What Advisors Can Learn from Busboys

By H. Adam Holt, CFP, ChFC

During high school, I was a busboy at a local diner. It was a local gathering place that the community frequented to catch up with friends, not necessarily for the great food we served.

My job was simple. Clean the tables, keep water glasses and sugar containers full, and get dishes to the sink. I didn’t get much training; in fact, I think management was mostly just happy when I showed up on time.

A few years later, though, I upgraded to a better-paying busboy job at a small, sixteen-table French Italian bistro run by a well-known local chef. The difference between establishments could not be more pronounced.

Every action at the bistro was intentional, with no detail overlooked. I had to dress up, engage with customers to understand their needs and be thoughtful about the entire dining experience, down to the positioning of silverware and bread and butter plates.

The bistro opened my eyes to how being intentional about service makes a tremendous difference in how much value you can create for the same basic service, and how much appreciation and loyalty you can create in customers who receive an empathetic experience that cares for and anticipates their needs.

Many financial advisors take their customer experience for granted. In fact, many clients I’ve met are willing to accept whatever experience they get because they don’t have a standard of expectations at all.

This laid-back attitude toward financial professionals is changing, however, as consumers have more access to information and I think that financial professionals have a real obligation to create a higher level of expectation for the service they deliver, as well.

So what are some of the experiential areas you can improve in your practice? Let’s consider my old restaurant experience as an analogy.

Hello, I’m calling to make a reservation.

Are your clients calling an advisor who’s got only a couple spots available because you’re so busy, like a popular restaurant? Or is any time of the day available to them? Your response can send a message about how in-demand your practice is perceived to be and how other people value your services.

Welcome, please come in; we’ve reserved the best seat in the house.

Does your team greet clients by name when they talk in the door like you’ve been expecting them? Or do you have a “Seat Yourself” atmosphere like an old-school diner?

People make subliminal judgments about the credibility of new experiences based on cleanliness, style, light, and space. Look at how well your professional practice’s entry area and make sure your greeting protocol aligns with how you want to be perceived.

Might I offer you something to drink?

At the restaurant, we knew what our regulars liked to drink. We also knew our tip was dependent on anticipating their needs before they ever asked for that special type of sparkling water they liked.

Do you pay attention to what your clients prefer when they come in for a meeting? Even simply having an ice cold cola ready or the herbal tea they like waiting for them and can make a difference. People do notice the little details in how they’re treated.

How is the table set?

In the diner, we were lucky to remember spoons on the table. In the bistro, though, we laid out more utensils than anyone could use. The message we sent was that we had thought ahead and prepared for every possible need.

Does your meeting room set the same tone? Do you have pens and new pads of paper, plus water bottles? Or is the table still covered with coffee rings from the previous attendees? The atmosphere you create will influence how productive your meetings can be and how serious clients will take you.

“Good evening, my name is Adam and I will be taking care of you tonight.”

In the diner, customers only knew their server by name. At the bistro, patrons knew at least three people — the host, the server, and the busboy.

From the consumer perspective, knowing more service deliverers by name empowered them to ask for help from anyone nearby — thus eliminating delay frustration. A financial professional can take the same approach to enhance their own client communication.

At my financial practice, we introduced implementation team members, who were not the lead advisor, to create a larger sense of community. These moments create relationship value that exists beyond product or service, and they compound to help maintain decades-long relationships.

Would you look at this menu?

The restaurant industry teaches us that bigger is not always better. From my time working in a diner, I can tell you that out of 200 items on a typical diner’s menu, ten make up 90% of the orders.

Consider how the French bistro differed. The menu was a single page, beautifully handwritten, well organized with enticing descriptions, no prices, and three to four choices for each course.

At the heart of the Asset-Map value proposition is that clients don’t need a ninety-page statement to understand financial progress. They can better understand how their financial instruments are being managed, and how their assets work together if they see everything they own on a single page.

The role of a financial professional is to present enough information to be relevant, but still be concise enough to allow clients to be decisive. Simply put, it is easier to make better decisions when the choices have been compressed for you.

Come back soon.

Be intentional about creating a sense of place and belonging where your clients feel welcome. I challenge you to consider all of the aspects of your customer’s journey and identify how you can accommodate their needs, their desires, and what they need to feel validated in every interaction with your team.

In today’s world, you are not competing on products and services, you are competing for clients’ limited attention and the chance to show them, without a doubt, the value of working with a financial advisor.

Click here to learn about our Customer and Advisor Journey Survey to see how others’ experiences can provide good insight on creating an intentional client experience.