Asking the right questions is the key to gaining client feedback that you can act on, says Julie Littlechild, CEO of Advisor Impact Inc. in Toronto.

How you choose to ask those questions is up to you. You might set aside some time in an upcoming client meeting to discuss a few “big picture” ideas. Alternatively, you might consider preparing a brief questionnaire that your clients can fill out at home, for more in-depth answers.

Regardless of what option you choose, Littlechild says, your questions must touch on the four key aspects of your relationship with your clients: their satisfaction with your level or service; how you have measured up to their expectations; their overall needs; and their individual preferences.

Littlechild offers the following advice to help you get the most valuable feedback:

> Keep it simple
Ask questions that will help you identify how you can make changes to your practice immediately.

“It is important to generate feedback on aspects of the practice that are within your control,” Littlechild says. And the simpler the question, she adds, the better.

For example, you might ask your client what he or she thinks about the most recent presentation of their financial plan. Is it clear? Could it be easier to read?

> Ask what they want
Find out how clients would grade you on various aspects of your practice. You must also find out how important those services are to your clients.

For example, the Economics of Loyalty report put out by Littlechild’s firm notes several “organic growth opportunities.” Clients ranked services that are currently not offered by their advisors, but that they might need in future. The top three are: long-term care insurance, estate planning and trust services.

Knowing how you can better serve your clients — now and in the future — will only help improve the profitability of your practice.

> Ask an open-ended question
At the end of your discussion or survey, Littlechild says, include a question that invites clients to tell you how you might improve your service offering. This important step offers your clients more freedom to give a broad-based commentary on your practice.

“[Clients] will be more free to compliment or criticize, with fewer restrictions than the other questions,” Littlechild says. “The responses can be very instructive.”

> Encourage participation
To help ensure you get responses to your client survey, Littlechild says, provide a deadline for submission. As well, in order to obtain maximum response rates, offer your clients a small incentive for completing the feedback session — perhaps a coffee card or a movie coupon.

Consider making your client survey anonymous. You might get more constructive and candid feedback.

This is the fifth instalment in an occasional series on how client engagement can benefit your practice. Next: Common mistakes to avoid when soliciting client feedback.