Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Personal service for wealthy clients: Real or virtual?

When you're paying a bundle for investment management, you expect service. You expect your money manager or broker to learn your quirks and your family circumstances. Know where your kids go to school. Realize that Muffy's wedding next spring is going to cost you a fortune.

Successful investment advisers master the art of personal service. It's not easy, and it gets harder when their corporate overlords pile on heavier and heavier workloads.

Can technology help? That's the question explored in this Wall Street Journal article.

Wachovia, the article notes, is launching an interesting experiment. Technology has been harnessed to create a system for making a good impression on new clients. They'll be showered with virtually personal attention.

Smith Barney has new software to help brokers keep track of client goals and make note of upcoming client expenses such as tuitions or Muffy's wedding.

Historically, problems with harnessing computers to create something like personal service have been data entry (does the harried adviser or broker have time to do the input?) and timely data retrieval (which might be really untimely if Muffy's wedding has been rescheduled or Waldo got kicked out of college).

Let us know if you hear how these experiments are working.

Not likely to work is another attempt at simulating personal attention mentioned in the article: mass-produced "personal notes" to clients in simulated handwriting. Judging from examples of this sort of thing employed by a few charities, the results are tragically unconvincing.

Here's a good tip from the end of the Journal article:

“Regular contact is crucial to client satisfaction. The most-satisfied affluent investors received 28 contacts either in person, by telephone, by mail or by email in a one-year period, according to a study of about 14,000 affluent investors by research firm CEG Worldwide. By contrast, very dissatisfied investors received 17 contacts.”

Need I mention that good newsletters can help keep your best clients satisfied? Good newsletters followed up by genuinely personal notes or calls can help even more.

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