What do Clients Want?

Financial Advisors struggle to show clients that there is value in the stuff we do for them. The consequence is that clients are completely indifferent to the services we offer and extremely price sensitive, at best. So, how do we stand out, change our perception as a “grudge purchase?” How do we get clients to want to have a relationship with us? How do we give them an experience that they will drive across town, in the middle of their busy day to visit us? How do we make them feel like money spent with us was a valuable commitment?

Chatting over coffee yesterday, my cycling buddy and I were lamenting our relationships with our respective “back technicians” – a troubled spine being the defining characteristic of any wannabe cyclist. I was amazed to hear that his Physio of choice was all the way out in Hout Bay, a journey he was happy to make despite the distance. Wow!! His perception of value must be really high to take on that drive. I wouldn’t be willing to do the same for my chiropractor. In fact, I’m beginning to think he should start coming to see me to keep the relationship going.

I used to value my chiro’s services extremely highly but my sense of value seems to have been on a gradual decline since our first few engagements … he used to begin the treatment by buzzing this big compounding machine on my back. It wasn’t pleasurable per say, but definitely had a way of punctuating the start of the session. It would violently rattle all the bones in my spine to what felt like a state of complete resignation, a good place I suspect for the next iteration of clicking and twisting to begin. Then one day, I went into his rooms and the tool was gone, broken, not to be replaced. Seems silly, but I still think about that machine. It represented a part of what I deemed important in the experience. Now that it’s gone, it feels like I’m missing a whole step in the process, only getting three quarters of the value I used to.

Then his fancy table broke, not unlike a Formula One car’s steering wheel, with astronaut controls pivoting it in all different directions. Broken. Again, I felt like something was missing. Both of these tools were not only cool, but they framed my experience by reminding me that I couldn’t get this at the nail-bar beautician down the road.

The funny thing on reflection … I realised that actually what I kept going back for, was the experience. NOT the fact that he’s “fixed” my back. In truth, my back is always, to a greater or lesser degree, “broken.”  Having dumbed-down the experience now, it feels like his treatment is more or less what I could get anywhere, even the nail-bar down the road. And I’m certainly less chuffed to shell out the R600 for a quick rub.

This feels exactly like the problem financial planners face. We also face clients that are suffering from chronic back-pain in the form of ongoing confusion and discontent with respect to money and finances. In this world we need to be especially tuned in to the factors that create value and pleasurable experiences, to keep clients returning. If we’re like the chiropractor, we could easily make the mistake of thinking that “access to product”, a monthly newsletter, some fancy looking graphs and a “50-page report” are good enough reasons to to charge a fee. If we judge value according to the things we deem important, we’re not going to arrive at the right answer. We get excited by the analysis, the scenarios, the regulations, the do’s-and-don’ts, the detail. Clients … not so much. What they’re looking for is a big, buzzing machine and an astronaut table.

I think we can have a discussion about what defines an awesome planning experience, but I know, almost for sure, that the things defining it today, aren’t it. In fact, while everything around them has evolved, the experience advisors put out for clients hasn’t changed for decades. If anything we’ve gotten better at throwing more of the same stuff at them, more stuff they don’t understand or care about.

My sense is we need to take a long hard look at what we subject clients to. Put yourself in their shoes. I’m certain you will find that you’re massively effective at getting product implemented, affecting service requests, sending reports, doing calcs. What I think we’re lacking is a fundamental ability to truly connect. We’ve lost (or never had?) the ability to show with empathy that we’ve listened to their stories and are responding through their world-view rather than our own. We’ve become a highly mechanised process that has lost the ability to connect clients with the heart.  And again, an astronaut table wouldn’t be half bad.

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