Four keys to improving client communications.

When it comes to improving client experience and customer retention, companies invest significant dollars in everything from call center equipment to loyalty programs. And that makes sense—a few years ago, HBR reported that acquiring a new customer is five to 25 times more expensive than retaining a current customer. 

One often overlooked area in the client experience continuum is client service communications: those recurring communications about everything from a beneficiary change, to a custodian update, to a new policy document. These communications are particularly frequent (and required) in the financial services industries such as banking, investing, and insurance. And for any client that may already be “on the fence” with how they feel about their provider lately, one confusing missive could be the push out the door. 

Fortunately, improving client service communications doesn’t require a multi-million-dollar investment and it is something you can implement today. Here are a few steps to getting started. 

  1. Do an audit of what your clients currently receive from you.Client communications tend to proliferate over time, with various teams and departments creating letters and emails in their own little silo. Many companies only find out about some of their less-than-stellar communications when a client complaint comes in. To get ahead of that, conduct an audit of all communications by setting up test accounts or “seed addresses”—add the addresses of your selected auditors to mailing lists so they receive duplicates of what a client might receive.
  2. Rank the communications on volume and ‘offensive’ level.The biggest win in the short term will be your highest volume letters—often 20 percent (or less) of all unique communications items drive 80 percent (or more) of the total volume to customers. Take a look at those high-volume drivers, and then assess which letters cause the most trouble—whether that means negative language, lack of plain English, or lack of clarity. The high-volume, high-offensive communications are the ones you’ll want to tackle first.
  3. Develop client service communications guidelines and a style guideMany companies who have already been through branding exercises have already developed guidelines and style guides, but if you haven’t, these two tools can be invaluable in developing good client communications. And just having them isn’t enough—you need to roll them out to your entire organization. 
  4. Start the rewriting or refresh project.This step includes its own set of keys to success such as:
    • Engaged subject matter experts (SMEs): Experts who can be consulted as needed regarding the underlying “why” of the communication content. Your SMEs need to buy into the project and understand that they’ll be committing some of their time. Disengaged SMEs cost more time and money on the overall project.
    • Writers who understand the subject area: Writers need to know what they’re writing about to be effective—especially in the area of financial services.
    • A focus on long-term gain: A refresh project can take some time depending on the volume of communications and the pace; maintaining commitment is a big key to success.
    • A process for on-going maintenance: For each newly rewritten communication, a refresh trigger should be established to maintain the voice and consistency of the information—this will save the need for another major refresh down the road. 

The investment needed to fund a refresh project depends on the overall volume, team engagement, and the timeline. Expect to engage a writing team (either in-house or an external agency) over a period of time. The writing team is often lead by a communications strategist (again, in-house or external). Also, if any technical platform builds are needed, that can certainly require additional investment. 

If funding is needed, consider sourcing investment from groups within the company that are positively impacted by improved communications, such as client experience, operations, call teams, marketing, and sales. 

The great thing here is the flexibility. Even with a minimal investment—improving perhaps your top five letters or emails—you will have taken an important step in improving the client experience. And you’ll have great examples to showcase with your team for new communications.