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The Word Of Mouth Influence Hierarchy 

The hierarchy organizes activities of financial professionals who brought in 10+ clients a year using word of mouth influence into four levels

You just ordered a meal at a restaurant. You’re hungry and can’t wait for your favorite dish to be served. You try to be patient, but it seems to be taking forever. When your meal finally arrives, you enjoy it, but your view of the restaurant is poor because it didn’t meet your service expectations.

Similarly, your clients have expectations of your practice. And they’ll tell others whether or not you’re meeting their expectations. This is often referred to as word of mouth influence, and it can get prospects interested (or disinterested) in working with you. If clients share stories with friends about how you exceeded their expectations, those friends may want to become clients too. The trick is knowing what your clients expect, then making sure you’re meeting, and hopefully exceeding, those expectations.

Oechsli did research with financial professionals who gained 10 or more clients by word of mouth influence, meaning these new relationships were unsolicited. These financial professionals didn’t ask for referrals—the business came to them. Oechsli has created a four-level “Word of Mouth Influence Hierarchy” that identifies behaviors correlated with referral flow. The first level of the hierarchy is exceeding clients’ professional expectations.

The Word Of Mouth Influence Hierarchy 

The hierarchy organizes activities of financial professionals who brought in 10+ clients a year using word of mouth influence into four levels

Level 1 Of The Hierarchy: Exceed Clients’ Professional Expectations

Oechsli research revealed three ways to exceed client’s professional expectations:

  1. Master the 14 criteria that affluent clients want
  2. Get feedback to improve your service
  3. Provide a first-class in-office experience


1. 14 Criteria Affluent Clients Want

To exceed clients’ professional expectations, you need to know what they are. Oechsli has discovered 14 criteria affluent clients look for in financial professionals. The criteria is divided into two areas: communication and financial.

Communication expectations:

  • Listen to them and understand their family
  • Be trustworthy
  • Have deep industry knowledge
  • Be a problem solver
  • Provide personal communication
  • Oversee family’s finances

Financial expectations:

  • Meet investment expectations
  • Seek to protect investments from downside
  • Be transparent about fees
  • Help create a financial plan
  • Use current technology
  • Coordinate their financial documents
  • Provide insurance solutions

Think about which of the 14 criteria you could improve on. Don’t try to tackle too many items at once. Pick one or two to focus on over the next three months.

2. Get Feedback To Improve Your Service

Many financial professionals never ask for feedback. Why? Maybe they’re afraid of what they might hear or they simply don’t think to ask. But truthful and constructive feedback can give you insight into how to serve your clients better and how to market your services more effectively. The list below outlines some opportunities for you to get feedback.

  • Signed Prospect: Onboarding a new client is an excellent opportunity to learn which of your selling points won them over. This is invaluable for knowing which features are most desirable.
    Language: “What led you to choose us versus the others you were considering?”

  • Blown Prospect: Swallow your pride and just ask. This is an opportunity to receive information that will help you tailor your offering going forward.
    Language: “I respect your decision. To help me get better in my role—what led you to go in another direction?”

  • At Mid-Year Review: There’s no better time to gauge your service and value than during the middle of a review meeting with a client. Asking at the end comes across as less sincere.
    Language: “Shifting gears for a minute, I’ve been meaning to ask you, what do you think about the frequency of our meetings?”

  • Lost Client: You might have an inkling as to why it didn’t work out, but unless you ask, you’ll never truly know. Remember, you’re not trying to salvage the relationship,you’re trying to get clarity.
    Language: “I’d love to get your feedback on some aspects of our relationship...”

You might feel vulnerable asking for feedback at these critical times, but the right feedback gives you insight about how to serve your clients better.

3. Provide A First-Class Office Experience

The financial professionals who brought in 10+ clients a year using word of mouth influence provided stellar in-office experiences for their clients. How? By mastering all the little things that show you are attentive to detail and care for your clients:

life event birthday Know life events and passions (e.g., remembering their grandson’s name)
Parking Symbol Custom-label parking spaces
walking someone to a car Walk clients to their car
speech bubbles Engage in strategic small talk (e.g., planning in advance to talk with them about their team at work)
car Arrange transportation
beverage Provide preferred beverages
people shaking hands Ensure personal staff greeting (welcoming clients by name as they arrive)

Evaluate the experience your clients have when they visit your office. Can you improve on any of the items listed above?

Can’t I Just Get New Clients By Asking For Referrals?

Oechsli asked affluent investors their feelings about being asked for referrals. And every year they find that 75 to 80% say this approach makes them feel uncomfortable. They feel like they’re being put on the spot. Affluent investors don’t like the pushy salesperson approach.

To Summarize, We’ve Covered:

  1. Mastering the 14 criteria that affluent clients want
  2. Getting feedback to improve your service
  3. Providing a first-class office experience

What’s The First Thing You Do After A Bad Restaurant Experience?

You tell your friends how bad it was. The same principle applies to clients and their expectations of financial professionals. Now you have a roadmap to exceed your clients’ expectations. If you do, they’ll spread the word and you’ll likely get a boost in unsolicited referrals.



Next Steps

1 Evaluate your practice based on the 14 criteria of affluent investors. Choose one or two to improve on over the next 3 months.
2 Begin gathering client feedback at the following times: Signed client, blown client, mid-year review, or lost client
3 Evaluate your client office experience. Choose an item or two to improve this month.

More on Word of Mouth Influence Hierarchy >

Oechsli is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Hartford Funds


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