So at Finaeo, we’re t-minus a few weeks to our official launch. We’ve run a long beta before, but our real first public-facing for-sale product is coming out shortly. Because of this, I’ve been spending the last week or so knee-deep in building out our customer success processes. Alongside this, I have also been doing my usual phone calls with insurance and financial advisors. So, as always, I figured I would do some investigative research and chat with advisors about their client success protocols while trying to develop my own. Now, if you’re an avid reader of this blog, you’ll already know my fascination with processes as they relate to advisors. I’ve talked, at length, about the winning practices and processes before the meeting and after the meeting. So it should come as no surprise that I wanted to figure out what processes advisors had in place for dealing with their clients after the deal was closed. I was curious both to better understand how they run their businesses and to see what pearls of wisdom I could extract for myself.
Unfortunately, there was a problem. Fundamentally, advisors I talked to didn’t really know what client success was. By far, the most common response to what their customer success looked like was the promptness to which they responded to issues / questions that came up from their clients. This was a misunderstanding of the term. Instead of discussing client success, the financial service professionals I talked to were describing client support.
I decided, therefore, to write an article about the differences between success and support, and why you should care as an advisor. At the core, there are three major differences between the two:
- Client support is reactive, client success is proactive
- You can only get to net neutral with client support, but you can delight with client success
- Client success can lead to top line growth, customer support never will
Client Support is Reactive, Client Success is Proactive
Okay, the first thing worth understanding about client success versus client support is that the latter is reactive whereas the former is proactive. That is, support exists to deal with issues that come up – you are fixing a problem or responding to a policy question. Your client doesn’t understand something in his or her policy and calls you? That’s client support. Your client is frustrated with a change in his or her premium and wants to discuss? That’s client support. The problem is that when dealing with support issues, you’re always starting on the defensive. There is a problem that warranted the client’s attention, and they’re likely none too pleased to be taking time out of their busy days to deal with it. Moreover, you are waiting for something to happen that you can react to. You are addressing things that the client has brought up and scrambling to clean up messes.
Client success, on the other hand, is proactive. Success is the process of delighting your client, keeping them happy, and staying top of mind. This is done through regular client touch points. Client success relies on you actively taking the reigns and providing top-quality service, without being prompted by a problem the client is experiencing or a concern the client has. Instead, success focuses on creating high-value moments for your client, where you can add immense value.
Support Gets You Net Neutral, Success Gets You Delighted Clients
Generally speaking, when a client comes to you for support, it’s because something isn’t working as intended. More often than not, the client is frustrated and unhappy. This means that your job is to take an unhappy person and bring them back to, at best, neutral. That is, if you succeed in addressing his or her concerns, your client is no happier than he or she was yesterday, before the problem reared its ugly head in the first place. This is true even if you provide phenomenal support service. For example, I recently got charged by Amazon for a service I had cancelled. I called in to their support line. The wait time to get a customer support rep was almost non-existent, and she was polite and promptly refunded me. However, this experience didn’t make me think any higher of Amazon – they were just fixing their screw up. They certainly did a great job to rectify my problem, but I would have preferred if the problem had never come up in the first place.
Do you see the problem here? At best, you’re breaking even. At worst, you’re delivering bad news to a client. That’s the problem with client support – no matter what, you can’t win. That’s not to say support isn’t necessary, it absolutely is. Imagine how infuriated I would be with Amazon right now if my experience with their support team was poor – absolutely nothing cause clients to churn faster than poor support. But good support just gets you to baseline.
Client success, on the other hand, is all about creating moments of client delight. It’s about making your client absolutely thrilled with you. This doesn’t generally require jumping through hoops as an advisor, but it does require going a little bit above and beyond what is expected. But that’s usually pretty easy – in most situations, your clients are not expecting very much. One of the biggest issues insurance and financial advisors have is that they are often seen as little more than salespeople trying to push product. Now, if you’ve been in the industry, you know this isn’t true. But it’s certainly the perception that many clients have of their financial services professionals. Nothing transforms that faster than a good client success process. When you create situations of delight for your clients, you transcend this label in their minds. You are no longer a salesperson trying to shove more product down their throat, you are their financial advisor who is looking out for their best interests. It helps humanize the advisor in the client’s eyes and builds strong, lasting relationships. It turns “that salesguy” into “my advisor, Bob.”
Client Success Can Lead to Top-Line Growth, Client Support Never Will
The final difference worth discussing is that client support is a cost-center, whereas client success is a revenue generator. Why? Well, good client success can lead to two things:
- Lower churn
- Upsell opportunities
In a previous blog, I talked about the dangers of a churn and how valuable lowering churn can be for a financial advisor. The beauty of client success is that it reduces churn drastically when done right. After all, if your goal is to delight your clients, and you succeed, they’re much more likely to stay. Good client success is the difference between having a 96% annual retention rate and having an 86% annual retention rate (in other words: $$$).
The second way that client success can grow your revenue is through upsell opportunities. The more touch points and interactions you have with a client, the stronger your relationship will be and the more likely you are to uncover other products and services you can provide the individual. That is, you’re much more likely to realize something has changed in your client’s life if you’re touching base with them regularly, rather than once a year. Likewise, a client is much more likely to come to you with her changing life situation if she feels positively about the relationship.
Client support, meanwhile, is a cost-center. As mentioned above, if your best bet is to get the client back to feeling neutral, you’re not going to be up-selling them or retaining them at a higher rate. Instead, support takes up your valuable time just to ensure they don’t immediately churn out. If you aren’t creating new moments of delight or strengthening the relationship, you’re not creating a better client experience.
Build a Process or Roadmap Around Customer Success
Okay, so now that we’re clear about client success versus support, I’d like to delve into the topic of what building a success roadmap looks like. That is, how do you build the proper processes to generate client delight? As with all things in life, it depends. However, it is broken up into two major categories:
- Scheduled client success tasks
- Unscheduled client success tasks
Turning first towards scheduled tasks, these are the processes you can automatically calendar into every client as soon as you add them to your book of business. This may include a follow-up thank you card the day after the deal closes and a wine bottle at Christmas. It will likely include regular check-ins with the client to take their temperature, quarterly updates on product usage / results, and renewal meetings. The details and exact specifics will vary from advisor to advisor, but one thing I have seen is that successful advisors tend to err on the side of more scheduled interactions rather than less. You want the client to like you as a human being first and foremost, and regular touch points build the sort of rapport that protects you from churn. As one benefits advisor told me – an hour-long renewal meeting should be 55 minutes spent discussing the client’s family, hobbies, and vacations, and five minutes getting a quick confirmation on the renewal at the end.
I’ll give you a simple example from Finaeo’s customer success process. One scheduled task that we do comes after closing a new customer. By the end of that week, the team will send out a handwritten and signed thank you note note to our new customer. We toss in a $5 Starbucks gift card too. The amount of positive reaction we have gotten from this simple action is through the roof. A heartfelt note talking about how excited we are to have the advisor on our platform resonates – it lets them humanize us beyond just another software company trying to take dollars out of their pockets. It makes our customers realize that we really do care and really are excited to have them join us on our adventure. Moreover, it lets us buy them a cup of coffee, even if we’re not present when they have it. Since our team is composed of ex-advisors who used to do endless coffee meetings, we find this to be fitting. For us, it’s important to start building the relationship with the advisors on our platform from day one. The handwritten thank you note is an easy way to show how important they are to us.
Turning next to unscheduled tasks, these are client success tasks that are less predictable. Note that just because you cannot schedule them ahead of time, does not make them support activities. This is because they are still proactive actions an advisor takes on behalf of his or her client – it is not just reacting to a client’s request for assistance or clarification. Generally, unscheduled client success activities are based on some new piece of information which gives you a reason to reach out to your client. It is unscheduled simply because you never know when a new piece of information such as this will make itself available. There may be a change in regulations which opens up a new opportunity. It may be a new product line released that is perfectly aligned with a client’s goals. It may be that you learned through Facebook that your client just had a newborn and now is a good time to reach out and discuss RESPs. Whatever it is, unscheduled customer success tries to focus on proactively reaching out to your client in situations where you can add value.
Now, what’s interesting here is that the more data you have about your clients, the more proactive you can be. As we discussed a few weeks ago on the blog about bionic advisors, the future advisor will have access to huge amounts of client data that will make taking unscheduled, proactive, data-driven actions far easier. But, until then, you will need to rely on some old faithfuls. For one, you can suss out more information about your client through regular scheduled touch points. Likewise, you can make sure you add your clients on Facebook and LinkedIn, checking in on their profiles regularly to see if anything major has changed. The more you learn about your client, the more useful you can be. The more useful you can be, the more you can delight them.
The Epitome of Client Delight: The Heroic Moments
To close this off, I would like to introduce one last concept – the heroic moment. This is a bit tongue in cheek, but bear with me. Heroic moments are those moments that you add immense value to your clients. You become a financial advisor superhero! Now, I don’t consider this to be exactly part of client success (or support). Heroic moments are really just those situations where you are in a position to do something incredible for your client that he or she will never forget. Below is a video of Aly Dhalla, our CEO, talking about one of his favorite heroic moments:
So why isn’t this exactly success to me? Well, Aly was clearly in a reactive situation. He didn’t proactively set out to pick up client’s daughter from school and drive her to the office. But it’s also not support – no client would expect this from their advisors, and it clearly created a great deal of delight. A heroic moment lives in the above and beyond. On the other hand, what Aly did do was make sure to proactively reach out and build out a relationship that was strong first. He was trusted by his client and, by being trusted, his client was able to create a situation where Aly could provide a heroic moment.
Pretty cool, right?
A few things. First off, tell us about your heroic client moments. Either here or Tweet at us @finaeoinc #heroicomoments. Second, start thinking about your client success processes. If you don’t have any in place, write down a few things you want to schedule with every client after the close and turn it into a checklist. Then think about what kind of unscheduled tasks you should be doing for clients proactively and how you can go about collecting the right information to inform it. Beyond that, please subscribe to our blog!