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Communicating with integrity

Every time a client engages with your company they take away an impression of your business. Jon Pittham, director of ClientsFirst, looks at how effective client communication can help create the right impression.

Living in the Information Age has its advantages –
it is now quicker to spread information than ever before. There is one problem though; we are bombarded with information from multiple channels but have not yet developed the tools to effectively sift through it.

What is needed is the ability to capture the essence of a point
 in a short burst and then enable people to get more information as and when they require it – think about peeling back an onion, with successive layers giving more and more detail. Reliable, consistent and frequent communication is the route to building trust. John Castro, CEO and President for Merrill Corporation, said: “It is difficult, if not impossible, to have effective and productive working relationships without trust.” Trust is critical for every business.

For advisory firms, the written form is still one of the most common methods of communication but the need for advisers to communicate with clients through the media they prefer (email, SMS, print, phone and web) is becoming an increasingly critical factor in nurturing relationships.

Moments of Truth

Back in 1984, Richard Normann of The Service Management Group formulated the concept Moments of Truth (MOT), the idea that every interaction your client has with you or your business creates, either directly or indirectly, an MOT on which the client will form or shape his opinion of you or your business.

The basic principle is that when a prospect or client engages
with your business, whether it’s through seeing an advert in the local press, reading your blog, visiting your website, telephoning your offices, connecting with you on LinkedIn or receiving your newsletter (the list goes on), they are participating in a process. That process, as the client or prospect experiences it, is the relationship with your business and from their point of view there is nothing else. Every MOT will leave an impression and every single interaction is a potential point of failure.

Think about your cycle of service (see diagram left). It starts even before an individual picks up the telephone or visits your website. MOTs are being created all around us from the advertisements we see in the media, blog posts we read or
a conversation we have with someone over coffee. You can’t anticipate or control MOTs, they just happen, but it is how you can influence the potential outcome of the situation.

Research suggests that you should touch your clients between 12 and 20 times per year. With the advent of the web and shift
of control from the business to the client, the need to clearly map out and manage the entire client relationship at all touch points has become paramount. Underlining the importance of creating effective touch points
is the need to avoid disgruntled clients becoming business detractors – communicating any disappointment on YouTube, Facebook and other highly visible social networks.

What is clear is that it is not just the large, well known parts of marketing that create client touch points but also the small processes that you do every day, such as picking up the phone, writing an email or sending a document. The challenge for a lot of advisory businesses is to define which of these MOTs carry more weight and impact most on fostering the right relationship, and which are in a supporting role that may have little or no influence on the relationship.

First impressions

We have all heard the saying that ‘you don’t get a second chance
at a first impression’ and when it comes to design, nothing could be truer. A great first impression is a step in the right direction to securing a client and forming an ongoing business relationship. It is also often the first opportunity prospective clients have to form an opinion of your business. They may pick up your business card, read one of your brochures or visit your website; you have to look good. People do judge a book by its cover – and how your firm presents its services is an indicator of the tangible value of those services – so good design is essential.

In today’s world, a website will often be the first port of call. Even if the individual has come via a referral they will often go online to find out more. The first few seconds that the visitor spends on your website is crucial. It’s important to remember that you are in a people business, what you are selling is you, and the end goal is to create a trusted relationship.

If the prospective client is impressed by your website then
a phone call may follow. The telephone is still one of the most common points of contact for an advisory business, which is why the way your phone is answered will shape your client’s impression of your business. It is important
to be warm and enthusiastic
on the telephone. Your voice is sometimes the only impression of your business a caller will get.

Personal interaction

Findings from a study undertaken earlier this year in the US, found that while communications like telephone, email and (to a lesser extent) video conferencing have changed the way advisory businesses communicate with clients, they have stripped away the personal interaction needed to build trust – “technology has made us much more efficient but less effective”. As an advisory business, face-to-face meetings with clients remain key in strengthening relationships and building trust. Of course 12 face-to-face meetings a year would be unachievable for many reasons, which is why there are still numerous ways to touch the client, all of which play their part in maintaining and growing the relationship.

Regular communication in the form of a monthly eNewsletter or an ad hoc eShot, for example, is your chance to touch your clients by communicating about your business and your people. It’s an opportunity to share the culture and values of your business
and react quickly on important issues. Most communications distributed by advisory firms tend to be technical in nature but your clients trust you to cut through the noise and provide valued opinion and insight. By providing regular communication you are demonstrating that you care and have your clients’ best interests at heart.

As economic uncertainty has raised anxiety levels amongst clients, advisory businesses continue to be encouraged to make changes in the way they communicate with clients and this includes using a variety of traditional communication channels, as well as social media to allay any fears. As Microsoft chairman Bill Gates once said: “The need to communicate with your customers will come up again and again.”

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