Client feedback the key to public image
Surveying your own clients may be the answer to improving the performance of financial planners in public perception surveys.
A survey conducted in April 2013 by Roy Morgan Research found that only 25% of the public rate financial planners “very high” or “high” for Ethics and Honesty. This is down from 26% in 2012 and 28% in 2011.
In addition, Investment Trends research late in 2012 found that fewer Australians were clients of financial planners compared with previous surveys they had conducted. Also, only 6% of those surveyed “support the traditional model of advice delivery”. Clearly our industry simply isn’t currently delivering what consumers want.
Our own BusinessBlades research confirms that an alarmingly high proportion of advisers fail to regularly survey their own clients. As a result, they have no real vision of satisfaction levels or opinions as to what elements of their service are truly valued.
This data, gathered via the BusinessBlades Analyser (a proprietary diagnostic tool), along with empirical data from a collective five decades of managing practices tells us well over two thirds of advisers overlook this important activity.
That’s an opportunity going begging for sure. Asking clients what they want and (within reason) designing a business to deliver on their responses logically ought to improve client satisfaction. That, in turn, means greater client advocacy and improved take up of advice services.
It’s not difficult to put together a series of questions that elicits useful and actionable client satisfaction data. So if it’s not difficult, why don’t advisers (or practices, or dealerships) do it as a matter of course?
Is it because all these parties have relied on their own perceptions of what clients value? Do they think they know the answers to the questions before they’re asked? Well, if so, they’ve got it wrong according to the research.
From our conversations with advisers there appears to be a concern about potentially stirring up a hornet’s nest and having to deal with negative feedback, of which there will inevitably be some. They also worry about unreasonable expectations that we all know are harboured by some clients.
Perhaps it’s just simply a resistance to change, notwithstanding the enormous changes in the financial landscape faced by consumers.
Whatever the reason, whether we like it or not people are talking in not so glowing terms about our industry. Wouldn’t it be better to identify and address the issues head on with clients and the market generally?
To maximize its value, a client satisfaction survey needs to be designed to elicit the following critical information:
• What clients most value about the services you offer today
• What they consider you’re doing well
• What they feel you could be doing better
• What you could do, over and above what you’re already doing, that your clients would absolutely love.
From a practical point of view, it’s important to carefully consider not only the content and length of your survey, but how you position it with your clients and encourage their participation.
When it comes to survey format, there are of course several different alternatives. These include external or in-house phone surveys, web-based, email, paper based and focus groups. If your budget runs to it, focus groups with a well briefed, external facilitator can really get people to open up and provide great feedback. But the other options will also get the job done.
It’s not our intent in this article to fully debate the pros and cons of these methods. Each has benefits and disadvantages and need to be considered carefully in light of your client base, budget and other factors relevant to your business.
The goal is to produce meaningful and actionable data.
One thing is clear. 75% of Australian adults see financial planners in a negative light or are ambivalent when it comes to our Ethics and Honesty. In that light we really need to take the initiative, be positive and understand what is driving these views and address the issues head on. We at BusinessBlades believe it’s well worth the effort.
About Doug Webber
Doug Webber is director of BusinessBlades Pty Ltd and 83 Consulting Pty Ltd. He has financial services experience spanning three decades.
Doug began specialising in financial planning when the industry was still finding its feet in the late 1980s and did stints in the financial planning departments of Westpac and MLC before being named an associate director at Macquarie Bank in 2002, a role he held for almost 7 years.
Prior to starting his own business, he was Head of Advice at AMP Private Wealth Management.
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