by Tony Vidler
The question of whether client contact frequency makes a discernible difference to the strength of the adviser-client relationship, or enhances the perceived value of the adviser to the client, is one which still perplexes the industry.
Professional opinions from marketers and consultants, and amongst advisers themselves, vary enormously on the value of ongoing contact as well as how often is often enough.
Recently I was reading the results of some research conducted by Colmar Brunton on behalf of our market regulator which explored these questions with a number of consumer focus groups, and the results certainly suggested that contact frequency doesn’t actually make a significant difference to the perceived value of the advice relationship generally.
The focus groups were a mix of those with existing advice relationships, and those not using an adviser, and they were also broken down into investment-clients and insurance-clients. While there were massive differences between the contact experiences of the different types of consumers, the end result was that despite these differences there was no particularly strong additional value perceived by those who were contacted far more frequently.
Broadly speaking the investment clients were being communicated with on average on a monthly basis by their advisers, whereas the insurance clients were being contacted 1-2 times per year typically. Those without advisers were obviously not being contacted at all. Despite the different experiences each group had in terms of contact frequency there was a strong agreement across all of the groups (even those without an adviser) that having an adviser led them to “feel they make wider, better quality, and more carefully evaluated decisions”.
A knee-jerk conclusion that an adviser might draw from this is that consumers think we add value and can help them make better decisions, but that we are wasting our time sending newsletters or whatever to clients on a regular basis as it apparently delivers no discernible additional value. If they all agreed that good advisers make a difference, no matter whether the contact is 12 times per year, or 2, on none, then why bother continually trying to communicate with them?
Therein lies the trap….
The majority of the consumers engaged in this research certainly did not place overt value on the frequency of contact. However, those with the higher levels of contact apparently also had higher levels of confidence in the advice process and their own ability to make good decisions.
As a result it was concluded that while frequency of contact did not deliver any strong sense of “value” to the consumer from the contact itself, the ongoing process of being in contact frequently with the adviser strengthened the advice relationship and led to a more confident and satisfied consumer.
It could be concluded therefore that the frequency of contact matters only if you are trying to create a long term adviser-client relationship and therefore wish to have that professional relationship strengthen over the years. The more contact the stronger and deeper the relationships and trust levels. If however your business model was essentially a transactional business whereby a specific outcome or product was being delivered to solve a specific issue at a moment in time, then perhaps having an ongoing client contact system which focusses upon delivering information frequently is a waste of resources.
So frequency of contact does matter if maintaining and strengthening the client relationship matters to you.