Stumbling into Real Feedback

Financial advisors who want real feedback from clients spend a great deal of time pondering how to get it. They do surveys using tools like Survey Monkey, hire consultants, send emails and directly ask clients how they are doing. Getting real feedback from clients is no easy task and marketers and researchers spend serious time on the topic. Client feedback can be an incredibly important tool to help sustain and grow an advisory firm, the trick is how to get actual information that is both true and actionable to the goal of improvement.

I stumbled upon a method of obtaining feedback that I believe almost all advisors can put into place. I was at a firm that was relatively new but in a competitive space and wanted to learn how we as an organization could do better for the client. I decided that calling up our clients and simply asking what we could do for them to improve, and that be the only topic of discussion, was something to try. I was surprised that almost always the reply was “everything is fine, I like you guys” or some such pleasantry. After 20 or so calls it was the same, and while nice to hear, it was utterly useless information to help us get better. The calls lasted maybe five minutes.

For the next calls I decided to really push the client and state that there must be something we can do better or something they would love us to do.  I dragged out the calls, prodding them to think about what we could possibly do better, and then at about the 15-minute mark my clients started to share ideas and suggestions. I started to hear things like “you know, now that I think about it, this thing you guys do is kind of awkward….” Then they had another idea on something that could be better, and for many of my clients the commentary just flowed. It was amazing that I simply had to keep them on the phone long enough for them to really think about how our service could be better, then once they committed the time, truly valuable insights were shared.

I think the reason for this is innately people do not want to give negative feedback, unless there is an emergency or failure that is immediate in nature. They need to be pulled into being critical or creative. Of course, getting this feedback is only half the battle, the advisor must act on at least some of it if you want to really improve your service, otherwise your client will think it is simply lip service.

The other challenge for advisors is that your client may not want to be candid with you directly given your relationship, so having this performed by a staffer who is coached on how to keep the client on the phone may be the way to go.

We are in an environment where investors do not fully understand advisors, but of course these investors have opinions on the service they get. Given this, most advisors will get valuable information on how to improve if someone spends the time prodding for constructive feedback. And there is nothing better than hearing the nuances of what is said and how it is said, which simply cannot be conveyed on a web form or in an email.