient. You might recall a portion of a previous conversation or a stated preference that's relevant to the advice you are giving. Never send a note to someone that could be sent to anyone.
When it comes to proposals, tailoring can make a big difference to conversion rates. Add snippets of content that recall conversations with your client, where attitudes about risk or specific financial goals were stated. If possible, tie in personal details such as that around-the-world trip that's on the bucket list or the grandkids the client wants to help put through college.
Beyond personalizing correspondence, here are other ways to add a personal touch that's memorable and engaging:
Handwritten notes or cards
Meeting consultant Brian Palmer stands out by sending thoughtful handwritten cards to his clients and business partners, usually to wish them luck on a project or to say thank you. It's a lost art in the digital world we work in, so if your penmanship is up for the task, replace an email with a card. Hallmark's Business Expressions line offers professionally worded cards that can fit any advisor/client situation.
This is a personal touch I've added in many situations, largely because I'm a photography enthusiast who's never without my point-and-shoot camera. When my clients and I have our first meeting, I often take a picture of us to commemorate the occasion. If it turns out well, I have it printed and framed and then send it to my client with a note. In many cases, when I visit these clients years later, our picture stands on their desk alongside their family.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth? According to one blogger, a 60-second video message translates to the power of more than a million words. Why? Because it conveys your intentions and enthusiasm via facial expressions, which don't come through effectively through verbal or audio-only communications. Email video services such as iWowWe offer a simple solution for upping the personal touch of a post-meeting wrap-up or regular client check-in.
House calls or home invites
Instead of having clients visit your office, consider meeting with them at their home. This puts you in a more casual atmosphere and usually leads to getting to know them on a more personal basis. New York-based financial advisor Stacy Francis takes it a step further, inviting clients over to her home for an intimate dinner, often home-cooked. She's also produced "individualized" events for clients, including their family and friends. This not only improves her relationship with them, but also has produced quality referrals, leading to new clients.
Think of your personalization efforts as time well spent to warm up the quality of connections you have with clients. This is important as you attempt to influence how your clients think about their investment strategies and move them to action. Brain researchers suggest that humans have recently developed a thick filter, which screens out almost all incoming information and selectively stores only a small amount of what gets through. But they've also found a way around the filter: the emotional seat of the brain. That's why commercials that make you laugh are more memorable than ones that are filled with useful information. In today's high-information world, the shortest distance between two people is a warm connection — so make one today by adding your personal touch.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. The information contained herein should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation of any product or service nor should it be relied upon to, replace the advice of an investor's own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.
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