Service businesses can be tough for many reasons. One of the biggest is that when they do their jobs and deliver the promised service, people rarely notice: it’s just expected they'll do so. But should they fail to deliver all or even part of what’s expected, that's a whole different story.
I was reminded of these almost “no win” situations this morning, when I opened a letter from my internet provider CenturyLink. I’m not sure that internet providers technically qualify as “service companies,” but from my perspective, CenturyLink is providing a service to me: one that I take for granted when they do. And because I’m able to work from my home largely because of the internet, I get pretty cranky about it when they occasionally don’t provide said service due to a system problem or a lightning strike, etc. (we get a lot a lightning up here in the mountains of New Mexico).
No, before you start writing comments, I should also disclose that I do have two backups for when CenturyLink lets me down: the “hotspot” on my cell phone (which is expensive to use), and a cellular modem that is much cheaper. Still, neither is a fast as my T2 landline, which doesn’t help my attitude toward CenturyLink when I have to use one of those backups.
'We appreciate your business'
I told you all that so that you can understand my state of mind as I was going through this morning’s mail and discovered a letter from CenturyLink. The envelope was too thin to be my monthly bill, so my first thought was to wonder whether I neglected to pay my bill last month: But I was pretty sure that I did, right? My second thought was that they were raising their rates.
In any event, there didn’t seem to be much upside, so I opened the letter with some trepidation. Here’s what it said: “Thank you for choosing CenturyLink for your high-speed internet service. We understand that most households have ever-increasing needs for more internet speed on their home networks. Because we value you as our customer and appreciate your business, we have automatically increased your internet speed from 12 Mbps to 20 Mbps at no additional charge.”
Talk about surprised! You could have knocked me over with a power cord. But I won’t forget it: and chances are, the next time my internet goes does, I won’t get as upset about it. More important to CenturyLink, I’ll most certainly tell other people about it.
But that’s not why I’m telling you about it. I mention it here because the advisory business is, of course, a service business. And it has some advantages over other service businesses, such as claim payouts, which are not always taken for granted by clients — but certainly can be.
Surprise clients every now and then
Which is why I thought I’d take this opportunity to remind you that many successful advisory firms strengthen their client relationships by surprising their clients every now and then, with kind gestures that are above and beyond ordinary client services.
Related: The secret to client retention
I’m not talking about tickets to the Super Bowl here (not that some clients wouldn’t be pleasantly surprised with such an offering). But even small, inexpensive gestures can leave a lasting impression. Flowers on a wedding anniversary a card and/or flowers on birthdays or simple congratulations on a promotion or the graduation of child or grandchild are all easy for advisors to since they have, or should have, all that information in their files. Tickets to local events, especially those that would be of interest to particular clients, will not be forgotten. Major holidays are always a good excuse for a small gift.
I think it’s true that professional perks (like CenturyLink boosting my internet speed), will get most clients’ attention. How about adding a new service, and then offering it to existing clients for no additional charge? Ideally, what you’re looking for are things that will so impress your clients that they will tell other people about them — not necessarily because of their cost, but because of the thought behind them.
Personal gestures make for stronger relationships
I’ve heard stories of clients whose advisors had made them millions of dollars but what they talk about is the gift the advisor sent when their daughter graduated from college, or the opera tickets sent for a wedding anniversary. The services that businesses provide — even financial services — can seem like impersonal commodities: Personal gestures make for much stronger relationships.
Bob Clark is a former editor of Investment Advisor and Financial Planning magazines, and the long-time editor-at-large for Investment Advisor. Email him at email@example.com. Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own.
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