Client relationship-building still needs a human touch

The financial industry’s accelerating digital transformation has culminated in the adoption of new technologies and processes by financial services firms to remain competitive and meet clients’ evolving expectations. Yet, when it comes to building client relationships, there is a real risk of overreliance on digitalization, which can — and often does — result in adverse effects.

Human, personalized, face-to-face interactions are still needed to create a healthy and strong bond with clients. Even in the face of a rapidly evolving industry landscape, including digital transformation, financial services firms should not lose sight of the bigger picture and refocus on forging deep and meaningful client relationships.

Owing to external developments, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical instability and increasing regulatory and compliance obligations, financial services firms’ sales and marketing teams have, in recent years, been compelled to spend more time on tactical and non-revenue-generating activities, such as technological upgrades. This has stifled their focus on building deep and meaningful ties with clients, key to new and incremental revenue generation. Nonetheless, financial services firms can refocus by emphasizing more personal interactions in three areas: client meetings, marketing communications and customer service.

Meeting clients is one area in which overreliance on technology has had a negative impact. The pandemic-driven exodus to the digital world has seen an unprecedented rise in the use of websites, e-mail, social media and virtual meetings.

Despite the advent of virtual communication, clients are seeking to return to in-person encounters in a targeted way, as the constant use of communication systems, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, leads to screen fatigue and feelings of disconnect. As clients seek closer human interactions, there’s been a gradual return to in-person meetings in the past six to 12 months. Sales teams must be vigilant so as to avoid using virtual tools as an excuse to eschew booking face-to-face client meetings when the option is available. Companies can also attend relevant in-person conferences more often to target potential clients and build relationships. Physical presence at these conferences allows us to explore opportunities and provides a channel to get up to speed on various trends, as well as understand peers’ interests and where the industry is heading.

Even if face-to-face meeting is not feasible, remote communication and marketing outreach should be personalized and lent a human touch. The abuse of automated digital marketing needs to be monitored, as it can turn people off. Besides, automated communication systems have their share of drawbacks. For example, the main switchboards may not respond to calls, and LinkedIn messages and e-mails may be spammed, defeating the purpose of client outreach.

Less is more in this space, and relationship managers should try to make calls first rather than bombard clients with e-mails. Clients generally prefer to communicate by phone if they are interested in the topic and have bandwidth. Firms should invest in relearning techniques for cold-calling, or warm-calling at the very least. Engaging customers on a personal level and tailor-made communications are paramount to avoid being labelled as a spammer by potential clients, which can easily happen through automated digital communication.

Reliable and personal customer service is another key focus area for building client relationships, which financial firms have lost sight of in their single-minded devotion to digital transformation.

Many organizations have understaffed call centers and front-line account management teams and are not spending enough resources on efficient and quick call systems and staff. This is a ticking bomb, as it may take days, weeks, months or years to gain a new client, but one bitter customer service experience can quickly lead to client loss.

Ultimately, client relationship management is about meaningful interactions. Relationship managers who go out of their way to make clients comfortable on a personal level will continue to be the winners. Financial services firms need to avoid relying too much on the digital route to develop alliances with clients. Instead, they should explore the right mix of digital innovation and traditional personal interactions for client meetings, marketing communications and customer service. Even the newest technological innovation cannot beat human touch when it comes to forging a deep and meaningful association with clients, which typically lasts for years.

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