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Maximize the Impact of Client Surveys

Surveys are important, so take your time and do them the right way.

Helen Modly, 10/14/2010

As we all hunkered down during the financial crisis, maybe we were a bit reluctant to ask too many questions of our clients. Now is an excellent time to use a thoughtfully designed survey to get your clients thinking about the value that you provide.

Many believe that a client survey is all about finding out what your clients think, and that is a primary reason to conduct a survey. But how you survey and what questions you ask can tell your clients a lot about what you think is important and reinforce your values as an advisor. At the very least, a survey is a great way to let clients know you care, and it's an efficient way to reach out to your entire client base at once. If your survey asks intelligent questions and offers clients the opportunity for free expression versus choosing from one to 10, it demonstrates that you are really interested in their experiences with and opinions about your firm.

You will learn what your strengths and weaknesses are from the client's point of view, and it lets you know what your clients value most in your relationship. It will also let you know where you need to improve or what services you should consider offering or dropping.

While we all hope to be perceived as brilliant financial managers, it may be your accessibility and genuine concern for your client's welfare that sets you apart in your client's mind. You may discover that your office music makes it hard for older clients to hear you, careless office chatter causes them to question your commitment to confidentiality, or that your voice mail system makes some of your clients want to punch the wall.

The client survey can be done online or by mail and it doesn't need to be long or elaborate. In fact, the longer the survey the less likely the client will fill it out.

Written Surveys
Written surveys work well for high-touch firms, small firms, family offices, or for those serving an older client base. These questions can be open ended. Our firm uses a cover letter explaining that we would like help in improving our service, a short questionnaire (typically six or seven questions), a stamped return envelope, and the enticement of a drawing for dinner at a nice restaurant. Here are some of the questions we have used:

1. Do you feel that we are accessible and responsive to your needs and concerns? If not, please elaborate.
2. What problems have you experienced with us or your custodian? Do you feel that we are proactive in getting problems solved when they occur?
3. Do you feel that your money is invested appropriately based upon your goals and objectives? Do you feel that your portfolio's performance has been reasonable considering the amount of risk you have assumed?
4. Do you feel the information provided on your quarterly performance report is accurate and relevant? Is the format understandable? Is there any additional information you would like to see included in this report?
5. Would you prefer to receive this report annually and "on demand" when you want it, rather than automatically every quarter?
6. What do you value most about your relationship with our firm?
7. Please share with us any other comments on your experience as our client.

Since we are mailing the surveys to our clients, anonymity is not really possible. We want our clients to be direct and open with us so that we can personalize our response and make adjustments that are specific to each relationship.

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