For some reason, hair has been a central theme for me lately. Maybe because I’m quickly losing mine. I have a lot more forehead today than five years ago. Thank goodness I still have the perfect face for radio!
Most of us are extremely picky about who cuts our hair. I certainly am. I have a “cowlick” and when it’s cut too short, it sticks up everywhere. For most of us, changing hair stylists is like changing your tax advisor, wealth advisor or auditor—it only happens when we feel like we must make a move.
Once I have a comfortable relationship with my stylist and they know how to cut my hair, I’m a customer for life. I think we believe our clients feel the same way about us. They like us, we know what they need and want and they have been with us 5, 10, 15 and even 20+ years. Life is good, relationships work—until they don’t. It’s usually pretty sudden since we get comfortable with our client relationships.
My primary stylist, one that I really liked, was not serving me well. This puzzled me as I had been loyal and an uncharacteristically (by accountant standards) big tipper. But frequently, I was squeezed in between other customers resulting in feeling more like being run through a car wash. Getting an appointment that met my schedule got harder and harder. It was also annoying that I always had to call the salon to get the appointment. You never knew who would answer the phone, how long it would take to locate an appointment book or if they could even book an appointment for my stylist.
So, I began to search for a better solution. I heard about a new “barbershop” where access was easy and the stylists were excellent. As an added bonus for male customers they also provide a neck shave and hot towel. ( I have come to love this.) So I pushed away my loyalty to my existing relationship and made an appointment. And oh my, was I pleasantly surprised!
The new stylist asked me lots of questions and checked out my cowlick before she cut anything. We discussed preferred length based on my features and she advised regular cuts which would help with the gray effect. To my delight, she offered the ability to text her phone to get appointments. She even suggested a different style of cut to enhance the appearance of my hair. She was anticipatory and engaged me in conversations that were focused on my needs and expectations.
Based on this experience, I moved my dwindling hair business to a new stylist—one that was focused on my changing needs and easy to deal with. By haircut three or four, we developed a really good relationship. She knows I do not want to carry on a lot of chit-chat during my cut, shave and wash, and actually expressed joy over this since so many of her clients never hush! Ha!
This is eerily similar to our profession today. The scary part is that many of us are serving our clients and working in a business model like my former stylist. We are doing what we have always done when we can get to it. We are not making our clients feel special as we already have relationships with them. We are making assumptions about what our clients want and need rather than having relevant conversations with them.
Meanwhile, many of our clients are searching for new services, insights and relevant advisors to help with the sea of constant change and uncertainty they are dealing with. We are entering a time in this transformation when clients are less loyal to relationships and highly focused on finding relevant advisors.
In fact, in a recent study of professional services, Hinge Marketing found that for the first time, relationships (although still an extremely high factor in the decision process to purchase professional services) has fallen in level of importance. Relationships will still get us an opportunity or better access than our competition but will no longer automatically provide growth or keep clients loyal if we are not having relevant conversation. They are already looking.
According to Hinge’s research, today this decision process begins with:
- Can you fix my problem?
- Are you easy to do business with?
- Do I like you?
It’s so similar to the process I went through in finding my new stylist. I really liked my previous stylist but my needs had changed. Do you think our client's needs are changing? Clients today take advantage of the pull economy—an economy driven by demands where the buyer has the leverage. They research and find advisors who are talking about their concerns, their business, their industry and opportunities.
Reflect on how prevalent our legacy belief is that our relationships are why we are so successful.
Our profession is at the intersection of historically providing services that are less valued and being commoditized due to our lack of differentiation. Our greatest competition will not be the firm down the street, it will be the innovative technology company that has disrupted our service model. It will be the new advisor that has provided anticipatory insights and relevant conversation. It will be those advisors who are front and center in discussing ways to handle that cowlick.
Here are some thoughts to ponder for strategy:
- How is our faith in relationships putting us at risk? Leading to too many assumptions?
- Clients are becoming impatient with advisors that do not help with uncertainty and strategy.
- The game has changed as clients want relevance and now they go find it.