Go For the Gold in Wealth Management Client Service

I love the pageantry and passion of Olympic competition. Last month in Sochi, we witnessed over 2,800 superior athletes at the top of their game. Among them were an 18-year old phenom who took gold in women’s slalom, the ice dancing couple who not only achieved the pinnacle of their sport but set a new bar for highest personal best, and a nation (Netherlands) that won an incredible 23 medals in speed skating—they all got it right!

But what about the wealth management industry? Last week, respected analyst firm J.D. Power handed out gold medals to 50 brands across nine industries recognized as 2014 Customer Champions, who represent the highest-performing firms for providing customer service excellence based on customer feedback from hundreds of thousands. Regrettably for the wealth and brokerage industry, only one investment firm made the list. In a business whose reputation is built on the strength of advisor-client relationships, this isn’t good news. It is further evidence that wealth advisors and brokers are still rebuilding customer loyalty in the wake of the financial crisis.

Today, clients have higher expectations than ever before. They compare service experiences across divisions in your institution, across other wealth advisory firms, AND across industries. Expectations are being set based on what all of these other providers are delivering.

What do clients want? Last summer, when I participated in a roundtable hosted by American Banker with senior executives from leading wealth and brokerage firms, there was broad agreement on what constitutes a superior experience. Clients want advisors to anticipate their needs and provide personalized solutions. Even when working with a big firm, they want an intimate, small-firm feeling. They want the advisor to understand the entire relationship across the bank. And they want to be served how, when and where they want, seamlessly across all channels.

Firms that exceed client expectations know that superior client experiences don’t just happen, they are carefully planned. Like any Olympic skier, skater, or sledder can tell you, winning the gold medal takes meticulous planning, relentless preparation and flawless execution. In the wealth business, that translates into designing and executing strategies for automating proven client service best practices, making client segmentation actionable, and leveraging big data analytics to personalize the experience.

Is improving client service worth it? Absolutely! When firms get everything right, they see a solid return on the investment they make in delighting their customers. Not only does customer delight encourage long-term customer loyalty and value, but happy clients also become advocates of the brand to family and friends, driving additional revenue. Now that’s a gold medal.