Maintain vs Retain: Keep Clients by Borrowing a Page from E-Commerce

Those who operate in the world of eCommerce spend a lot of time thinking about customer retention. That’s because it can cost five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep and old one; they literally can’t afford to lose customers.

During the pandemic, many financial advisors faced a prospect they could not predict: a rise in new clients. As we discussed in 2020, many new clients had never worked with an advisor before.[1] Now, many advisors may be turning their thoughts towards maintaining their clients. There are plenty of resources on client maintenance, including brushing up on your listening skills, being positive and learning your clients needs. A savvy advisor may wonder if there isn’t a different approach. In fact, there might be. While advisors and others in service industries focus on client maintenance, those in eCommerce focus on client retention. You might be asking: Isn’t that the same thing? It isn’t and learning the difference may provide some interesting insight into your client maintenance plans and point to where you might be able to improve.

First, most advisors follow the well-worn path of client maintenance that includes communicating regularly and asking for updates. They may find that increasing their client contact helps maintain clients. These approaches may be working well for you. But if you want to expand your approach, consider customer retention approaches.

Those who operate in the world of eCommerce spend a lot of time thinking about customer retention. That’s because it can cost five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep and old one; they literally can’t afford to lose customers. Additionally, 84% of customers note customer experience will keep them loyal. Many of the approaches eCommerce businesses use to keep customers, like customer loyalty programs and text marketing campaigns, won’t translate over to financial services clients. But others will. Here are a few easily translatable eCommerce strategies.

Amp up the Feedback. Many in eCommerce suggest that you approach customer service from the perspective of knowing your clients better than they know themselves. While there are loads of privacy issues that should have you chatting with your legal counsel, collecting data will help you know what roadblocks customers may be facing before they do. You might find that surveys and questionnaires sent to clients on a regular basis as well as immediately following a service appointment help you gather that feedback from clients.

Anticipatory Service through Ancillary Services. “Anticipatory service is the style of customer service when your business anticipates problems that may occur and stops them before they can happen.”[2] In the case of an eCommerce whiz that could involve returning items. For financial services it might be of a different variety.

Anticipatory service for a financial advisor these days may include understanding what marketing your client is receiving either from other firms, or for other services. Those other services might seem ancillary to financial advising but are worth contemplating. One trend on the rise is financial coaching services. As one financial coach explained financial advisory services are focused on the future “financial planning, including retirement, insurance, estate, taxes, and investments.” Coaching on the other hand is focused on the present or on urgent needs “issues like credit card debt, building an emergency fund, or just getting their head around their budget for the first time.”  Coaching services are more appropriate for a broader, often younger, group of folks. That expert went on to note that coaching is “half about financial literacy, and half about behavior change and forming good financial habits around spending and cash flow... neither of which are part of the typical engagement with a financial advisor.”[3] Highlighting the difference between coaches and advisors may be helpful in talking with your clients. An extra step may be to use a newsletter to discuss the differences between coaching and advising. An advisor might suggest those services for a client’s children. How does that anticipate a client’s needs? Supporting adult children who may have emergency needs, such as a health-related incident, or a longer than expected period of unemployment, may require a drawdown on retirement funds or an urgent need to alter a financial plan. Coaching for children may help the parent stay on a consistent schedule in terms of retirement savings and income.

Cruise Control Your Contacts. On the classic show “The Love Boat” Julie the Cruise director possessed a clipboard with all the answers. Can your customer service reps get their hands on the same thing? Maybe! 25 years ago, LL Bean armed their customer help desk with a 4-inch think binder that literally answered every question anyone could ask (including this author’s query about where to find hot coffee at 3 am in rural Maine). You can do the same by being on the lookout for opportunities to connect. Any time your client may interact with your firm is an opportunity for client maintenance. And those opportunities are ones where you can ensure that the client stays with your firm. As one marketing advisor suggests “Create customer interactions that are above average… all of the time. They are consistent and predictable.”[4] Recent surveys [5] showed that a good customer service experience was defined by customers who stated that not having to repeat themselves or be passed to another agent as well as the knowledge of the customer service agent and their ability to resolve their problem on the first call. Not surprisingly, those same items were what defined a bad customer service experience as both not reaching a live person for support, whomever did respond didn’t have the knowledge they needed or not being able to resolve the problem via online information.  Customer service agents can be armed with the equivalent of that LL Bean 4-inch binder by collecting resources and frequently asked questions. Much of that information can also be shared online. This could also involve archiving and tagging previous newsletters as well. Along the same lines, many in eCommerce suggest never leaving a customer on hold for more than five minutes.




See also

[4] Manage Your Customer Service Moments of Truth and Create Moments of Magic® (


These articles are prepared for general purposes and are not intended to provide advice or encourage specific behavior. Before taking any action, Advisors and Plan Sponsors should consult with their compliance, finance and legal teams.

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