Allow me to be a fanboy for a moment. I've looked up to everyone in the XY Planning Network since the beginning and I will shamelessly admit to squealing like a little kid when I was asked to write this post.
XYPN members Katie Brewer, Mary Beth Storjohann, Brittney Castro, and Eric Roberge are celebrities in our house -- as is, of course, Network co-founder Alan Moore. All of the members are game-changers and it's an honor to have joined the ranks in February. Moving on...
My name is Stephen Alred Jr. I am the founder of Ignite Financial, a financial planning firm geared towards millennials and young professionals. I want to explain the immense value of creating a client service calendar to enhance your client experience.
A great client experience will enhance your prospecting efforts because it helps differentiate yourself from other financial professionals, occupying more mindshare of your clients (which makes them more likely to refer you), and will ease pricing objections when going for the close.
What Is a Client Service Calendar?
I define a client service calendar as a physical (or digital) deliverable that you give to prospects to explain exactly what you will do for them. My firm has three core service offerings and we designed different service calendars for each one detailing the first year financial planning process.
If you've done your research when creating your service calendar, you can break it down as far as you want. For my target market, I broke down the first 8 weeks, then began to "zoom out" as the year progresses.
This helps in three ways:
- It won't completely overwhelm your client (your service calendar should be two pages max).
- It gives you flexibility later in the year to anticipate for ad hoc requests, illness, vacation time, or impromptu family time.
- If your client's financial priorities are in a different order than your service calendar, you can shift some things around after your "mandatory" tasks are completed.
What You Can Accomplish by Building Your Own
There are three main things that I believe building a well-researched service calendar will accomplish:
Incentivizes clients to stick around for the first year: I wouldn't advise you sell your services as a relationship that is anything less than a lifetime, but clients will question you publicly and privately about the value you provide for the fees you charge.
I just read a post on Reddit about a client questioning an advisor's recommendations and saw almost a hundred responses, from people they didn't know, weighing in. This is the world we live in and you must be prepared to answer your client and anyone they ask with the value you actually provide.
Client service calendars accomplish this by showing the minimum of exactly what the client will get, year around, no exceptions.
Manages expectations and trains your clients on how to use your services: Ignite Financial operates on a transparent, tiered fee structure. This wasn't on accident. It is to allow people to self-select and manage their own expectations.
The underlying reason most people don't like their advisor or fire them is because the advisor didn't manage expectations or teach their clients how to use their services. So, I created something that will do both in the service calendar for Ignite.
Shows your client the value your firm adds to their life: Advisors tend to severely over-estimate how much their clients perceive the value their services add to their clients’ lives. I believe the only reason that many clients stay with their advisor is because they think a jump to a different one will take a lot of their time and require paperwork.
But, if you follow through with what you stated in the service calendar for the previous year, there will be no question in your client's mind that you have added value.
Which brings me to a side note on this topic. Some will tell you to underpromise and overdeliver. Don't do this. I repeat: do not sandbag your clients. If you throw out a lackluster service calendar that will allow you to remain comfortable, another firm's service calendar will destroy you when compared apples-to-apples. Then your client will become their client.
How to Use This Tool
There are a plethora of uses for a client service calendar, but I'll use the reasons that resonate for our firm:
Manage expectations of your prospects: Again, you don't want your clients to fire you because they thought that they were going to get more meetings, more planning work, fewer e-mails, and so on. The calendar clearly explains what you’ll do and so they can clearly understand what to expect.
Use as a self-selection tool: This ties into number one. In the sales process, you want to make sure you spend the least amount of time with unqualified prospects as possible. They either aren't a fit for you or you aren't a fit for them.
If they push back on the value you provide, there is a chance you will always be defending your fees during each interaction with them. Use the service calendar as a self-selection tool before they ever sign on the dotted lines.
Recruit clients from other firms: Most clients don't know what their advisors do when they aren't in front of them at the annual review (which can be up to 364 days "in the dark"). Think about the last time you met someone you could serve well within your firm who said, "I have an advisor, so I'm good."
You don’t have to just walk away. Instead, you can say, "That’s great! Then I won't try to sell you on my firm. But I’d love to get your advice -- I want to increase the value I add to my clients' lives, and would love to know what your advisor does that inspires such loyalty. Do you think you could share what they have on their service calendar?"
Keep all of your staff on the same page: If you have staff, a client service calendar will ensure that your workflow is seamless and efficient. Everyone knows that the Luthor family has a review of their employee benefits coming up in August, Mr. Wayne has a stock option review coming up in two weeks, and that Mr. and Mrs. Kent need to review the progress towards their financial goals in October. There are no surprises.
Make training a new hire easy: Depending on the size of your client base, there should be zero twiddling of your new hire's fingers. A client services calendar pushes them into the deep end because your CRM's automatic workflows should be triggering new tasks every day. They know what's coming before they even come onboard (and you can even recruit based on this training model).
Why I Created Client Service Calendars for My Firm
Being a process-oriented person played a large role in why I created a service calendar deliverable for Ignite Financial. Another factor is that I think of my firm differently than most firm owners.
To me, my firm is a startup that happens to live out its mission and vision through financial planning services. For others, they are financial planners who happen to own a business.
With my firm being a startup, I took a lot of startup principles and applied them to Ignite. The first being to make your business run as if you were already at scale. The infrastructure (processes, procedures, workflow, technology integration, and so on) should be planned out beforehand with concrete reasons for each.
The benefit of acting as a small firm with a big footprint is that you can switch the growth engine to "on" to hire employees or onboard clients quickly and effectively. Everyone knows it’s much harder to get a new client than to retain one. This principle aims to keep your churn down, you never ever want to chase off clients to onboard a new one.
The second principle I took from startup land is to be ready to scale at a moment's notice. While I've noticed that some advisors in the XY Planning Network are intentionally staying small, I would love for Ignite Financial to serve millions.
It's not a goal I actively chase, but it is something that I have been building toward so that if that day comes, we are prepared.
The third principle I gleaned from startup culture is an emphasis on customer experience (or CX). To me, CX means that everything you do will provide value to your customers and prospects.
A client service calendar checks off all three boxes. It allows your business to act small now, be able to scale by making sure that everyone (internally and externally) stays on the same page, and helps improve CX and therefore increases "stickiness" and referability.
Did I Mention More Referrals?
We’ve talked about the what, why, and how of client services calendars, from how to build your own to what I create my own to look like to why you should even bother. So do you want to know the icing on the cake?
By creating a client service calendar, you literally give your client a referral guideline. In other words, your client has written evidence of what you do and how you do it!
Your client is at a dinner party. The markets aren’t doing too well and become the topic of conversation for all of five minutes (because who wants to talk about investing at a dinner party?).
Your client’s friend says, "I'm not even sure what my advisor does besides update spreadsheets for our annual meeting." Everyone nods around the room except for one: your client.
Your client says, "Ha! What are you paying him for? They have technology that can invest for you! My advisor mapped out the entire first year, and did every single thing he said he would do, when he said he would do it, and then some."
To which your client's colleague says, "Can you send that over to me?"
A chorus of “me toos!” echos around the room.
A well-researched service calendar will minimize the number of times you have to awkwardly ask your clients for referrals. Every time you initiate another task on the service calendar, you will make sure they understand where they are in the calendar, keeping you top of mind, providing value, and occupying mindshare.
It all comes back to CX. A mantra I have ingrained in my Ignite’s procedures and processes is to provide as much value as possible, and then add more value on top of that.
If you make your processes efficient and always focus on providing value in every single interaction a prospect has with your firm, your service calendar will be the close. No "selling" required.
About the Author: Stephen Alred Jr. is the founder of Ignite Financial, a fee-only financial planning firm geared towards millennials. His firm is based out of Atlanta, GA. Stephen got his first taste of the impact financial planning can have on the lives of others during his internship at Dave Ramsey's company, Ramsey Solutions. The rest, as they say, is history. You can connect with him on Twitter at @salred3.