Three common client-survey mistakes

Many financial advisors use surveys to produce a picture that reflects the experience of the average client. But in order to fully make sense of the results, you need to pay as much attention to the outliers and unexpected issues that surface as you do to the typical responses.

In some cases, advisors make the mistake of underplaying the importance of certain issues in favour of the areas they’ve predetermined to be critical.

“[Surveys are] not reflections in the mirror, where you see what you want to see,” says Evan Thompson, founder and business coach at Evan Thompson and Associates in Toronto. “You have to be prepared for constructive criticism.”

If you’re unable to treat the survey as an honest assessment of your performance, your client-feedback exercise can become a wasted effort that does little to improve your standing with clients.

Here are some of the common mistakes advisors make when conducting client surveys — and how to avoid them:

1. Minimizing concerns
You have to address all criticisms, both big and small, Thompson says. What may seem like an inconsequential issue or an anomaly may actually indicate a potentially serious underlying problem. And this problem could become a sore point for clients if left unaddressed.

For example, if only a few clients comment on how impersonal your onboarding process can be, don’t ignore that input, Thompson says. “Any negative comment or observation should be investigated.”

2. Taking a cynical attitude
Some advisors will conduct a survey either to reaffirm what they think they already know or, worse, to project an image that client feedback matters to them.

These advisors might approach the process with the mindset that obtaining client feedback is a necessary, but not particularly significant, exercise. “They feel that ‘I might as well go through the motions and be seen as asking how I’m doing’,” Thompson says.

That kind of attitude undermines the whole objective of conducting surveys, which can provide an opening to identify new opportunities to deepen your relationships with clients.

3. Misinterpreting the results
When the results of your survey deviate from your expectations, Thompson says, you might tend to disregard the negative comments or lay blame on external factors — the markets were erratic that day or the client was having an off day.

As imperfect and limited as surveys can be, they’re designed to capture your clients’ sentiments and reflect how your clients feel about your work. They should be treated as a tool to bring attention to areas in which there is room for improvement.

“The survey is not only about what’s going right,” Thompson says, “but also what’s going wrong.”

This is the second part in a two-part series on client feedback. Click here for part one.

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