by Kenneth Haman ,Managing Director—AB Advisor Institute, AllianceBernstein
One advisor whom I coach uses a color-coded checklist with every client to track which areas of a financial plan have been completed and which tasks are pending. It’s a brilliant way to shift a client’s attention from portfolio performance to the larger, more important elements that make up a holistic financial plan.
A checklist is a powerful practice-management tool. It ensures that the advisor doesn’t miss anything that could hurt the client or that the client should be taking advantage of. It also helps the client see the multitude of areas that the advisor is supervising. But the checklist is more than just a tool for efficiency; it can facilitate a powerfully positive client experience.
The Superpower of a Checklist
That same advisor shared a conversation he’d recently had with a client couple, who had been with his practice for just over a year. At the annual review, he presented their financial planning checklist and said, “I’m really excited to share this with you today. We’ve completed the major tasks to set up your financial plan and get you organized. All of your line items are green!” (His checklists are coded green for complete, yellow for pending and red for urgent.)
As the couple reviewed the checklist, the wife started to cry. When the advisor asked what was wrong, she replied, “Oh, no; nothing’s wrong at all. It’s just such a relief to know that everything is in place and we don’t have to worry anymore!”
She was deeply moved by the experience that the advisor had created for her, and she spent several minutes expressing her appreciation. This was a great step forward in the relationship that the advisor facilitated with just a color printout on a simple sheet of paper.
Managing Client Experiences Intentionally
This reaction isn’t surprising. Science can help us understand why these experiences have such an impact on clients and how an advisor can intentionally stimulate these powerful feelings.
For human beings, an experience has three stages: anticipation, participation and reflection.1 For example, clients anticipate their annual review, participate in the meeting and reflect on the meeting afterward. Each stage can be managed intentionally: you can improve each experience so that clients remain happy and refer friends and family members.
Research tells us that we remember an experience as great if it stimulated strong positive emotions that were meaningfully connected to other people.2 From this insight, we can synthesize a short list of guiding principles for experiences that your clients will remember and appreciate:
- Stimulates and engages attention
- Produces positive emotions
- Strengthens the relationship
- Creates meaning
- Promotes confidence and competence
- Enhances feelings of autonomy
Every experience that a client has with his advisor will be reflected on either as great or as something less. Because of this, the prudent advisor sees every client interaction as an opportunity to enhance the relationship, not just as an obligation to fulfill. As you review the list, ask yourself how you can incorporate each action into a client experience.
When you think about the items on the list, remember the various kinds of interactions you have with clients: prospecting, onboarding, maintenance, problem solving, regular reviews, and more. Some of these conversations are rare, while others happen frequently or are inevitable. For those that occur most often, it behooves you to have a clear approach for handling the interaction well.
All of these actions are important. Any one of them can build or break a relationship, depending on your execution. The good news is that every one can be managed intentionally so that each client has a great experience. Even the hard conversations that happen occasionally can be handled so that the client will reflect positively on them.
For practical guidance on how to build your Standard of Care checklist or how to intentionally manage these conversations, visit the AllianceBernstein Advisor Institute or contact your AllianceBernstein Regional Manager.
1 J. Robert Rossman and Mathew D. Duerden, Designing Experiences (2019)
2 Researchers include Martin Seligman, Paul Dolan, Chip Heath and Dan Heath.