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Giving great service: What advisers can learn from the Japanese ethos

Anticipation and forethought can help differentiate your service and your business for clients, says Brett Davidson, MD of FPAdvance. The Japanese have a word for it

I read a great blog from Seth Godin recently on service. It was about the Japanese word ‘omotenashi’. Here’s what the Japantoday.com website had to say:

‘Omotenashi’ is hard to define, but Japanese use it to describe what they believe is their unique approach to hospitality. ‘Omotenashi’ involves the subjugation of self in service to a guest, without being ‘servile’. Anticipating needs is at the heart of the concept; and it is certainly fair to say that in Japan, acting on others’ needs without being asked to do so is at the height of savvy. If, in the course of a service encounter in Japan, you’ve ever been left thinking “How did they think of that?”, you’ve probably been ‘omotenashi’d’.

All too often, businesses that I deal with, inside and outside of financial services, deliver me a service that, to be honest, I’m certain they would resent experiencing themselves.

For example:

• Standing too long at the ‘Wait Here to be Seated’ sign in a restaurant or cafe.

• Waiting at home for the repair person to arrive within the allotted window, only for them to fail to show at all, or arrive several hours later than planned.

• A tradesperson, working at your home for a scheduled week of work, just doesn’t turn up one day with no call, text or email to let you know in advance.

We’ve all been there.

Applying ‘omotenashi’

We could apply the omotenashi approach to a broad range of touch points in the client journey.

Here are a few for starters:

• Your website – is it simple and easy to navigate?

• Making an enquiry – is it responded to promptly and courteously?

• First client meeting – does it challenge the prospective client and excite them?

• Fact finding and data collection – is the process good for your firm, or good for the client?

• When money is being invested – is there a regular stream of communication letting the client know what is going on? Or do they end up ringing you to find out?

• Once the client is onboarded – is there a final call from the adviser or business owner to welcome them to the firm?

By taking some time to think a little more about how you treat people at each step of your process, you could seriously differentiate yourself in the marketplace. And it’s not difficult.

Tech savvy

In most financial planning firms, the client can’t see a snapshot of all their investments online, or via an app. I know there are players out there, like www.moneyinfo.com, that allow advisers to provide that sort of access. However, it’s still not commonplace, which seems nuts in 2018.

The key to using technology effectively is to ensure that it adds value to the customer experience, rather than simply implementing it to lower costs. You might achieve both outcomes, but you have to start with the client experience at the front of your mind. Any savings are a bonus.

There are effective and ineffective uses of technology. Seth Godin describes the airline example:

“In almost everything they do, the airline experience today is inferior to what it was on Pan Am in 1972. Every time the airline gets involved, their efforts to cut costs exceed their commitment to service.

“On the other hand, in the ways that the airlines have given passengers control of their choices (seeing available flights, for example, or choosing their own onboard entertainment), satisfaction has had a chance to increase.”

A ‘nice’ little earner

At each touchpoint in the client journey, is there something ‘nice’ you can do to make it just a little more enjoyable and memorable?

Some simple examples I’ve seen:

• Fresh flowers in the office at reception and in meeting rooms

• Classical music playing softly in a meeting room before the adviser joins the meeting (letting clients settle)

• Staff members meeting clients with an umbrella at the car on a rainy day

The most enjoyable interactions are with staff who are nice people and client focused.

I remember some clients of mine in Australia turned up at 10:00am and mentioned they hadn’t had breakfast to Brenda, my receptionist. While they were waiting she quickly cobbled together a few crackers and some cheese. It was nothing fancy, but they never forgot the effort she went to. Omotenashi.

Communicating more simply

Most communication I see flowing into and out of Financial Planning firms is either paper or email.

Who writes letters anymore in any other area of their lives?

For lots of clients, communication should be faster, shorter and simpler. What’s wrong with a quick text?

Better still, as part of the initial engagement process, ask clients their preferred method/methods of communication and then use those.

Sending a video answer to a question

My wife did an online course recently and was on the VIP version. When she posted a question to the online Facebook group, the course host answered her personally on video and simply posted it to the site. It was shot on an iPhone or iPad quickly and simply.

Have you tried sending your clients a video reply to one of their queries? It’s faster, simpler and more personal than sending them more words.

At your service

We’re in the service business. Ensuring that you and your team spend enough time thinking about and delivering a great service experience is vital. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of believing that your technical skills and delivery are the prime drivers of client satisfaction; they’re not.

Could you use the concept of omotenashi to improve your client service culture?

Give it a try and let me know how you go.

Visit the FPAdvance website

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