It seems likely that 2020 will be remembered, in part, as the year when digital communications became the norm. The rapid shift to remote work and restrictions on in-person meetings brought on by the pandemic made this change largely universal. Considering the massive shift in communication channels, one of the more surprising findings in Redtail Technology’s July Working Remotely survey was that advisers’ top communication challenge remained largely unchanged from the previous year.
This year, 50.8% of respondents named customizing communication for different clients as their No. 1 communication challenge, which was only slightly higher than the results for the same question in Redtail’s 2019 AdvisorComms survey, in which 45% of respondents said this was their No. 1 communication challenge.
Clearly the challenge of customizing content for different audiences isn’t going away. So how do you begin to address it? Careful planning and taking time to develop a long-term solution to address this longstanding problem should yield positive results.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, there are strategies that advisers can use to customize content if they are willing to invest the time, make effective use of technology, and track the types of client data that allow for spontaneous and creative outreach efforts.
We’ll provide a few tips that have proven successful for other offices looking to tailor their client communication.
1. Customized communication begins with a plan. To begin addressing the challenge of customizing content, you’ll do well to first map what you are currently doing. Some questions you might consider when evaluating the current state of your communications are:
- What are all of the communication channels you use with clients?
- How do you use each of them?
- Are you underutilizing any available channels?
- What types of communication do you send on a scheduled basis and which types do you send sporadically, or as a specific need arises?
- Are you in regular contact with each of your clients throughout the year?
- Do you have a way of tracking those points of contact?
That’s a lot to think about, but these questions are only a starting point; before you can decide how to move forward, you need a firm grasp of your current efforts.
Once you have all of this information, decide on the type of customization you’d like to engage in moving forward. Do you want to celebrate client milestones by phone, email, or in another way? Could you do a better job of sharing third-party articles you read with the segments of your client base that would find them relevant? Can text messaging be incorporated for simple points of contact? Is there a place for handwritten notes in specific situations that call for a more personal touch? Are more organic outreach efforts based upon non-business-related topics in order?
Again, these are just questions to get the ball rolling. Strategize how you want to communicate with clients and base your customization on this plan. Talk it over with others in your office, with your peers, or even with clients with whom you have particularly strong relationships.
If you map out a communication calendar based on what has been successful in the past and what you believe will make a difference in the future, it will be easier to hold yourself accountable for making sure you’re hitting those customization targets moving forward. As you see what works and what doesn’t, you can always refine your communication plan further.
2. Use your CRM in support of your communication plan. Your customer relationship management system can be a helpful tool both in terms of client segmentation for purposes of the outreach you plan, and to define and systematize your communication processes.
This all begins with making sure the client data in your CRM is up-to-date and accurate. It’s also crucial that you take advantage of opportunities your CRM provides for tracking more individualized data about each client: their interests, hobbies, favorite restaurants, memberships, etc.
Your CRM can also serve as a home for the processes that define how you will go about your communication efforts. This doesn’t mean all communication will be carried out from the CRM; it means you can use a combination of CRM tools like workflows, activities and automations to trigger client communications from you or someone on your staff. Once all of your regularly scheduled communications are mapped out and assigned, it becomes much easier to make sure they occur at the time and in the manner intended.
3. Spontaneous outreach can build goodwill too. Don’t be scared of a good old-fashioned check-in email! We’re all busy, and an hour-long phone call is not always the most convenient (for you or your clients). Still, your client relationships can be strengthened by a simple check-in, even if it’s just to let them know you’re thinking of them.
A best practice you can fold into your communication plan is to periodically run reports in the CRM to see which clients have fallen outside of the time frame you think appropriate for a point of contact. For those who have, at the very least send them a “how are you?” note. There doesn’t always need to be a reason to connect; your clients will likely appreciate receiving a note in which no one is asking anything of them. As a bonus, it keeps you top of mind.
BE CREATIVE BASED ON YOUR CLIENT DATA
The suggestions above are intended only as jumping-off points. Yes, you need a plan and you need to map out your communication process, but how and what you communicate will vary widely based upon your communication style and the different client segments you serve.
What’s important for maintaining customized communication with your clients over time is being committed to it. Think of the threads of your communication with your clients as ongoing conversations, meant to build rapport and trust. Take advantage of the different communication channels available to you to broaden those conversations. At the same time, bear in mind you should segment your audience based upon all the data you maintain about them so that you’re having the right conversations with the right clients at the right time. After all, your customized communication efforts are only successful if your clients perceive them as relevant and, as a result, they strengthen your client bonds.
Remember, you know your clients best. The client data your office maintains, together with your creativity and a solid action plan, are the key ingredients to sparking new conversations and building upon old ones that will foster stronger long-term client relationships.
David Mehlhorn is director of sales at Redtail Technology.
As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.