Product manufacturers are able to not only articulate features and benefits of their offering but also allow customers to try before they buy. However, it is much harder for service-oriented businesses to communicate their value proposition to prospects. In general, services are intangible, hard to replicate consistently and need a degree of customisation for every client. So, how can a service-oriented business attract and retain the right clients?

In addressing this question, we decided to focus on firms that provide advice-as-a-service, based on a combination of experience and education – Doctors, Financial Advisers, Tax Accountants, Interior Designers, etc. These firms build relationships with clients and nurture a portfolio over time. Wouldn’t it be useful to understand what clients like and dislike when they deal with advice centric businesses?

Our research¹ highlighted the usual suspects when it came to client expectations – Price, Quality of outcome and Professionalism. However, there was one attribute that stood out consistently, though expressed differently – “They understood my needs really well”, “He made me feel comfortable”, “I felt she knew my problem and had the knowledge to fix it”. We grouped these responses into the attribute “Empathy”.

Empathy is a quintessential quality in leaders as per Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, who recently said² – Although many regard it as a “soft skill,” not especially relevant to the “hard work of business,” it is a wellspring for innovation, since innovation comes from one’s ability to grasp customers’ unmet, unarticulated needs. Clients seek advice when they have an issue that cannot be resolved by them and are looking for support from an expert to tide them over. Therefore, it is important to empathise with a client’s situation throughout the journey.

Our analysis further highlighted an inverse relationship between the importance of empathy in client engagement and the difference in the level of expertise between the adviser and the client. For example, a good heart surgeon could get away being less empathetic than others but will still see an inflow of clients. Simply put, no client will counter the views of the heart surgeon and will accept the advice as being the best for them. Contrast this with a meeting between a client and her landscape artist. Chances are, the client will engage in a meaningful discussion about preferences and at times could overrule some of the suggestions made by the adviser.

In a nutshell, if you are in an advice business where the client is able to contribute to the advice process, you are more likely to find that empathy for the client journey will go a long way in differentiating yourself from the competition. It sounds simple, but many businesses treat clients simply as an account. So, how can you institutionalise empathy in your company and ingrain it in your teams’ interaction with your clients? There are two simple techniques that will go a long way in achieving this objective.

Building customer journey maps

These are maps that you and your team build to develop a better understanding of the clients’ journey, i.e., “putting yourself in the shoes of your customer”. You may develop journey maps by either your line of service or by client segment, whatever helps your staff relate to the customer journey. These maps provide a detailed overview of the client experience and how your team interacts with them at every touchpoint. There are three key benefits of developing client journey maps:

1. It helps you create a tailored experience for your clients

By mapping all the potential interactions that a client may have with you, you can design more effective, tailored experiences that help lead to stronger opportunities. Mapping enables advisers to harness a deeper understanding of which stage each prospect is at and what they need to move towards conversion.

2. It identifies the critical touch points between your team and the client

A good journey map will identify the various touchpoints that are involved in achieving the clients’ goals, whether they are pre-hiring, during the engagement or even post-closing. Every touchpoint presents an important opportunity to connect with the client, but some are more critical than others. These ‘moments of truth’ are key milestones on the journey that need your special attention.

3. It will instil a sense of outward focus within the firm

A client journey map is founded on real data, allowing advisers to continuously monitor their client’s behaviour. Collecting this data requires regular interaction with the clients, but more importantly, it requires asking thoughtful questions and listening to the answers. Any gaps that emerge in a client’s experience will help guide business decisions and investment. The journey map provides a singular reference to break down organizational silos so as to meet the needs of your clients.

Inevitably, the maps of each firm will be as varied as their customers, even between direct competitors, whether due to varied business models or competitive strategies. But one truth prevails above all, the most successful client journey maps are rooted in reliable data that reflects real people. The only way to get that data is to listen to your clients!

Focus on providing a delightful client onboarding experience

To a large degree, churn or non-renewals are linked to the customer onboarding process. Whether the “Time to First Value” is too long, the experience is painful, or expectations are simply mismanaged, those “seeds of churn” can be traced back to onboarding. When clients have a good initial experience, chances are they will forgive some issues down the line.

We list three proven steps that you can use to enhance the onboarding experience:

1. Assess your client’s current needs.
To state the obvious, one of the most important parts of the onboarding process is learning about your client’s needs. Every client is different and will have different resources to work with. When you understand their strengths and weaknesses you will be able to develop a plan for how to work with them.

2. Outline the client’s desired outcomes and goals
You need to take your assessment and turn it into measurable goals that your team can act on. The more clearly you articulate goals to the client and your team, the easier it is for everyone to stay on track. Be sure that you don’t promise what you can’t deliver and make sure everyone is involved in the goal-setting process.

3. Keep the client matters organized from day one.
Don’t let details fall through the cracks. Use online tools to keep track of client inputs, deliverables, milestones and review cycles. Keep the communication flowing and ensure you have a central point of contact for the client. Every client wants to be on top of the process and have a clear understanding of where are they in their journey.

Finally, to complement what clients expect, we also listed the top three things clients despise when dealing with advisers.

1. Setting unrealistic goals or expectations
Right from the start, advisers need to manage expectations with their clients, even (or perhaps especially) when it feels uncomfortable. If you don’t set reasonable and attainable goals, your clients will fill in the blanks and you will be held accountable for achieving too much in too little time.

2. You are not transparent about your process
Not providing your clients with an estimated timeline of the project and explaining the different phases will create anxiety and frustration for the clients. They will struggle to understand “who has to do what and by when” in the process and how far have they progressed.

3. You don’t build rapport with the client
Amidst all the housekeeping and project management that goes into on boarding a new client, it can be easy to forget that your clients are just people who like to converse and connect. The key to establishing good rapport is to keep momentum going through an ongoing conversation.

To summarize, a successful on boarding process should meet the needs of your clients and your business, else it’s pretty useless. Throughout the onboarding process and the client journey, ensure that you and your team are empathetic to the client’s situation as this is a key success factor for running a successful advice business.

At Bondle, we shape our product based on real research by talking to real people. We aim to provide a state of the art client engagement solution that help advisers successfully on board and manage the relationship. By uniquely integrating all aspects of engagement on a singular platform, Bondle drastically increases client satisfaction. Bondle’s focus on security and compliance means advisers not only have enhanced productivity but also peace of mind.

Sandeep Rao
CEO, Bondle Australia

1. Our research was conducted in Q4 2017 and included 75 interviews of individuals who had recently engaged with an adviser and spread across Australia, Singapore, India & USA