January 2, 2017

Happy Client Engagements

Rohit Shah
Founder, Getting You Rich

How to lead for happy client engagements?

Few years ago, I asked the CEO of a banking company where I was a Project Manager. ‘My clients don’t see a value in the work that I do. What should I do?’ ‘Keep talking’ was his immediate response. ‘If you can engage them and keep highlighting the work you are doing, then you will be fine’, he explained.

Clients see our fees as a discretionary spend. (Indeed, it is). They seek and gauge the value that we generate for them in the engagement. It’s human for them to seek quantified benefits (also known as portfolio gains). So we keep wondering what should be the strategy for us to deal with these expectations. How do we persuade clients that Financial Planning is not all about investments? And how do we build exit barriers?

One approach is to demonstrate the value using metrics. So when we do the yearly refresh of the plan, the first slide talks about year on year trend in key statistics like savings rate, balance sheet size, risk management, equity exposure etc. It’s important to have a baseline in place to measure up in future.

How do we also communicate value of the behavioural change? That SIP discipline & a very different way to look at money now. The risk management posture that is no longer RED? How about the clarity on finances for next 15-20 years? What about the comfort of knowing what it will take to fix the retirement corpus? And yes, the merits of goal based investing? Did we not fix your IT compliance?

Well, we don’t have all answers.

How can we build ‘Happy Engagements’? Here are my thoughts. There is no cookie cutter formula, though.


The process orientation firstly means that we are ourselves very clear as to what we want to achieve and how we go about it? Let’s take an example. A sound approach for new engagements should outline the ‘On-boarding’ process.

Welcome to our engagement! So, here are the 3 steps we need your help to proceed:

  1. Here is the digitally signed Letter of Engagement. Please review & approve.
  2. Please send us your KYC documents.
  3. Please transfer the fees to our bank account.

Once we are done with these, we will setup a ‘Discovery’ call with you & send you invites for risk profiling. In a while, then, the draft plan will follow. Let’s stay engaged.

The communication throughout the engagement can be designed to set up the right client expectation. As an example, “We enjoyed working on your plan. Thank you so much for your approval on the plan. We will now get into quarterly reviews & we will reach out to you to schedule these in our calendars.”

Need a toolkit to manage engagements? Check out these.

  1. Templates
    1. Letter of Engagement
    2. Checklists
    3. MoM (Minutes of Meeting)
    4. Escalation Matrix
    5. RCA (Root Cause Analysis)
  2. Metrics
  3. Software
  4. Dashboard
  5. Newsletter
  6. Service Calendar

But why is the process so important? Because the process generates value. It’s like our secret 11 herbs & spices recipe alike KFC. So we mix & match experience with marketing and on-board the client. We digitally make the plan but we meet in person. We space out and take one thing at a time. We set expectations. We think through & customize religiously for every family. We chase them for actions. We happily have ‘Coffee with Money’ conversations with them. We patiently take a long term view. Very, very long term. Do you see an happy engagement shaping up? Why wouldn’t then the exit barriers also come along?

If you like to improve your delivery, one powerful tool is RCA (Root Cause Analysis). Following a RCA approach means we think through what went wrong and how we could have avoided it? What actions are we taking now?

So when the client complains that ‘reviews are not regular’, can we set up the recurring calendar invite? When the client reminds you that they ‘need money for a goal round the corner’, shall we at least now include this in the review checklist? ‘Your plan does not clearly say how much the investible surplus is every month’. Oh, the template needs to be fixed.

Can’t always manage by process? Alright, then try managing by exceptions. Where is the maximum trouble? What needs the most attention? Fix that first, immediately.

Why is Governance at the top in the Happy Engagements chart? Because the governance protect the engagements. We need to know the actual issues & client perceptions early on. We need to deliver what we signed up with the client.

How do we setup Governance in small organizations like ours? Try these:

  1. ‘Voice of Customer’ survey every time say when we send the final plan
  2. A quick question. ‘So how do you think, we are doing?’
  3. Agreement on ‘Engagement KPIs’ (Key Performance Indicator) (e.g. Time taken to deliver the plan, no. of reviews held, no. of actions implemented, portfolio re-balancing)
  4. The review discipline
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Enroute to your Happy Engagements, we recommend following a secret formula of R+P. Well, nobody likes surprises. So let’s be Responsive + Proactive. A lot of value can be generated by just communicating promptly, responding & pre-empting “how can we help? “

Here are few examples.

In the documents we send to clients for say sign off, can we also include a self-addressed return envelope? How about arranging a return courier pickup as well?

Can we proactively send a heads up that the quarterly advance tax payment is due by say 15th Dec? Or that the IT Proof declaration season has arrived!

What’s the first thing we should do when we receive a courier from the client? Let them know that you ‘received the courier & will get back shortly’. But why emergency? Don’t you think if the client sent you critical documents they would be worried about the safe receipt?

It’s all about how we better understand the client’s pain points. Small things make big difference because these build our perception in client’s mind.

What’s the single most quality needed from us to build happy engagements?  Thy name is patience. Because, the only way to make lots of money is to engage for a really long time!

My sense is that Service as a culture does not exist in India. Look around the whole of BFSI and you will notice that everyone is busy managing the growth problem. So while this is a problem, that’s also a great edge for us, isn’t it?

Sooner or later, the clients will certainly recognize the value from a process driven firm with a service orientation.

Hey, but what about the problem of “value = returns”?

When the client sees our engagement this way, the problem here is, obviously, that poor markets means no value. So how did we originally position the value when we had signed up? Can we change the way we communicate going forward? How about a coffee conversation with the client to re-work your messaging, now?

In any engagement if we need to re-work, it’s important we first build our credibility. That’s why the Values are at the BASE of Happy Engagements.

Thinking about the engagements where I have failed, below is very clear:

  1. We did not spend adequate time to explain on what value we are proposing. OR
  2. The value was doable but we could not deliver (sizing issue)

The difference between Information Vs Transformation is Action. If we can get clients to act on the plan, then we can certainly demonstrate the value.

What happens when client is not able to take actions because say they are busy? What about a situation when our efforts are much higher than the remuneration? It’s still our problem. I am sure some of you would not agree. Let me share a story:

Once, while working at a leading IT company I had a ‘once in lifetime opportunity’ to be with the CEO, for a review meeting with the client. In the prep meeting, I cautioned him that the contract was signed vaguely & would be a challenge to deliver.  This man spoke few words & this is still playing in my ears. ‘Then why did you sign the contract? Go, deliver now”

Not clear how to handle the problem of Mr. Value? Then I suggest you go back and listen very carefully to what the client has to say.

Listening to negative feedback about my service is a challenge for someone like me. Sometimes I feel like replying in Ranveer Singh style when he says to the Royal Priest in Bajirao Mastani. ‘It does not make any difference to me as to what you think about me’ But thankfully the sanity prevails and I realize that it does make a difference to me. When I think more about it, I realize that as a Financial Planner, I work with many clients and I can choose. But the client has already chosen us and he/she has only one financial planner to work with.

Listening carefully can help us to hit a goldmine. How? Because the client can sound stupid but may just be pointing to a real trouble at our end. If you have not yet read the story ‘When the Pontiac car was allergic to vanilla ice cream’, then please go Google it 🙂

Still see a disconnect about the value of your value? Well, here is another story. (last one, I promise).

It was past 3AM in office. We were not able to resolve a business critical system error. My senior colleague in this project called and asked for the status. I explained that we were going nowhere. This was a complex issue. She did not have any solution for us. But she taught me a lifelong lesson. She said ‘When I don’t know what to do, I ask for help’.

Let’s build happy engagements.

3 Thoughts to “Happy Client Engagements”

  1. Devang says:

    Super article!

  2. ig says:

    This website truly has all of the information and facts I wanted concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

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