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10 key questions to find out what clients really think of you

Business coach and mentor David J Scarlett tells ABR editor Rob Kingsbury that most adviser business owners haven’t got a clue what their clients really think about them and offers a practical strategy and 10 key questions to find out the truth 

Interview

Rob Kingsbury: As part of the process of taking people on board your mentoring programme, you have them answer a 25-point questionnaire. The second question you ask is: How do clients and introducers perceive and describe your business today? How do you find that business owners respond to that question?

David J Scarlett: It looks so innocent a question but actually they often find it a very difficult one to answer when it’s put to themselves and their team. Most business owners that I meet haven’t a clue how existing and potential clients and professional introducers see their business. Some believe they know what clients think about them but when pressed for evidence of that, the evidence is flimsy at best.

More importantly, they’ve often never even thought through what exactly they want their clients to think about them or why they would want them to think certain things about the business.

RK:  How would you recommend that firms find out exactly what people do think of their business? 

DJS: There are two distinct elements to this. Advisers need to know first what clients think of the business and the adviser/owner running that business, and then they need to know what clients think of the quality of the service that the business is delivering.

The business is not just the people, the processes and the profits, it’s also the purposes and the principles that drive the business leader to do what they do and their team to behave in the way that they behave.

The business is an entity that has a purpose, a reason for being alive; principles and ethos and culture that drive it and drive the way the business leaders and the team think; and then it has the processes and the profits that are hoped to be produced within it.

Separately, the service that the business creates and delivers isn’t, as many people perceive it to be, just the technical skills or the reports or the processes or the step-by-step client journey and relationship, it’s what all of those things together deliver to change the life as well as the finances of the client.
I put together a seven step research interview process. Steps 3 & 4 include questions that adviser directors and business owners should ask clients and introducers to really find out what they think the firm is and how they think it works.

What I suggest my clients do, and it was something I practiced when I was a financial adviser, is to set aside time with key clients and introducers for a research interview – and by that I mean, call up those people and ask them to give you advice and counsel. It’s interesting that most clients are mature enough to be receptive to this and when they learn that it’s about you wanting to better your own business they will agree to sit down with you.

This isn’t a quick and easy interview. It takes about an hour to 90 minutes and it involves a series of questions, which I’ve developed and scripted over the years, to find out whether what you believe people may think about your business is actually the way they see it, and what you think your business is doing is what it is really doing.

If you’ve got any of that wrong, then you’re wasting time, energy, money and maybe years of your life running around and investing hours of your living week in things that actually don’t do what you think they’re doing.

10 key questions

RK: Can you tell us what those questions are?

DJS: There are 10 key questions I suggest business owners ask of their clients and introducers as part of the series of questions in the seven step process.

1. Why did you engage us as your advisers?

2. What’s caused you to continue that relationship?

3. What do you think our business does best?

4. What impact do you feel our business and the service we’ve delivered to you over the years has had not just on your money but on your life, and the lives of those you’ve very graciously introduced to us over the years?

5. What do you think we stand for, believe in and are trying to excel in?

This last question tends to throw people but if you sit with them long enough and hold them to that question, they will answer you and in my experience, you’ll be both interested and often surprised by what they tell you. It may not be what you’d want them to think.

The next set of questions is when you get to the heart and soul of what’s going on inside them not inside you. What I teach my clients to ask is this – although they can put it in their own words if they wish:

6. If you were me, and you were running this business, what would you do differently?

7. If you were me, what would you do less of?

8. Is there anything you would do more of or that I don’t yet do?

Then you go to the next stage. You have to go slowly and be patient as you’re asking people to wrestle with quite intimate and unusual questions.

9. If we could provide any other service to you, no matter how wildly different it may sound, what would that service be?

Then you shut up and wait for an answer. And sometimes you don’t get an answer because that person can’t handle the question. But sometimes you get some really interesting responses.

The final question goes quite deep:

10. What would you really, really, really like us to help you to do in your life – if I had a magic wand and I could do anything?

In practice, this seemingly simple question, when asked of advisers, completely throws them. And it does the same to clients and introducers.

But the reason I teach advisers to ask this question is, if you don’t know what your client really, really, really wants in their life then what are you doing playing with their money? Because their money is one of the tools that should help them get what they really, really, really want. And if it isn’t and you don’t understand the answer to that question, you may be doing technically a brilliant job, you may save them tax but here’s my question, what are you doing it for? What are they doing it for? Why are they spending time with you doing all this stuff with money if it doesn’t help them get what they really, really, really want in life?

When you do this research, you’ll find these are questions most clients and introducers have never been asked. They are incredibly memorable and they won’t forget them.

Case study

RK: Can you give an example of how this process has helped an adviser business?

DJS: As an example of this research in action, I gave one of my clients the task of engaging with six solicitors that specialise in a key market. In the space of six weeks she came up with thirteen solicitors, none of whom she’d ever met before. She went to speak to them and rather than do her normal pitch around what her firm offered and her skills and qualifications, we scripted a set of questions based on those I’ve mentioned above.

It took about an hour to interview each solicitor, so this was not an exercise undertaken lightly, but she came away with feedback from ten of those solicitors that said, if you could design your service to include these points, then this is what I’d want for my clients.

So during the course of the next two months she redesigning the business and went back to the ten solicitors and got her first referral a month later. That first referral had assets to invest of over £3million.

By asking that question, if I could design a service that you would truly value, what would it look like, she came away with business she would never have got before.

Yet most advisers I’ve found have never done that because it hurts their ego, it frightens them, it makes them look meek and humble while most advisers want to be seen as top dog and like they have all the answers. Asking these questions makes them feel vulnerable but if they would just take that step, and ask the right questions, they could achieve these kinds of results.

If you don’t find out the answer to the question ‘How do my clients perceive my business and my service?’, I guarantee you that you will work years of your life unnecessarily.

Visit David J Scarlett’s website

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