By John Simone
I spend a lot of my time sitting in airplanes traveling between client meetings. The good thing about this is it gives me a lot of time to catch up on my reading and think about my clients.
One of my favorite authors is Simon Sinek. In his book, Start with Why, Sinek writes about the concept of “understanding” and the importance of looking at why we do things, versus the “what” and “how” of delivering products and services to clients.
While sitting on the runway wondering if I would make my connection home, I took a step back and reflected on this concept in the context of looking at the business I’m responsible for. I realized that our “why” is centered on being transparent, placing a high value on capital efficiency and eating our own cooking. Most critical is the understanding that we can never lose focus on being a great steward of client capital nor forgetting that we are managing someone else’s money.
In the financial services industry, the trend seems to be moving away from that client-centric, customized model and toward providing a range services that delivers as many solutions as possible to answer any need a client might have. In other words, instead of creating a unique shopping experience that caters to the individual client, our industry is creating a virtual big-box store offering everything under the sun.
Often these organizations are missing the “why.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with delivering a wide variety of products to meet changing consumer needs. But, in my opinion, without having a clear set of principles and core values behind your product decisions and a clear understanding of “why you do what you do,” clients are often left with solutions which lack the personal connection needed to create powerful, long-term relationships that can endure the ups and downs of economic and market cycles.
In other words, it’s not just being able to offer the cheapest or the most products, but it’s making the commitment to invest in the relationship and keeping the lines of communication open in good times, and more importantly, during bad.
Difficult conversations happen all the time when solutions aren’t properly communicated. But if financial professionals are very clear with why they do things and they build their brand based on this philosophy, they stand a much better chance of reducing the risk of having an unhappy client.
Measuring Client Happiness
Measuring client happiness is simple. My guiding metric is 100 percent client satisfaction. Would every client be willing to be a reference? The day that one of our clients within a product solution cannot be considered a reference is the day we stop the presses and fix the problem.
You may say you can’t please everyone all the time. I would agree with you if you didn’t connect on “why you do things” upfront. But when you do, you create loyalty through thick and thin because you share the same beliefs.
Just think about all the people you know who love the Grateful Dead, for example. The band has changed members many times but Deadheads will always show up to the next show on the road. That’s loyalty among fans who share the same beliefs with the band.
Many of us have been taught to research our clients before we meet with them, then take time to understand their needs and deliver solutions to meet those needs. What we often forget to do as part of this process is to connect with a client on the why. Why do we do what we do and what we believe in are often forgotten in early conversations. But it’s critical to connect on these “whys” immediately.
For example, if we believe in capital efficiency as a company and we meet with a client who doesn’t care about maximizing their return on capital, we may not be as successful in winning business with this client as with someone who does.
The other important lesson I learned is that it’s OK to let the client go someplace else. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and an even harder one to be comfortable with. Let’s face it, nobody likes to lose. But some clients just aren’t a good match and that’s OK! As odd as it may sound, I would always take this opportunity to recommend other advisors who can better match this client’s why.
Recommending another institution is part of my why or belief system, which is centered on helping clients regardless of whether we have an immediate economic benefit. Service means service. In the long run, I believe good guys will always finish first.
I encourage other firms to find their why and find clients who connect with their why. If they don’t connect, then do the unthinkable and help them find someone or something that does, regardless of whether it is your own firm or another. At the end of the day, you and your organization should have one goal – just make sure the client wins!
John Simone, CFA, is head of insurance solutions for Voya Investment Management and is responsible for delivering broad investment management and advisory services to insurance companies. John may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.