Client Experience Program

By: Jim DiCorpo

Each day, your most precious asset, your clients, have experiences with your products, services, relationship teams, and key personnel that can make or break critical business relationships.  Understanding the ongoing health of your client relationships is vital to the sustainability, growth, and profitability of your business. 

As you design your “client experience” program, there are a number of critical issues to keep in mind to create the most valuable research tools that provide you with the deepest insights that drive action.  The following are a few key program characteristics to consider:

NPS and Client Satisfaction

While Net Promoter Scoring has become a standard element in client experience research, I have seen many large-scale firms tend to put the cart before the horse in measuring client sentiment.  It is critical to always remember that NPS is a measurement of loyalty and that loyalty is driven by the client’s level of satisfaction.  I tell clients that the best way to envision this is in using a medical analogy.  NPS is like taking one’s temperature.  It will tell you whether a firm may or may not be in some level of distress.  It is not until one probes with a series of appropriate satisfaction questions (the blood test) that one can actually ascertain what potential illnesses could be impacting client satisfaction and ultimate loyalty. 

It is also important to note that some potential stressor elements may, in fact, illustrate strengths which should instead be exploited in driving your satisfaction and loyalty ratings.  Firms have moved away from using the terminology “client satisfaction” to instead using the expression “client experience” to signal that the research encompasses the holistic experience across services, products, and materials. This broader term can potentially whitewash the term “satisfaction.”  Satisfaction and its drivers are the foundation of your client experience program.

Drivers of Satisfaction – A Pyramid View

Ultimately, if you lay out your survey questionnaire graphically, what you want to see is a pyramid shape.  The peak of the pyramid will be your overall client satisfaction metric (for example, “On a scale of 0-10 where 0 is poor, 5 is neutral, and 10 is excellent, how would you rate your overall satisfaction with FIRM NAME?”).  Under this measure, and through further analysis, you will want to identify five or six key drivers of satisfaction.  Often, in the retirement space, these key drivers are heavily fueled by relationship, which includes the overall “relationship manager” and the “day-to-day contact.”  Next in terms of weight of importance is often “investments,” “communication and education,” and “plan sponsor or participant website.”  Each driver should be assessed for the measurable impact it has on the overall satisfaction score.  Next, under each key driver there are also sub-drivers, and so on.  All of these individually-mapped drivers will create the wide base of the pyramid, which represents your overall set of satisfaction-related questions.  The goal is to understand what is significantly driving each critical element of your service program so that your firm can allocate the appropriate amount of time, money and effort on leveraging the aspects that have the greatest impact on decreasing satisfaction, increasing satisfaction and driving loyalty.

Talk to the Right Audience

Most critical in client experience research is making sure that you are, in fact, speaking to the individuals that know the relationship best and that have the ability to continue or sever it.  In the retirement space, for example, these key contacts most likely include the business President, CFO/Treasurer, and the HR/Benefits Manager, in addition to plan participants or employees.  For smaller firms, one individual may play multiple roles.  These people should be most attuned to your firm’s service delivery.  When assessing a prospect’s client satisfaction survey, I have oftentimes found that firms are collecting survey input from anyone who finds the time and is willing to take a survey.  I have found it best to focus on two contacts: the decision-maker being primary and the day-to-day being secondary.  Both client responses should be used in overall intelligence gathering.  When reporting overall satisfaction scoring to senior leadership, I recommend focusing on the decision-maker score over the day-to-day contact score, which is critical for the relationship management team.  When assessing the overall relationship with your client, all quantitative and qualitative input must be assessed by the relationship manager.

With targeting the “right” audience, it is also important to make sure that if your client service levels are tiered (receiving different service solutions), that you are asking appropriate questions for each tier so that clients are not being asked questions for services or products they may not be receiving. Segmentation of results along these lines is very important.

Capture Insights – Don’t Miss the Opportunity

Client satisfaction research provides a great opportunity to test the environment.  As client satisfaction can readily become a tracker, it is recommended that the survey be evaluated each year to remove questions that are not important for historical tracking.  This opens opportunity for new learnings, even outside of the area of client experience; for instance, you may add a few questions about a new product offering for which you may want to gain some early sentiment from your target audience.  A second area of opportunity is in identifying a few competitive firms in your survey– (if you are aware that you share the client’s share of wallet with a competitor–to obtain some competitive benchmarking on how they perform on a battery of client satisfaction-related probes.  In short, the client survey can be as promising, vital and actionable as you would like it to be.

Be Nimble and Ready to Respond to Emergencies

Much of what drives client satisfaction is the client believing that they are in a strong, proactive, and quickly reactive relationship with their provider.  Critical to maintaining and elevating client satisfaction scores is rapidly responding when an area of dissatisfaction is identified.  Research shows that moments of dissatisfaction can actually provide enormous opportunity to strengthen a relationship that may otherwise have stagnated or declined.  In these moments, a client can witness your commitment to excellence by the speed and dedication by which you respond to their need.  One tool toward taking advantage of these moments of opportunity is having your research provider develop an alert system within your satisfaction survey.  You may identify roughly five questions where a score below “satisfied” triggers your research firm to develop for you a client scorecard deliverable to your research department within 24 hours of survey completion.  The scorecard will give you quantitative and qualitative content on the full survey of the given client, identifying the areas of discontent that triggered the alert.  Potential questions to flag as “alert-worthy” may be overall satisfaction, an NPS in the detractor range, an answer to propensity to RFP that notes the client is planning to take this action, etc. Your research department can then pass along the scorecard to relationship management for immediate rectification.  On the RFP question, you can see how client satisfaction even plays into the sales picture relative to impact on retention rates.

Remediate, Don’t Hesitate

The worst thing for any firm to do is ask their clients how they feel and then shelve the results.  Better is to listen to client input and assess results with leadership to determine corrective courses of action.  Best is to build a formal remediation plan based on generating insight that your research provider can assist you in developing. 

When presenting client satisfaction results to senior leadership, it is far more compelling to start the meeting with a five-minute overview of high-level satisfaction results followed by a 45-minute discussion of remediation plans for major clients.  Remember, if you are working with alert scorecards, you can even explain how a significant amount of remediation may have already been put in place weeks prior to the day that leadership is getting satisfaction results.  This is very powerful!  After a 10-minute Q&A session, leadership can take the client experience results (which have already been presented to relationship management and fully vetted in order to build the remediation plans) and discover the issues that have driven remediation efforts. 

It is equally important to make sure that leadership and relationship management, product management, marketing, finance, etc. have input in remediation and in hearing about areas of significant strength to exploit those opportunities moving forward.  This is why it is imperative to build internal partners from each of these functional areas into questionnaire development from the start.  This builds ownership in results and a framework of what type of insights will be delivered in the final research product.

Done well, client experience (satisfaction) research, whether among sponsors or participants, can be the most rewarding and thrilling of research activities.  Through good methodology, real insights can provide lift in measured scores year to year.  With that, positive impact on client profitability, increased business levels, and opportunity are all at your fingertips.

How Can We Help You…

To learn more today about how Greenwald & Associates, the research partner of choice among leading firms and executives in today’s financial services space, can help you with the design, implementation, analysis and insight creation for your Client Experience (Satisfaction) Program, please contact Jim Di Corpo at: 202-686-0300, ext. 139.

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