At the Controls

Aug 26th 2011
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By Nate Biddick, director of practice development, 1st Global

As a recent flight prepared to take off, the captain spoke over the loudspeakers, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are all set to take off but I'm afraid we are being delayed by technical problems.”

Immediate concerns popped to mind first about how safe the flight would be and if I'd ever see my family again, then irritation at perhaps being late for the afternoon appointment that was the reason for the flight.

The captain came back on the speakers and said, “It's just a minor issue with the hydraulics, not really a big deal. We are just waiting on the service crew to show up, take a look and make a record in the maintenance log. Then we'll be on our way. Thank you for your patience—we'll keep you updated and get us airborne as soon as is safe and possible.”

Immediately my concerns and irritation went away and I went back to reading. But wait a minute—what just happened? Why was there suddenly calm when just a moment before I was hoping my wife remembered that the life insurance policy was in the fire-proof box? Why was I not irritated anymore? The fact that there was a problem that could jeopardize my longevity and punctuality was still true. What had changed?

Control—or more specifically, the semblance of control. By the captain giving us detailed information on what was going on, he removed some of the anxiety caused by not knowing. We still had very little control over our situation, but being included in what was happening gave us a sense that we could trust that it was being handled.

As it relates to client service design, there are two types of control of which to be aware: behavioral control and cognitive control. Behavioral control is when clients have a choice over an aspect of your service. An example of this is the client being able to choose investment options in their retirement plan. The enrollment process is the same for everyone, but having choice in the investments allows a client to participate in the process and have a say in the outcome. If you've ever been given the choice of flavors for your fluoride treatment at the dentist, you've had behavioral control within the dentist's overall process. Cognitive control is delivered by sharing information about the service experience with the client—pulling back the curtain in order to allow the client to trust the process. The pilot on the flight demonstrated an excellent example of this in action.

Take a moment to think about how you provide tax compliance, audit or wealth management services to your clients—your service model. It may be formalized and set in a standard routine of discovery, implementation and review/rediscovery meetings. It may be reactive, based on clients bringing up issues going on in their personal lives or businesses with annual follow-up. You may be thinking you don't have a service model—don't mistake the absence of intentionality for the absence of service. If you meet with clients, you have a service model.

Because of the volatility of the marketplace in the last few years and the lack of control we all felt being buffeted by economic forces, having control or the perception of control is especially important. Here are three ideas to implement that will help your clients feel more in control.

1.     Standardize your client service model.

Start with clients who are brand new to your service offering. Write down the process for each meeting (discovery, implementation and review/rediscovery). You can use this list as your operations manual, even assigning each step in the process to the appropriate team member within your firm. You can then take this process for new clients and adjust it for existing tax or accounting clients. Lastly, focus on the process for the review/rediscovery meeting.

Once this is set, tell your clients about it. Let them know what they can expect. You don't have to get down into the minutiae, but walk them through your process. They may be coming to you with an issue that is causing them anxiety. They may be concerned that you are going to try to push the hard sale on them. They may just need some help seeing you not just as their CPA or attorney, but also as a wealth manager. Explaining your process allows the client to feel cognitive control.

2.     Use an agenda.

As a part of the implementation of your standard service, using an agenda is another way to allow the client cognitive control within a meeting. Seeing the bullet points on the agenda shows your professional approach. It also helps the client to relax into the process and allows them to know what to expect.

At the beginning of the meeting, allow the client to review the agenda. Ask the client, “Is there anything you'd like to cover today that is not on the agenda?” This allows the client the opportunity to have input into the process. Leave enough space between your bullet points to write in the client's topics. Giving the client that chance to contribute can not only create an instance of behavioral control, but also allow the client to bring to the table information of which you may not have been aware.

3.     Be consistent.

In a volatile world, the consistency of your process brings comfort to a client. Are you adding to client anxiety by inconsistency of experience or are you the steady, confident and controlled voice of reason to whom clients turn to make sense of the world? The consistency of your process is the foundation upon which rests the value you deliver.

What we are talking about here is trust. For new clients, having a consistent process allows you to build that trust. For existing clients experiencing a new wealth management service, a set process allows the trust they already have in you to be reaffirmed. For existing wealth management clients, a set process can be introduced as an upgrade in the process that is being implemented so that you can serve clients better and more completely, reconfirming the trust your clients have placed in you.

Being consistent allows the clients both behavioral and cognitive control. Always asking for their input in the process and always sticking to a process of which the clients are aware allows the clients to have a feeling of control.

Your clients are accustomed to turbulence. Include them in the process that will captain them to smoother skies.

To learn more about how to take advantage of the world-class practice development curriculum offered by 1st Global, call (800) 959-8461 or [email protected].

 This article and its content has been provided by 1st Global. With more than 500 firms affiliated with 1st Global, it is one of the largest wealth management services partners for the tax, accounting and legal professions. 1st Global delivers the required capabilities essential for wealth management excellence including progressive ongoing education, which places the firm in a unique position to offer wealth management knowledge.
1st Global was founded by CPAs on the belief that accounting, tax and estate planning firms are uniquely qualified to provide comprehensive wealth management services to their clients. Each affiliated firm is provided with education, technology, business-building framework and client solutions that make these firms leaders in their professions through dedicated professional client relationships built around wealth management.
1st Global Capital Corp. is a member of FINRA and SIPC and is headquartered at 8150 N. Central Expressway, Suite 500 in Dallas, Texas,(214) 265-1201. Additional information about 1st Global is available via the Internet at

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