How Strong Are Your Client Relationships?

Asking yourself and your clients the following questions will help you assess and strengthen those bonds.

By David I. Leo

There are many ways to answer the question, “How strong are your relationships with your clients,” including using formal surveys. I recently read an article that discussed a score derived from client responses to a set of survey questions regarding client experiences, attitudes and other factors used to predicts things such as client satisfaction, retention and client referrals.

I’m reasonably sure you would get valuable results from the methodology. I am also reasonably sure that over 90%, or maybe even more than 95%, of the readers of this article have not done and will not likely do such a survey. There are, however, ways you can measure the strength of your relationships just by asking yourself, your team and your clients some basic questions.

Many advisory practices focus on their top clients because they are the ones that pay the bills and are usually the best source for introductions or referrals. Asking these seven questions can help ensure you don’t bypass those who have the potential to become top clients.

Are you delivering what your client wants?

In a previous article, “Clients Aren’t Receiving the Services They Expect,” I reviewed a Spectrem Group study that showed the average gap between the services clients expected compared with the services they received was 73%. In other words, almost three-quarters of investors did not receive what they expected, hoped for or, in some cases, needed.

Among the 16 services the study examined, “trust services” had the largest gap (84%) between what clients expected and received. Although “health insurance” advice had the smallest gap, it was still a sizeable 61%. Business succession planning had a gap of 79%; only 1% of clients received services in that area David, did the survey say that more than 1% should have received this service? Do you know the breadth of your client’s wants and needs? Do your clients know the breadth of the services you can deliver?

How well do you know them?

Knowing your clients (KYC) is not only mandatory, but also critical to introduction opportunities. Do you know the names, ages, and status of your client’s children, their parents, siblings, and perhaps more? Do you know who their best friends are, and who else they look to for advice, counsel, and support? Do you know each spouse well in the client relationship? Do you speak with their adult children and/or other beneficiaries? What is your client’s work history and ambitions? Who is their CPA and trusts and estate attorney? What does your client do outside of work (their hobbies, favorite travel spots, clubs they belong to, charitable interests, et al.)

What does it feel like when your client calls you?

Do you smile or cringe? Do you need to stop everything, or can you call back later? Can your assistant manage the call before you get involved?

What does it feel like when you call them?

Do you look forward to speaking with them? Do you always have a sincere, curious approach? Are you always pleased to see them in person?

Do you ask for regular feedback?

At some point, hopefully in your discovery process, you discuss your communications plan: the frequency and type of proactive contact plan you will put in place. Consider whether you ask for feedback on a regular basis, discuss the need for openness and transparency in both directions, and provide an agenda with specific questions that you will always ask. Here are some questions to ask clients:

  1. What am I currently doing that you find of value and want me to continue doing?
  2. What aren’t I doing that you’d like to see me do?
  3. Are there any areas where you think I could do better in meeting your needs or which of you do not find of value?
  4. On a scale of 1 to 10 with ten being exceptional, how would you rate my services? Why? (How do we move that to a ten?)
  5. Do you understand your portfolio and why we are invested the way we are?

Setting expectations in advance will enhance your relationships.

Additional Reading: Setting Client Expectations: What Does and Doesn’t Work

How do clients respond to your requests for feedback?

It is not easy to put yourself on the spot with your top (and sometimes challenging) clients but there are many stories that illustrate the importance of seeking feedback.

An advisor I know told a story about a client who said that he only wanted to be called when there were issues. Since there were no issues, there wasn’t any communications until the advisor received an automated customer account transfer. The advisor said he quickly called his client and asked why he was leaving. The client said, “because I never hear from you.” It’s not that clients don’t always tell you what they really want; it’s that things change over time, including when it comes to health and money. Clients want to know how they are doing and so must you. This advisor reported that he kept the client.

Are your clients open and honest? Do they actively participate in feedback discussions?

More ways to measure relationship strength

I recently listened to a webinar with another excellent business coach, Steve Sanduski. He has a set of questions he asks his clients to evaluate the strength of their client relationships. He suggested rating them on a 5-point scale with five being very strong.

  1. When was the last time you did a social activity with them?
  2. When was the last time they gave you a referral?
  3. When was the last time you had any contact with them?
  4. Do they have other assets that you are not managing but should be?
  5. Can they connect you with someone else you’d like to be introduced to?
  6. What’s the next activity you can do to deepen the relationship?
  7. Do they have next-generation offspring that you need to be developing a relationship with?

In summary

After identifying your top clients, you need to develop strong relationships with them to retain and grow them organically and via introductions to similar people. The key to strong relationships is communication — not just during lengthier review meetings but also during year-round check-ins. Regularly seek feedback from your clients; be very responsive to their calls and emails; learn the breadth and depth of what they want and need, and make sure that you deliver it.

David Leo is founder of Street Smart Research Group LLC. He is an author, speaker, coach, consultant, and trainer to financial professionals. David has worked with the financial services industry for decades, originally as a consultant with IBM and then with UBS/Paine Webber before starting his own firm. If you would like more information about his services, contact him at or visit



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