Client communication is becoming increasingly challenging for firms as technology introduces more ways to interact.
We’ve come a long way from the simple phone call or letter.
For example, do you use Slack, Snapchat or Messenger to communicate with clients? Possibly not, but that’s not to say that firms don’t need to adapt and change to remain relevant to clients.
The best way to communicate will of course depend on the audience, but all too often I see advisers underestimate just how technology savvy clients have become, particularly the older demographic.
The very best firms provide clients with a choice, setting preferences at outset and changing this based on the client’s requirements.
Let’s not forget that effective communication is essential.
The advice sector is increasingly being scrutinised and questioned in relation to delivering client value, not least due to the media’s fixation with fees and costs.
Client communication is at the heart of delivering and building the perception of value in the mind of the client, an essential ingredient for a high performing business.
So what communication options are there?
1) Messaging apps
Increasingly used for notifications and short messages, apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are starting to find their place in the communication mix.
Pros: The ability to send files securely. Great for notifications such as confirming a meeting or advising of a new document that's been added to the client’s portal. Apps also have a higher response rate than email.
Cons: A frequent lack of integration with a client relationship management (CRM) system. Also, not all clients will be using apps.
2) Text message
Similar to messaging apps but with less flexibility in terms of sending attachments.
Pros: Great for notifications. Wide user base - anyone with a mobile phone. High response rate.
Cons: Content limited to links and text. Lack of integration with CRMs but more availability than messaging apps.
3) Email newsletter/ snippet
The monthly email newsletter has been around for a while but shows no sign of disappearing, and is the staple communication method for many firms.
The key is to ensure the content is relevant, engaging and provides links to videos and podcasts. Each newsletter usually contains two to four articles.
Pros: Easy to put together (or to outsource). Can be sent to your entire contact database, with different content for different segments if required.
Cons: Can be seen as ‘vanilla’ if thought is not given to the content.
Another option is the weekly or bi-weekly email 'snippet'.
This is a shorter piece or single article sent via an email marketing tool such as MailFirst or Mailchimp. Just one article or insight sent on a more frequent basis can make it easier for the audience to consume.
Pros: Puts the brand in front of the audience more regularly, leading to greater brand engagement. They tend to be easier to read due to only containing a single article.
Cons: Resource required to deliver on a more frequent basis. Can be too frequent for some clients (though usually only a minority).
4) Hard-copy magazine
Increasingly, the company magazine is becoming more lifestyle oriented in terms of content.
When produced well, it's a valuable communication tool as it has a higher engagement rate than email newsletters.
Pros: Can deliver a consistent and compelling brand message to a broad audience. Sets the firm apart as fewer firms use this format.
Cons: Can be expensive; is more cost effective at higher volumes. Done well, on a bespoke basis, they can be resource intensive to produce and distribute.
5) Client events
Events can be a great way to engage with clients, can take a wide range of formats and can be used to deliver corporate messages.
Pros: They are usually very well received by clients when done well. Can deliver a broad range of messages and fulfill a number of things for the business such as introducing team members, attracting new clients, communicating key messages and much more.
Cons: Requires resources and budget to do well.
There’s no ignoring email, the go-to method of 1:1 client communication. That said, it's used less by younger generations, where messaging apps are the preferred method.
Pros: The default communication method for most clients. Ability to send attachments and links. Integrates with most CRMs.
Cons: Not secure. Younger generation using it less.
7) Video calls
A compelling way to communicate with clients where meeting in person is difficult or unwanted.
Used less than it should be, the technology is much improved and includes the ability to record meetings. Video meeting applications include Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype and Facebook Facetime.
Pros: Saves travel time. Can be recorded. Simple to set up.
Cons: Requires a relatively fast internet connection. A few clients may find it challenging adopting the technology.
8) Phone calls
Clearly, phone calls remain an important part of the communication mix and for many clients may be preferred to email. Advisers should be wary of defaulting to email when a phone call would be better and more engaging.
Pros: Can be recorded. Provides the benefit of verbal, human interaction. Often preferred by clients. Can leave a message and follow up by email.
Cons: Busy clients may be difficult to get hold off.
9) Snail mail
The mainstay of client communication, particularly in respect of the delivery of advice. Still plays an important part in respect of compliance and operational process.
Pros: Secure (compared to email). Beneficial to clients where there is a lot of content to digest, such as the planning report. Can be the preferred method for older clients. Higher engagement rate than email.
Cons: Can be costly. Environmental impact - some clients prefer not to receive communications by post wherever possible.
10) Social media
Social media has enabled firms to communicate more regularly to a broader audience.
Messages can be distributed consistently to build brand awareness and engage with the audience. Common platforms are LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Pros: Simple and easy to use. Multiple channels can be managed centrally. Broad distribution and reach when developed over time.
Cons: Takes time to build the audience. Needs managing internally. Lack of control over distribution of the message. Can be done poorly and will have little value if not done well. Requires regular content producing to support delivery.
So there you have a number of ways to communicate with clients.
Which is best will depend on your business and audience but generally a mix of most of these would be a failsafe approach.
It’s important to note that they need to be done well - a poorly constructed and unattractive client newsletter will do nothing to enhance the perception of value.
There also needs to be a plan - communication for the sake of it achieves little.
Consider the right communication methods for your clients and your business, then support this with a content plan and the operational capability that delivers on this.
By doing so, you'll create both a compelling proposition and added value for your clients.