Jalina Kerr is the managing director of client experience for Schwab Advisor Services.
Kerr began her career at Schwab in 1994 on the Advisor Services trading desk. During her tenure at Schwab, Kerr has held roles in client service delivery, operations, advisors in transition, strategy, and technology. She spoke with Action! magazine about what RIAs can do to deliver a digital experience that engages the client. Her question for RIAs: “What is your digital reception like?”
IMAGINE YOU’RE THE HEAD OF A MID-SIZED RIA PRACTICE. WHAT GOALS ARE YOU SETTING TO HELP YOUR FIRM FOCUS ON DELIVERING A GREAT CLIENT EXPERIENCE?
JALINA KERR: Exceptional client experience is a carefully calibrated combination of people and technology. From that vantage point, there are a few areas that are important for RIAs to consider:
- Create efficiencies and build scale into your operations – By assessing the business at a granular level, integrating new capabilities and technologies, and bridging gaps where inconsistencies exist, firms can create more efficiencies and, as a result, spend more time working with their clients. In fact, Schwab’s 2023 RIA Benchmarking Study shows that top-performing firms focusing on strategies that create efficiencies spend around 20% less time annually per client on operations (13 hours) and about 10% more time per client (31 hours) on client service.
- Look for ways to uplevel the digital experience – We’ve seen so much progress in terms of digital adoption. Still, there is always more that can be done, especially when it comes to doing better for clients and creating experiences that feel seamless. Getting people to embrace digital tools and workflows isn’t about using technology for technology’s sake. It is about making a measurable impact for employees and clients in their everyday interactions.
- Humanize the process – Without the right approach, many experiences within financial services can feel transactional, disconnected, and cold. So, it is essential for those looking to enhance the client experience to methodically drive end-to-end process improvement built on your commitment to clients. Advisors depend on the creation of lasting relationships built on trust and an ability to serve as a constant during times of volatility and uncertainty. When the experiences you curate underscore that commitment, it will not only strengthen the relationships you have today but also set the bar for satisfying the clients and relationships of tomorrow.
While data can be your best friend when trying to troubleshoot and better service from an analytical standpoint, marrying data to client feedback is pivotal.”
HOW DO YOU TALK TO YOUR TEAM AFTER IT RECEIVES GOOD ADVISOR CLIENT FEEDBACK – AND WHEN THERE’S NEGATIVE FEEDBACK?
KERR: Feedback is the lifeblood of any client experience or client service role. All feedback — positive and negative - teaches us about what our clients need and whether we are meeting their expectations.
WHAT METRICS DO YOU RELY ON TO TRACK HOW WELL YOUR TEAM IS EXECUTING ON CLIENT REQUESTS?
KERR: We are constantly checking in on the progress of our projects, assessing efficiency, and identifying ways in which we can do better. The metrics vary greatly based on the deliverable, but generally, we are looking at access to point-of-entry diagnostics on the user experience within the portal or channel, response time, ease of completion and the sentiment of feedback.
Often, we view data as a means to answer questions, yet an even more powerful application is utilizing data to ask the right questions, especially when it is used to drive process improvement or experiential change. While data can be your best friend when trying to troubleshoot and better service from an analytical standpoint, marrying data to client feedback is pivotal. Data has limitations in that it cannot fully represent the experience someone has or the way it made them feel during the process – good or bad. Firms must listen, learn, and grow when they receive feedback. Doing so will build trust and strengthen relationships.
ADVISORY FIRMS SPEND A LOT OF TIME CURATING THE CLIENT IN-PERSON EXPERIENCE. HOW DO THEY BRING THAT SAME ATTENTION TO DETAIL IN THEIR DIGITAL EXPERIENCE?
KERR: Since the opening of the first advisor office, the in-person experience has been very carefully managed. A friendly reception upon arrival, comfortable but professional décor, hospitality, etc. That type of experience became so ingrained into the business that it was nearly impossible to fathom it being done any other way.
The pandemic gave the world no other choice but to find out how. Overnight, advisors needed to keep the lights on and their relationships strong; they needed to think about the digital experience the same way as the in-person experience. What is your digital front door/reception like? Can clients comfortably navigate digital pathways to find what they need? What serves as the long-awaited high-five when a life milestone is achieved?
Over time, through lots of tests and trials, firms found that digital experiences can actually offer comparatively more opportunities for enhanced and personalized experiences than ever before. In addition to the advancements technology brings to the business, there are countless opportunities to connect and communicate.
WHEN YOU EXAMINE THE DIGITAL EXPERIENCE AN ADVISORY FIRM PROVIDES ITS CLIENTS, WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU ARE LOOKING FOR?
KERR: I consider it “hitting the mark” when the experience is designed in such a way that the client can seamlessly navigate without interruption or channel confusion, quickly identify what they are looking for, and get support when they need it. When I think about my experiences in the retail world, I’ve become attuned to these experiences being curated based on my personal interests, whether that be on their website, in the emails they share, or via their social presence. We naturally expect the same from digital experiences in any other area of our lives.
HOW DOES A FIRM BALANCE THE CLIENT'S NEED FOR REAL-TIME SELF-SERVICE AND INFORMATION WITH THE EXPECTATION OF READY ACCESS TO HANDS-ON CARE AND SUPPORT?
KERR: The answer: constantly. The advisor/client relationship is a dynamic one. People’s lives and needs are constantly changing. Therefore, part of being successful with clients is being able to find and adjust the balance between quick self-service access and hands-on advice.
A great way to ensure that this balance is maintained is to create key business indicators that will highlight places where friction or unmet needs are beginning to emerge. Cycle times, rework trends, and client satisfaction can all help unearth opportunities in setting up the right support ecosystem. Understanding people’s digital behavior in your various channels and marrying that to themes emerging from client listening posts can help identify points of friction and set your firm on a continuous improvement path.
WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF A SATISFY- ING AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE, FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE?
KERR: The most satisfying aesthetic experience is one that is friction-free and feels like it is tailor-made for me. The key here is to take the time to understand what your unique client set needs and expects and tailor the experience from there. What information do these clients most often want? How often are they checking their investments? Do they prefer to do so on a computer, a tablet, or their phone? How tech-savvy are they in general? Answering these questions allows advisors to pinpoint which investments to make and how to prioritize them, in turn creating a more customized digital experience for their clients, versus taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
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