Every member of your firm is part of the client’s experiential process. Leaders and staff members who create exceptional client experiences are the professionals who rise to the top in a value-compressed environment. Once you recognize this fact, you can integrate common strategies to personalize and humanize the client experience. One of the most personal aspects of the client experience is greeting clients in the office.
It’s Everyone’s Role
All visitors to your firm should be treated as if they are your own personal client, even if they are working with another team member. If you see a guest in the office lobby, make eye contact, smile, say hello and ask if they need help. This sets the tone of the client experience across the enterprise. It’s the difference between a gracious and welcoming first impression vs. a cold, sterile experience.
It doesn’t matter if you are a top executive or a new hire in the office. No single employee or team member can be a stumbling block in your client’s experience. Every interaction a client has with a member of your team is part of their experience – this includes interacting with your external partners and home office.
The Office Décor
Before talking about how you interact with clients, let’s start with your office décor. Imagine a new prospect or client is walking into your office or reception area for the first time. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Look at things with a critical eye.
If your first impression is ‘It’s okay.’ That is not good enough.
Your office décor needs to give the feel of an elevated experience. Does it feel intimidating or is it an environment where clients can feel comfortable sitting, relaxing and opening-up about their needs?
Your office space, reception area, conference rooms and restrooms are part of a client’s first impression. The ultimate question is would a client feel comfortable handing over their finances to this kind of environment?
- Is the paint on the walls dirty or marked from staff and advisors walking in with backpacks or briefcases? Use a Mr. Clean® Magic Eraser.
- Do the hardwood floors or cabinets have noticeable scratches? Use a Minwax® Wood Stain Pen. It takes two seconds.
- Is your office appearance worth what the client is paying you for advice or service? That is for the client to decide and you to consider.
Do you have personal awards strewn all over the walls? You may think this is impressive to the client, but the first impression should be about what the client can accomplish. Awards most certainly showcase your expertise, but that should come after making the client feel comfortable and inspired. Make your main walls pictures of client events, philanthropic activities, a framed picture of your value proposition. Let your awards be housed in your private office.
What kind of artwork are you displaying? Are the images in old dated frames? Does your décor look like it is from the 70s? Consider using modern, clean artwork such as oil paintings that are colorful and display a modern clean feel.
Visuals and Reading Material
Magazines or television stations in the reception area should not be industry focused. They should be publications that inspire lifestyle experiences (i.e., boating, sailing, private destinations, high-end automotive, HGTV, Food Network, etc.).
The Front Desk Greeting
Some firms have a front desk attendant; others have an office layout where there is no formal front desk. Regardless of your model, it is important to have a plan for how clients walk into your specific office and determine an appropriate process for elevating their office greeting:
Alert the Front Desk in Advance that a Guest is Visiting
If you have a front desk attendant, you need to alert them in advance that a guest or client is visiting. You want them to be available when your guest arrives. You want them to greet your guest in a warm, welcoming manner. It is the epitome of client etiquette.
No Front Desk: Have the Closest Staff Member in Proximity Ready to Greet Guests
Whomever is in closest proximity to the front desk should always be ready to greet guests. The person should have a clear eyeshot to the front door and should never sit with their back to the door. Have a sign that gives the client clear instruction or use a bell that allows the client to alert you of their arrival.
Greeting the Guest
If the guest is a new client to the firm, use a more general greeting, such as:
Good afternoon, welcome to XYZ Financial Group. How may I help you today?
Never state the client’s full first and last name for confidentiality purposes – this information should be kept private. Especially if other guests are within earshot.
Follow your initial greeting, by saying to the client:
Hello Mrs. Smith, we’ve been expecting you. Nice to have you with us (or nice to see you again).
Balancing Incoming Calls While Greeting Clients
Ideal Best Practice: Some firms set up their operation so that the front desk attendant is not the person receiving incoming calls. They route incoming calls to another staff member in the back office. That is an ideal practice and allows the front desk attendant to focus solely on being available for clients.
Alternate Best Practice: Not every office layout allows for calls to be routed to a back office. If a client arrives while you are on a call, continue speaking with the caller, but make eye contact with the client. Give them a welcoming smile and hold up your hand to acknowledge you’ll be with them in a moment.
Ask the other person on the phone, May I place you on hold for a brief moment? That way I can make sure my notes are clear, and also check-in a guest who just arrived.
If you are on the phone when a client arrives, the most important thing you can do is make eye contact and offer a gracious smile. You want the client to feel acknowledged and welcome.
The most awkward experience a client or prospect can have is not being seen or acknowledged when they arrive. Respecting a person’s time and comfort are of utmost concern in the client experience. You never want a guest to think to themselves, ‘Does anyone see me…does anyone care I am in the lobby waiting? Should I walk through the hallway to find someone? Should I cough or make a noise so they know I’m here?’
The client experience begins with a great first impression. Simulate how the client walks through your door. Be critical about your process. What can you do to elevate the office experience? How will you institute the right practices for greeting clients?
Show Guests Where the Restrooms and Amenities are Located
As the person who greets the client, you are in charge of showing guests where the restroom is and answering other questions about the office. Take the initiative and show the client the location of the restroom, water dispenser, and the coat closet. Offer to hang up their coat. Remember, they are coming into your firm’s home and you want them to feel welcome.
If a client asks, ‘How long you have been in this location? How many people work in the office?’ Be prepared with answers.
Offer a Beverage Selection Menu
Offering a hot or cold beverage is a gesture of hospitality and client etiquette that demonstrates you will take care of the client’s needs and comfort. It is gracious and allows clients to settle in before their meeting.
The mere act of offering a beverage is not enough. Remember, the goal is to elevate the client’s experience:
- Use china cups and saucers / crystal water glasses to serve clients their beverage, not Styrofoam or disposable paper cups. You are trying to impress clients, not serve them fast-food.
- If the client declines a beverage, tell them to let you know if they change their mind. Speak with warmth and enthusiasm.
- If a guest arrives with a beverage in-hand that they picked up on the way, offer to replenish their beverage.
- If the client accepts a beverage, the front desk attendant should make note of their beverage preference, and how they take it, then update the client’s CRM profile*. When the client comes in for subsequent meetings, you can say to them:
Welcome back, Mrs. Jones, would you like a tea with one sugar again? I remember that is what you had last time you visited us.
*If your front desk attendant does not have access to your CRM, they should make sure to alert you or your assistant of the client’s beverage preference.
Make Meaningful Conversation
If the client is meeting with an advisor for the first time, the client may feel a little anxious. They may not know what to expect and might be on edge. Remember, they are on your turf and that can be intimidating. Try to get the client talking while they are waiting. It will help put the client at ease and make them feel more comfortable.
Try to avoid the standard question, How are you doing? You don’t know what kind of mood the client is in, which could make for awkward conversation. Instead, ask them how their drive in was or the weather outside.
If you have a profile on the person already started in your CRM database, perhaps there are notes on the person’s hobbies or special interests. You can say to the client, John told me you love to cook, what are some of your specialties? If they are a long-standing client, hopefully you know something about them you can ask about – their grandchildren, recent travel, etc.
Keep the Client Informed
After you’ve notified the advisor or their assistant that the client has arrived, say to the client, Mr. Jones will be with you shortly.
Personally Escort the Client to the Meeting Room
When the meeting is ready to start, contact the advisor’s assistant or the advisor and have them personally greet the client and escort them to the meeting room. This is another gesture of hospitality that lets the client know you care about them.
Tell the client, Mrs. Anderson, we will be meeting in our Concord conference room. It’s just a few steps down this hallway, would you like to follow me and I will take you? Wait a moment for them to collect their beverage or belongings.
Doing this will let the client know you are personally attending to their comfort and needs. It shows you are willing to stop what you are doing to ensure their comfort, so they do not get lost. It is a further exemplification of a gracious, welcoming atmosphere.
Keep Your Cool at All Times
As the manager of the front desk, or a staff member sitting in close proximity, you may find yourself in a hectic situation with multiple calls coming in or guests arriving at the same time. You may be asked a question you are unsure how to answer. The key to managing these situations is to keep your cool, especially if a client is listening within earshot. Remember, clients are always observing your behavior.
What to do When the Advisor is Running Late…and the Client is Waiting
We all know an occasional meeting runs late or unexpected traffic patterns can occur. In general, most clients have a 5-minute threshold before they start getting antsy, irritated and concerned their scheduled meeting is now past due.
If the advisor is running late, you need to let the client know in advance. Explain where they are and when they are expected to arrive. Ideally, the advisor should call the client him/herself.
The front desk attendant should not call the advisor or the advisor’s assistant in front of the client asking for an update. You should kindly smile to the client and let them know you will be right back – place the call in a more private area.
Have the Advisor’s Assistant Come Sit with the Client
Let the assistant know their advisor is running late and have them come and sit with the client. It doesn’t matter if the assistant is busy, the client is equally busy, and they are expecting and deserve an elevated experience.
Keep the Client Engaged
A client should never be left in an antsy state for an extended period. Reading a magazine or watching TV when they are supposed to be discussing their financial needs with an advisor is not an acceptable substitute. It is awkward to sit there without receiving service.
If the advisor or assistant is tied up on a call or stuck in a meeting and might be delayed, offer the client if they would like to sit in a more private room to check their emails or make a phone call. This is a simple gesture that serves to mitigate any frustration a waiting guest might have.
Checklist for Preparing the Conference Room or Meeting Room
- Make sure the meeting room is free of clutter and the tables are dusted and clean
- Make sure any whiteboards have been wiped clean from prior meetings (this is not just a good idea, it protects client privacy)
- Lock away other client folders or private information
- Have notepads / classy pens available for clients to take notes
- Have a few pairs of reading glasses available with different magnifications in case a client forgets theirs
- Have several phone charging cords for the client to use
- Have mints available
- Have spare umbrellas if it starts to rain while the client is meeting with you
- Pre-test WiFi connections if using video conference
Every interaction or contact a client has with your firm is part of their experiential process. Therefore, you need to be aware of your surroundings. A client may be waiting in the reception area as you walk by. Everyone needs to project a professional demeanor at all times so the client observes consistency. The client experience is not just about what is being said, it is about what the client observes.
Too many colleagues walk around with their heads down, or do not have a good poker face when they are stressed. Make sure everyone greets clients with Good morning or Good afternoon in a gracious manner. If they see a client sitting alone in the reception area, ask if they have been helped.
Any time the client says, ‘Thank you,’ always respond with My Pleasure. It is far more gracious.
We all need to be conscious of our clients’ needs and preferences, and that goes both ways. Your client will also be observing and assessing you. They are watching every and all aspect of their experience. Good or bad, they are formulating opinions and judgments about what they see.
Clients will observe your attire, tone, expressions, demeanor, how you speak to them and how you speak to others. This is all part of the emotional framework and filter through which clients make decisions.
We all want to express our individualism with personal appearance, but clients will be judgmental. You are among the primary influences on their first impression.
Not every colleague is required to wear a suit; however, dressing professionally and with personal care demonstrates work ethic. Attention to personal hygiene shows you care about your appearance and the image of your firm. Dressing in athleisure, open sandals, or T-shirts may cause people to think you or your staff are lazy. It doesn’t mean you can’t be comfortable, but you can dress a step above.
As a general rule, always dress and show up one level above what is expected. You may think your clients want a laid-back, less intimidating atmosphere, but that is your point of view. Your professionalism needs to reflect the value your clients are paying for.
Gossip and Negativity
Any bit of gossip or complaining within earshot of a client is unacceptable. It gives the client a peek into how things really are behind the scenes. Perhaps a client hears the home office is incompetent. Perhaps the client hears something derogatory about the service team. Even worse, they may hear someone complain about another client or witness eye-rolling. There is nothing gracious about these scenarios.
Any inkling of gossip makes a client wonder what is being said about them. Be better.
Technology issues happen and they are frustrating. The right practice is to test your equipment well in advance of your client’s arrival. That being said, things unexpectedly go wrong in meetings. How you handle a technological setback reflects your sense of urgency but also your ability to maintain control of the situation. Don’t get frustrated in front of the client, you can still salvage the meeting and make it valuable.
Keep the discussion going. Perhaps someone in the office can print paper copies. Make use of your time and have a thorough conversation with your client rather than fiddling with chords or WiFi. Keep the discussion moving along. You could ask someone to fix the technology while you are talking, but that could pose a distraction. You can always email your client the documents after the meeting. Keep the meeting comfortable for the client. Eye-to-eye human conversation is never a bad thing.
Personally Walk the Client Out After the Meeting
At the end of the meeting, take the time to personally walk the client out of the building, not just to the door or elevator. This shows gratitude for the client’s time and a more personal, human client experience.
Companies and teams that create exceptional client experiences are the firms that set themselves apart in a sea of sameness. As a trusted team, it is imperative that you develop a culture and set of standard client etiquette procedures that elevate the client experience. It is a series of thoughtful, consistent touchpoints that codify your distinct value and personalizes your client interactions. It begins by training everyone in your firm on the right practices for greeting clients in the office and creating a gracious, welcoming atmosphere.