Everywhere you turn, you’re asked to take an online survey. Maybe that’s why many advisors seek feedback the old-fashioned way: by asking for it in casual conversation.
XAutoplay: On | OffLike many professional service providers, advisors want to satisfy customers and get alerted if something’s amiss. They seek to retain clients and run a tight ship, and they crave feedback on how to continuously improve their operation.
So how do they solicit constructive feedback from clients and former clients? Better yet, how do they collect praise and share it with their team for some motivational uplift?
“We think feedback is important and we take it seriously,” said Vince DiLeva, a certified financial planner in Redondo Beach, Calif. “We get input on how our reports look, interactions with our staff, and topics we include in our quarterly newsletter to clients.”
Yet like many top financial advisors, DiLeva does not send out formal surveys. Instead, he and his colleagues at Signature Estate & Investment Advisors prefer to ask clients for feedback on an ongoing basis.
“If I’m in a meeting or on the phone with a client, I might ask what they thought of a recent change in our report,” he said. “They might say the font is too small or the colors we use on our chart make it hard to read. Everyone has different ideas on what they like and don’t like.”
The benefits of asking for input in the course of everyday conversation are twofold. First, clients are more apt to open up when the topic is fresh in their mind. The immediacy of feedback enhances its richness; if you ask people to comment on something that occurred a month ago, they may have little to offer.
Second, seeking input works better when you come right out and ask for it. With so many consumers fending off constant requests to complete online questionnaires, it’s refreshing when a service provider expresses a willingness to sit back and listen in real time to a client’s critique.
Pounce On Opportunities
Part of the challenge when asking for feedback is evaluating its merits. Clients of different ages and backgrounds may express wildly different preferences.
“You have to take it all in and look for the most common things you hear,” DiLeva said. “You home in on the couple of things that you hear consistently.”
It helps when you adopt an opportunistic mindset. Recently, a client called DiLeva to praise two of his staffers for their efforts in tracking down an old 403(b) account.
“In thanking me, she also told me about the steps she and my two employees went through,” he said. “It made me realize we could improve our processes to build efficiencies into the system.”
In addition, DiLeva meets weekly with his team to share client feedback they’ve collected. In each meeting, they identify at least one idea that they can apply right away. Examples include steps to enhance record-keeping or facilitate communication with clients’ accountants to coordinate required minimum distributions.
To close the loop, DiLeva will update clients on the status of their suggestions. He may need to explain why their idea cannot come to fruition due to, say, compliance rules or the limits of technology.
“When you follow up, they feel heard,” he said.
Dangle An Incentive
While probing for feedback works well in informal conversations, you need to watch your wording. The way you frame your questions will largely determine the answers you get.
For example, it’s better to ask, “Can you share your impressions of the materials we sent?” than, “Were you pleased with the materials we sent?” Respondents tend to give more revealing answers if they’re addressing a neutrally worded, open-ended inquiry.
For those advisors who use online surveys, they learn that incentives count. Rewarding people for their time in filling out a questionnaire increases the response rate.
Dan Andrews, a certified financial planner in Greenwood Village, Colo., sends all clients a year-end survey using Wufoo.com. He poses three questions: What should we start doing? What should we stop doing? and What should we keep doing?
As a bonus, he invites respondents to vote on one of three nonprofits to receive 2% of his firm’s top-line revenue for the year. This adds a feel-good element to the process and reinforces the theme of altruism — a key aspect of his practice.
“We try to inspire our clients to give back,” Andrews said. “This 2% is a way to let them know that they’re giving back just by being our client” and completing our survey.
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