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In any relationship-based business where growth’s a priority, two questions should come to mind: What do my clients truly value — and what might both prospects and clients need in the future? If you’re like many small business owners, the answers are likely elusive. And in many cases your clients’ answers may have evolved over the course of their relationship with you. So what’s the best way to better understand what your clients think about your services?

Let me start by telling you what not to do. After a typical business trip, I come back to 4 or 5 email surveys. My rental car company, hotel, airlines, and the online site where I booked my trip are all looking for feedback. How many do I fill out? Zero. In today’s world, we are bombarded with companies soliciting our input — yet the response rates continue to decline. We know client feedback is critical to gaining valuable client insights as well as future-proofing our services. But traditional methods have failed. So we created a better way.

As part of Loring Ward’s Design | Build | Protect approach to the client-advisor relationship, we created a distinct “assess” step. The assess step is two-fold. First it’s a way for advisors to help clients assess how they’re progressing towards goals, review the actions taken, and determine next steps. But that’s only half the story. We’ve also woven in a means for clients to assess how their advisor has done as well. We call this unique approach the “Feedforward” session. These 1:1 meetings held every couple of years can provide insights on how advisors have performed, where they can improve, and how advisors can help their clients and those they care about in the future. The Feedforward session also gives advisors a venue to explore new services, financial strategies, and ideas with clients acting as a “board of directors.”

Ray Olson, an advisor who works closely with Loring Ward, started running Feedforward sessions with a select group of clients a few weeks ago. He admits that he was a bit nervous about asking for input from his best clients. But what he found was illuminating:

I thought taking my clients to lunch in a professional setting would be a nice way to thank them and get their insights. My clients were very open with their input and appreciated the opportunity to provide feedback. I definitely learned ways to improve the overall experience. My clients also learned about what I do for other clients through the cross-education process. Feedforward sessions are an easy, comfortable approach and better than the client advisory boards I used to run. Moreover, I received four introductions to prospective clients after just two months.

Although referrals aren’t the primary objective of the assess step, we believe they’re a natural by-product of the Feedforward discussions. For a more comprehensive look of the Feedforward sessions including scripts, templates, and agendas, please visit loringward.com/referrals.

We will also be hosting an applied “breakout” session on this topic at our National Education Conference (NEC) in October. For more information, please visit: http://www.2015nec.com.

There are fewer professional relationships in life that are more intimate and personal than a trusted Wealth Advisor’s relationship with his clients. Or at least, that’s how it should be. Reminding clients of everything you do and soliciting honest feedback is another way advisors can enhance their relationship-based business.