Part Seven of Abbie Tanner’s Marketing Innovation Engine™ Programme: Perfecting Your Client Communications Strategy
How often do you communicate with your existing clients, prospects or professional connections? Ad do you have a structured communications strategy that will ensure that they remain informed, engaged and an advocate over time?
In today’s dynamic environment, it’s imperative that you maintain regular contact with your clients, prospects and wider business network. The best way to achieve this is to undertake a Client Experience Audit (more on this later), then formulate an action plan to maximise the frequency and effectiveness of each ‘touch point’ thereby increasing overall engagement.
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More and more evidence suggests that there is a link between client engagement (overall client experience) and the financial success of a company. When was the last time you looked at the touch points within your business? What if you could re-engineer and refine your process to positively enhance all client interactions?
So what exactly do I mean by a ‘touch point’? A touch point is any interaction or encounter that can influence a client’s perception of your product, service or brand.
Touch points may be intentional (a letter or email) or unintentional (a review posted in an online discussion forum). They can occur long before a client actually decides to work with you. Successful financial planning businesses engineer their client experience to reinforce value at every touch point – viewing it as a competitive advantage and key point of differentiation.
Where Should You Begin?
My recommendation is to start with a Client Experience Audit. This involves identifying all of the touch points you currently have with your clients or prospects and mapping the overall experience from the very first interaction with your business or brand.
Consider the following: how do prospects or professional connections find out about you? What do they see if they search for you online? Who answers the phone when they call to make an appointment? What is sent in advance of a first meeting? Write it all down and consider the positive changes you can make to maximise the impact of each interaction.
In a traditional financial advisory business, the focus would have been on making a ‘sale’ with little thought or planning for ongoing communications or service. Conversely, the modern day financial planning firm will create a long-term contact strategy, keeping the individual informed and engaged over time.
Aim for 12 Touch Points per Year
My rule of thumb is to plan at least twelve proactive touch points per year, per client. This does not simply mean sending a monthly printed or email newsletter. It involves looking across all mediums and creating meaningful interactions that reinforce your value proposition. Engaged clients not only lead to repeat business (via increased share of wallet) but also increased referrals.
As with every initiative you undertake, first understand the wants and needs of your target audience. If you’re starting with a blank piece of paper and preparing a client communications strategy from scratch, ask your clients about the interactions they most value and what they’d like to hear from you.
Conduct a survey to understand your clients preferred communication channels. Ask questions like: What is your usage of email and Social Media? Do you prefer to receive information through the post? How frequent is too frequent?
Often financial planners assume an older client base is less likely to want to communicate over email. In actual fact, research indicates the fastest growing demographic for Facebook and other Social Media channels are those aged 50 and over.
Look at Touch Points Across All Channels and Mediums
Consider in-person interactions (review meetings, seminars and events), client service (surveys, telephone based support), PR, mail shots (newsletters, statements, reports) and online interactions (email, website, blog, Social Media). Make sure that you are consistent in your messaging, branding and style/design.
Before you commit to creating any form of regular communication andhaving researched your client’s needs, prepare a mock-up (taking note of the best sources of content and the time involved to create the final material) and then gather feedback from a small selection of your best clients. Use this to refine your communication and put a plan in place to ensure you can deliver it on an ongoing basis. I can assure you that you will not get momentum behind your communications strategy if it is onerous and time consuming to develop each piece.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Leverage available content wherever possible. There are a myriad of articles, forums and commentary available online and through the providers you work with. Look at how you can refine and repackage this content to meet your needs (compliantly and without falling foul of copyright laws, of course).
A word of warning: if you are using third party content, make sure that you personalise it by topping and tailing it with your own messaging. If you simply cut and paste from another resource you are at risk of looking lazy.
Don’t think that you only need to communicate on financial services-related issues. Consider the interests and passions of your clients and how can you tap into what they enjoy. Topics I’ve used in newsletters for our financial planners’ clients include ‘how to spend it’, ‘where to travel to this month’ and ‘our favourite foodie websites and blogs’.
Perhaps include a case study to illustrate the positive outcome you’ve achieved for a client, reinforcing the comprehensive services you provide. The client will feel valued that you asked them to contribute, further increasing engagement (and the likelihood they’ll refer) and those who receive the communication will see the breadth of your service offering.
Get Them Talking About You
What about your activity in the community? Clients like to see a personal, approachable side to your business. Is anyone on your team raising money for charity? Are you training for an event? Do you sponsor a local sporting club?
If you create a content structure and process for developing regular communications, you can prepare articles in advance. A project plan, with deadlines, will ensure you maintain a standard frequency (and expectation) for when communications will be delivered. Be mindful of how it will be perceived if you commit to an initiative and then abandon it when you find you can’t deliver.
Below is a succinct step-by-step guide for origination your own content and managing your communications plan.
Your Step-by-Step Communications Plan
Once you have researched the topics of most interest to your intended audiences (clients, prospects and professional connections) and established how many communications you intend to create over the next twelve months, compile a succinct list.
For example, you might decide that you will create twelve communications which you will ‘publish’ (on your blog, social media channels, in a local publication or printed newsletter) on the tenth business day of each month.
Without a content plan, the following is likely to occur: you will sit down at your computer on the ninth business day (because you’ve been too busy to look at it until then) and open a blank word document. The curser will flash, in anticipation of your first few words.
Your mind goes blank. You don’t have a clue what to write. You get up, possibly make a cup of tea, then come back. The cursor continues to flash. You decide to surf the web in search of inspiration. Before long you’ve wasted an inordinate amount of time and are still no further ahead. You’re tempted to give up. Sound familiar?
A content plan will keep you focused and make the creative process easy, so easy in fact you might start to enjoy it. All you need to do is:
- Create your master list of topics you will cover
- Create a series of folders on your computer, each one with the name of the individual topic you will write about
- Diarise dates and times in your calendar (no more than a 2 hour slot per piece), with each ‘appointment’ carrying the name of the topic you will be addressing
- During the course of any typical business day keep your topics in mind. Whenever you find a relevant resource (article, website link, eNewsletter) add it to the respective folder
- On the allocated day, at the allotted time, open the relevant folder and re-read the content your have captured. Use this for inspiration, and get writing.
Using this approach you will never struggle to find the topic or words for your communications piece. Best of luck!