In a Nutshell: Delivering great service is table stakes. Drive toward extraordinary by creating a unique, emotionally engaging experience for each individual client.

Guest: Julie Littlechild. Julie is a leading expert on the drivers of client engagement. She’s also the cohost of the Becoming Referable podcast and the author of the book The Pursuit of Absolute Engagement.

My Key Takeaway: To create an engaging client experience that becomes a magnet for new ideal clients:

  1. Be intentional about designing a discovery and planning process that engages your clients emotions and makes them feel more connected to you.
  2. Focus less on a prospect’s assets and more on how they view themselves, then deliver an experience that is tailor made for who they are.
  3. Draw a distinction between service and hospitality … and excel at both.

Also Learn:

1. Why creating a client journey map should be an essential early step in thinking about your systems and services.

2. How to put your firm and its ideal clients to an “Authenticity Test” that will make you think about what you’re really trying to accomplish as an advisor and as a business owner.

3. What it means for advisors and their clients to “co-create” a financial planning experience together.

Complementary Episode: Pair this with my conversation with Dan Moisand, in which he describes how he designed his planning process to draw out different feelings from his clients at each step of the journey. Listen/read here.

Resources Featured In This Episode

Absolute Engagement Visit Julie Littlechild and her team.

Becoming Referable Subscribe to Julie Littlechild’s podcast.

Values Clarification Toolkit Click here to download this FREE tool and start living your values.

Full Transcript

Steve Sanduski: I’ve read that Starbucks has more than 87,000 possible drink combinations on their menu. Now just imagine that, that they have to have an incredibly organized and systematized process to be able to deliver that many drink combinations. But Starbucks also understands that while the system has to be consistent, the way that each customer experiences that process is going to infinitely vary, and so I think when it comes to advisors, oftentimes advisors spend a lot of energy on trying to systematize the process and not enough time on trying to optimize the client’s unique emotional experience of that process. So if you end up really emphasizing the systematizing part, you could end up with a very operationally efficient business, but one that is devoid of emotionally engaged clients.

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Between Now and Success. I’m your host, Steve Sanduski, and my guest today is Julie Littlechild. Julie is a leading expert on the drivers of client engagement. She’s also a very popular speaker. She’s the cohost of the Becoming Referable podcast, and she’s the author of the book The Pursuit of Absolute Engagement. On today’s show, Julie and I talk about how to create an engaging client experience that becomes a magnet for new ideal clients, and we spend a lot of time talking about this idea of the difference between customer service and systemization versus the idea of creating this emotionally engaging client experience. So lots of great ideas and gems in here that can really help elevate your business and really differentiate you from the competition. So please enjoy my conversation with Julie Littlechild.

Julie, it’s great to have you on the show.

Julie Littlechild: Oh, thanks. So happy to be here.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, well you and I have known each other for a number of years, and so it’s fun to finally get you here on the podcast. You’ve been in the industry for a long time. You have some great and deep expertise in a number of areas, and today we really want to, I think, focus in on the whole idea of the client experience. So I think a good place to start here is what is the difference between client service and client experience? How do you distinguish between the two?

Julie Littlechild: Well, I mean, it’s a great question because I think it’s the question that we don’t ask in this industry, to be honest. I think those two things become one and we don’t distinguish between the two, and that creates all sorts of problems. So I think of client service as the things that we do to deliver on our core offer. So that is everything from how you run a review meeting to your CRM and your workflow. It’s effectively about the efficiency with which you deliver on that core offer, but experience goes above and beyond that. It really comprises the things that you do to demonstrate leadership with your clients, to set yourself apart, and it’s more likely to drive engagement. So we think of a great service as driving satisfaction but a great experience as driving much deeper engagement.

Steve Sanduski: One of the things that I also think about when I think about customer service and client experience is I think of customer service maybe as reactive and more process oriented, whereas I think of client experience as more the emotional feeling that I get, the emotional payoffs that I get as I go through the process. So it’s not the process itself. It’s the feeling that I get as I’m going through that process. Do you think about it in that way as well?

Julie Littlechild: Well, I do, because when we think about what comprises experience, it’s things that create some sort of emotional reaction, because as an advisor, you’re getting to the core of what is important or you’re adding value to your clients’ lives in some way that goes above and beyond. The other thing that’s pretty clear is that when you’re delivering great service, that can … Well, actually, let me flip that around. If you deliver poor service, it can be a dissatisfier, but really great service isn’t necessarily a driver of engagement. You can’t have a process that is just that much better or just that much more efficient and create a qualitatively different relationship, so we need great service. I don’t think it’s one or the other. I see experience as building on great service.


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Steve Sanduski: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think about industry today, financial services, where things are getting cheaper. So we’ve got firms now that are managing your money for zero, and we’ve got investment products, ETFs that have zero internal expenses. You can get financial planning for $30 a month. So there’s pressure in some of those areas on pricing, and so you think about from a financial advisor standpoint, what is the remaining moat for an advisor? What is it that they can do in an environment where technology is really driving down the cost and the price of a lot of services towards zero? I think of this idea of client experience, that it’s this human interaction between an advisor and their client and the engagements that can come as a result of that.

So that’s why I’m really excited about the conversation today, is I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for advisors to be really intentional in how they create that client experience, how they engage their clients, and you’re certainly the expert in this area. So do you have a process or a methodology that you work through when you work with advisors to create a compelling client experience? Do you have something like that, and how does that work?

Julie Littlechild: Well, we do, because I think that when you begin to step back and think about what is involved, there are some natural steps that you need to go through. So we created a client experience framework. There are 11 steps in it. I’m sure you could add more, but these are some of the core steps that we think are important. The key there is it does start with good service. It starts with a foundation because if we’re not delivering on that, then there’s no use trying to think about an extraordinary experience. It’s like building a beautiful house on a shaky foundation. So that framework focuses first and foremost on who are you designing this experience to support? I mean, that really fundamental question, I think, changes what the experience should be, and in my mind that’s one of the hallmarks of a great experience. It should be different depending on who you’re targeting because what’s important to them is different, what their aspirations and challenges and needs and goals are are different.

So I think that’s the most fundamental place to start, and then we do move into the foundational elements. That could be things like segmenting your clients and defining your offer, building some basic workflow into the business so that you know you’re delivering well and efficiently and profitably, you’ve got the capacity to deliver and it’s profitable, and all of those things that are at the core. But it’s really when we move on from there that we start thinking of okay, well, how do I, like you said, intentionally design an experience that will really set me apart? That’s where I get a little more excited about some of the ways that we work with advisors.

Steve Sanduski: So I think the first piece you said there was really defining your niche or your ideal client. So there’s still a lot of advisors whose ideal client is someone who has a half million, a million, two million dollars in investible assets, so it’s not a target. It’s an amount of money that they have to invest that I can make a reasonable profit and provide a good service on. So if that’s your ideal client, is it harder for someone like that to create a compelling client experience? Because there’s a lot of different people who have a million dollars or more in investible assets. They’re not like a focused niche. They could come from various backgrounds, have different belief systems, and so on. Is it harder for someone like that to create an ideal experience, or it doesn’t really matter whether you have a broad clientele versus a very targeted niche? Does it make a difference?

Julie Littlechild: It can make a massive difference. I think that if you are trying to be too broad … although maybe we can a little bit about that. I think there are some broad targets where you can still do great work, but if it’s really just based on wealth and age, that’s not how clients define themselves. That’s not what they see as driving their fundamental needs, so you end up defaulting to the things that matter to everyone, which is good service. So you focus on efficiency and you focus on process and you focus on workflow, and it’s very hard to go beyond that. There’s a core exercise that I really think we all need to go through, and that’s understanding the fundamental difference between a niche or a target and an ideal. We can get caught up in the semantics, but I see a niche or a target as the group of clients that you want to work with and ideal as a set of filters that says who’s right for your business.

So if I said I want to work with business owners, to pick an obvious target, it doesn’t mean that every business owner is right for me. Still my target. So my ideal business owner, that’s where things like assets might come in, or the size of the business, or their investment philosophy, or some of these other things. But my target is still the business owner. My target isn’t the filters. It isn’t wealth, and it isn’t all of those other things. Otherwise I just can’t create something that sets me apart.

Steve Sanduski: Well, I think you made a good distinction there. As up started that little segment there, you said something that I want to drill down just a little bit more, and hopefully I wrote this down right. You said, as we were talking about say the broad target market, you said something like if you’re targeting people by their asset size or their age, that’s not how the client defines their fundamental needs or that’s not how they view themselves. Did I get that right? I would love if you could explore that a little bit more, maybe this idea of your niche should be defined by how the people you’re targeting see themselves.

Julie Littlechild: Well, absolutely. That is it, and I think if you’re trying to attract people then you can’t put that definition on them. I mean, I’m not defined by how much money I have. Whether you have a little or a lot, it doesn’t really define who you are, so how can you create a differentiated experience around the amount of money that I have? It just doesn’t make sense to me. I think this idea that … A target needs to be authentic, and when I say authentic, I mean it not only needs to be something that you care about, but which will be a real draw for the client.

Sometimes I have advisors go through this exercise, which we actually call the authenticity test, but we say, “Okay, imagine you’ve got a whiteboard in front of you, and you’re trying to think about the target for your business.” Well, if it’s just you and the team, naturally you might think about age and wealth and a variety of other factors. But then we say, “Okay, well, let’s imagine whatever’s on your whiteboard, put that as the sign on your office door. At ABC Financial we work with people with a million dollars. If I walk up to that door …”

I mean, first of all, can you honestly say that is fundamentally what motivates you as an advisor? Because the next answer’s why. I work with people with a million dollars because, I don’t know, they have money? I don’t know. I mean, maybe that’s enough. But if you think about the client, do I walk up to the door and say, “Oh my goodness, these guys get me. They can just see right through me, and they understand my goals and needs because well, yeah, there’s a million dollars there.” So that’s where I think when you find that right target, it’s deeply compelling both for the advisor and for the client. That’s the magic, to me.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, I love your idea of taking that whiteboard and saying, “Internally, here’s what we define as our ideal client,” and then saying, “Okay, now, let’s put that as the front sign out our office as people walk in.”

Julie Littlechild: And see how that feels for a minute.

Steve Sanduski: Oh yeah, that’s great. You also mentioned how if an advisor says, “Look, my minimum is a million dollars and that’s what drives me.” what I’m finding as I’m coaching advisors is very few advisors are intrinsically driven by I want to increase my assets under management by 100 million or 500 million or I want to add 30 new clients this year. I mean, those are nice metrics that signify that my business is growing, but intrinsically most advisors aren’t motivated by that. What I’m finding is what they’re motivated by is what the achievement of those metrics signifies or enables the advisor to increase their impact that they can make on people’s lives. It’s not the numerical financial goals. It’s what those can do for the clients, for the advisors, for the impact, that sort of thing. So I’ve seen a shift as I work with advisors that we still have those numerical goals, but they’re not necessarily the top goal that we’re driving toward. They’re the initiative or they’re the key result that we’re trying to achieve, but ultimately it’s in support of a much grander objective that is personally meaningful to the advisor and the rest of the team.

Julie Littlechild: Well, that’s it, right? When you can define that, that’s really magic, because you just need to explain that to people and they can feel it. So you could take a really broad niche like pre-retirees. We always joke about that. I work with pre-retirees and retirees.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, well that’s everybody, isn’t it?

Julie Littlechild: Yeah, pretty much caught everybody in that, but here’s the thing. If you think about it, I don’t see many businesses building a fundamentally different experience around the pre-retiree. So even though it’s a massive group, one could argue that if you said, “We work we people who are within five to 10 years of retirement, and here’s why. We have found that people have worked all their lives and they have issues to deal with at that stage that they’ve never had to think about. They’re not just thinking about money. They’re thinking about purpose and what they’ll do with their time and their family.” So you could build a pretty strong, compelling case to say, “Now, I could have a really unique experience for these folks,” and you would be set apart. It’s very different if you say, “We work with pre-retirees because frankly you’ve got a fair bit of money and you’re going to need us a lot in the next 10 years,” right?

Steve Sanduski: And you’re going to have money in motion when you retire.

Julie Littlechild: Saying, “That’s what I’m all about,” right? We don’t say that. But to your point, it’s not really what they’re thinking, either, so maybe just connecting with why you’re drawn to a target market can be one of the best places to start.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, and just that idea of the pre-retiree, when you think about what are the transitions in life that that person, that couple in their stage of life are experiencing. I mean, another one, for example, is they may be taking care of an aging parent. I mean, a lot of people in their 50s and 60s have parents that are in their 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

Julie Littlechild: Absolutely.

Steve Sanduski: And they’ve got kids that are either in college or just coming out of college, and maybe they’re starting their careers or they still haven’t been able to start their careers yet. They’re still living at home. I’m in that bracket.

Julie Littlechild: Yeah, believe me, I get you.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, so there’s lots of transitions.

Julie Littlechild: I keep telling people I’m the poster child for it because I have a 10-year-old and an 87-year-old mother.

Steve Sanduski: Oh, wow. Yeah, well my parents, knock on wood, are doing well. Dad is 90 and mom is 85, so yeah. They’re still living independently, which we’re very blessed with, and three kids out of college now. So empty nesters, so we’re going through a phase. I’m not ready to retire yet, though.

Julie Littlechild: But understanding that becomes pretty compelling, right? You can build a proposition around that, rather than just saying it’s about money or age.

Steve Sanduski: Right.

Julie Littlechild: It doesn’t mean we have to work with dentists within a three-mile radius of our office, unless you love dentists, right?

Steve Sanduski: Right.

Julie Littlechild: If you do, go for it.

Steve Sanduski: Yep.

Julie Littlechild: But it’s then thinking that all right, well, now when I think about my experience, what am I doing differently because I’m working with this group? If I can’t see a difference in what I’m delivering, whether it’s a pre-retiree or business owner or whomever, then I really haven’t defined a differentiated experience.

Steve Sanduski: Right. So let’s take an example. Let’s maybe work through an example here. We’ve been talking about this pre-retiree, so maybe that’s a good one to start with. So let’s say we want to work with pre-retirees, people that are within let’s call it three to seven years prior to retirement or somewhere around there, and how would you go about … You’ve got your framework here. I think you’ve got 11 steps in your framework. So how would you walk through some of those steps for this particular advisor that has a niche of working with pre-retirees to create a differentiated client experience? What are somethings that we should be thinking about or working on as part of that?

Julie Littlechild: I would start the process by just going very deep, and this can be an internal exercise, and trying to pull out all of those challenges and aspirations and goals, some of what you just mentioned, like maybe my kids are in college, maybe I want to travel. Whatever they are, just really try to get inside the head of those clients. There are some firms, not many, who are going down the path of creating a persona where we can really put some meat on the bones and say, “This is the ideal. This is what’s on their mind.” Well, that immediately starts to unearth different ways that you can support those clients.

One of the exercises that I really like in particular is the whole idea of client journey mapping. So rather than saying this is what good service looks like, take that ideal, put them front and center, walk through the stages that they go through, evaluate what they’re thinking and feeling and doing at each stage, and then ask, “Well, how can we help them, based on what they’re thinking, feeling, and doing?” And all of a sudden that starts to create all sorts of thoughts about different communications, or different education or different support or different partnerships that you might put in place, or a different content for your website. I mean, whatever it is, you’re really building around that client. So that doesn’t tell you what to do. It doesn’t tell you what the experience should be. It’s more of a design approach that will help guide you through the process, and that really starts to inform your entire communications plan and the different ways that your business can support those clients.

So if you were thinking about pre-retirees, some of the immediate things that would come to mind would be, when you really think about what they’re thinking, feeling, and doing, is the kinds of client communications you deliver. We worked with an advisor who did a full educational day on transitioning to retirement, for example, and brought in experts on relationship and legacy and family, as well as financial, as well as health. So it really became the focus was you’re transitioning and we get what transition means and we’re going to guide you through that process. But you need to get inside the heads of the clients, I think, to even have those thoughts.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, so you really have to do the best job you can walking in your clients shoes and trying to walk through the experience as they would. I remember back in my peak days, I would coach clients or advisors on basically going outside your office and then walking inside with a yellow pad and just pretending like you’re a client and you’re experiencing this for the first time and just notice everything. Are the carpets clean? Are the walls freshly painted? Is the lighting okay? What’s the ambiance? What’s the feeling you get when you walk in the office? When you walk up to the front, how do they greet you, and just basically … It’s almost like mystery shopping and walking through the different touch points, and make notes around it and just see how you feel as if you were a client of your own firm. Would you like the experience that you’re delivering?

Because I think sometimes we get so caught up from our end of delivering the service that we don’t do a good enough job of trying to put ourselves on the other end and said, “Well, if I was on the receiving end of this experience that I’m delivering right now, how would I feel about it? Does this make sense? Does this feel good?”

Julie Littlechild: Yeah. I remember an advisor going through a similar exercise and telling me that the one thing they tweaked, and they felt like a lot of it was feeling really good. But they noticed that when they walked through to his office, he was sort of the only senior advisor in the office, that you walked, everybody’s backs was to the client. So they just rearranged the desk so that people would just acknowledge the client as they were coming through. This is just such a simple thing, but it made a difference because it was more welcoming, just walking into that office.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah. I visited the eye doctor actually this morning, but a few weeks ago I was there for the first visit. It was a new doctor that I was visiting for the first time, and so we’re filling out the paperwork, which I still can’t figure out in this day and age why they give me a pad there and I have to fill out these photocopied sheets of paper and I have to write my name in on two different sets … Come on, okay? But the one thing they did that I will pat them on the back for is she said, “Can you stand in front of this while we take your picture?” Being the student of marketing and service, I said, “Well, I’m just curious, what are you doing with the picture?” And she said, “Well, we put it into our CRM system here, and that way everyone in the office can see and they can recognize you when you’re in the office.” And I’m like, “That’s what we used to teach at my old company.”

Julie Littlechild: Yeah, right.

Steve Sanduski: So it’s like, yeah, it’s going to into the eye doctor business too.

Julie Littlechild: Yeah. Well I do. You see it in some dental offices. You see it in a lot of professional services, and I think that related to what we’re talking about, the other shift that I think we’re seeing with client experience is that it’s become more aspirational, I would say. What I mean by that is it’s one thing to deliver on that service and do it exceptionally well, even to the point of knowing people’s names and getting their coffee right and all those, the lovely little things that we do. But if you can help me become the person I want to be, if you can help me realize certain dreams that I might not have had the confidence to do, and that’s where I think we start to see differentiation. So if we think about that pre-retiree, if it’s …

I talked advisor a while ago, and he’d worked with pre-retirees all his life. Then he retired, and he wrote this book. And it was really brief, but it was the four, what did he call it? The four transitions, effectively, that you’re going to go. There’s four phases that you’re going to go through as you move into retirement. Of course it was about time and purpose and finding a new vision for your life, but that’s a really good example of delivering something that is true leadership. This isn’t just about the money. We’re going to guide you through this process to something that’s better than perhaps you could’ve even imagined.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, it’s a great example. So as we’re talking here about these pre-retirees, advisors have worked with dozens if not hundreds of clients that have gone through that phase, but to the client that’s sitting in front of them, that’s the first time they’ve gone through it.

Julie Littlechild: Exactly.

Steve Sanduski: So the advisor, they can’t just be going through the motions, like oh, this is the hundredth time I’ve worked with a client who’s getting ready to retire. I’m not suggesting that most advisors just go through the motions like that, but you have to think about what are the fears that this person is going through? What are they scared about about retiring? How are they going to feel when instead of getting a paycheck every month, now they’re going to be drawing down their savings every month, type thing. So there’s a lot of psychological things as it relates to the retirement phase, so definitely a lot of things that advisors can really focus on in terms of, like you say, the leadership piece and creating content and material that shows their experience in going through that transition a hundred or more times for clients.

Julie Littlechild: Because you’re an expert in this, and I don’t know if advisors always give themselves the credit for being that. Because like you said, it’s been done so many times before, and look, this is what people talk about, too, right? Never once in my life have I come home and told my family about the incredible CRM that my advisor had in place or the workflow. Not that we don’t need all this stuff, but it’s certainly not what’s driving referrals. Too often, at the risk of being harsh, I think when I hear some advisors talking about experience, what they’re describing to me is just a really good delivery of what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place, and I know that’s not easy. I mean, it’s not easy, but it’s not different.

Steve Sanduski: Right, right. So let’s go deeper on this idea of creating the differentiated experience. I think you mentioned about mapping out the client journey. You talked about how to try and understand how the clients are thinking and feeling and what they’re doing at each stage. I remember I had Dan Moisand on the podcast, and one of the things he said I thought was really cool, and this is right in line with what you’re saying, is he said, “As we are meeting with a potential new client and we’re talking about what they can expect,” he said, “we will basically walk them through each stage of the process of working with us.” Then he said, “Then what we do is we say, ‘Okay, at this part in the process, at this stage, when you’re done with this part, we want you to feel blank.'” So he literally will say, “When we’re done with this, you should feel blank.” So he’s really, I think, tried to make that emotional connection with the process that they’re walking through, so I thought that was pretty good. I think that dovetails nicely with what you’ve been saying here.

Julie Littlechild: It does, and I think that explaining it like that gives people this sense of progression and gives them a clear path. And that’s powerful, right? When you’re in the middle of it and you’re the advisor and you’re expert, the path is very clear. It’s not always so much for the client, right? So that I think taps into the whole idea of you’re almost … If you can inspire your clients in a different way, that’s worth something.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, and at the risk of beating a dead horse here, so we’re talking about this idea of-

Julie Littlechild: But go ahead.

Steve Sanduski: Okay, I’ll just whack it. So we’ve got this idea of service, and we’ve been talking about how service is maybe more of the mechanical steps that you go through to complete something. You can deliver incredible service, meaning I do what I say I’m going to do, I answer the phone within one ring, I return emails within 60 minutes, all these operational things that I do super, super well, okay? So let’s call that great service, and then we’ve got the experience that people feel.

So another analogy to look at that is I forgot the guy’s name, but he is the founder of Shake Shack and some other high-end restaurant chains. Anyway, he was giving a talk, I was reading one of his books, and he said that one of the things that he’s done in his restaurants is he’s made a distinction between service and hospitality. And he says, “We’re in the hospitality business,” and he said, “The difference is let’s say you take a server at the restaurant. They can greet you. They can promptly take your order. They can get your order right. They can get your food out, and it’s hot. And they come back, and they check on you. So they check all those boxes from a service standpoint, and it’s great service.”

But he said, “That’s one thing. But we try and go beyond, and we try and put hospitality into it. In short, hospitality is about making that emotional connection with the patron in the restaurant. It’s the conversation that the server has with the person. It’s having a system in place so that if this person has been to the restaurant, if this is their second, third, or 20th time, they know that. They know some of the unique things about this patron, and so they might do some special personalized things because they know this information about that person.” So I think it’s a really powerful idea to go beyond thinking about I want to deliver great service to that’s table stakes, but if I want to really differentiate myself, it’s about how do I bring in that emotional piece that’s personalized to that person in front of me.

Julie Littlechild: Yeah, and here’s, I think, the interesting challenge. I mean, first of all, getting all that right at Shake Shack or wherever isn’t easy, and I wonder if sometimes that’s why we stop there, because it feels like it takes such an incredible effort. I mean, in our world is being on top of technology and having the right team in place and ensuring there’s process. I mean, it’s difficult, right? So it can feel so exhausting thinking, “Oh, I must be done now.” I mean, we’re good.

This will be with a nod to a guy named Jay Baer, who does a lot of work in client experience, because sometimes I think with experience we go to this idea of what we would generally call surprise and delight, right? So we’re going to create a culture where our team looks for those opportunities and then goes above and beyond, and of course you would. Why wouldn’t you do that? The challenge is how do you operationalize that, right? So what happens to the client who doesn’t happen to have a problem that you can solve in that way, that you can go above and beyond? So I think that part of our challenge with experience is looking for ways to kind of operationalize something that is somewhat emotional, and that’s where I think we start looking at the communications we do, the events we run, the setup of the office, the skills that we have, the plans, whatever it is that we know we can deliver over and over and over again. Otherwise it’s going to be tough.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, and that’s a whole nother area that I kind of get on my soapbox when we talk about this idea of how do we systematize these things so that we can scale our business. Frequent listeners to my podcast will know I’ve said this before, that I’ve never met a client that wants to be scaled. Fish get scaled, but not people.

Julie Littlechild: They do.

Steve Sanduski: So I think we have to be careful and walk a fine line here between putting operational processes in place that really run people through a system and gosh, I can put 20 people through this pipe each month, versus I need to make sure that I’m also personalizing this experience. Yes, we can put systems in place to make sure nothing fall through the cracks and make sure that all the things that we do on a regular basis that are repeatable, that we make those as efficient as possible. But then on the other hand, how can we make the normal processes remarkable? I think that can be part of the client experience as well. Like yeah, we do, for every client this is the process they go through. It’s like filling out the paperwork, okay? Well, maybe let’s get creative. Let’s figure out can I come up with a creative way that would make filling out the paperwork a remarkable experience for my clients. I don’t know off the top of my head what that is, but-

Julie Littlechild: Well yeah, good luck with that one.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, good luck, yeah. But I mean, I think those are the kinds of things that, as we talk about really trying to create a differentiated client experience, is people got to be creative here and do things that not other people are doing, or maybe take ideas from other industries that you might pick up and say, “How can I adapt that idea and apply it to what we’re doing here?”

Julie Littlechild: That’s right. We look a lot outside the industry, as I’m sure you … well, you do like now on your podcast, to say, “What does innovation look like?” Right? You don’t have to go too far. You don’t have to go beyond the big obvious brands like the Starbucks of the worlds to say rarely would we describe their innovation as being a better product, but they do know their clients, their customers, in that case, quite deeply. I think the question that a lot of the big brands or the more progressive service firms ask themselves is less how do I improve what I’m doing and more how does what we do fit into the lives of our clients and how can we support that? Which is why Starbucks has the environment they have, right? Because they figured out how people drink coffee and where they want to drink coffee and how long they want to sit there and all of those sorts of things.

So it is a very different approach, I think, that we need to take to be creative and to be progressive. Because our mindset’s always just how do I tweak what I’m doing and how do I do it better and faster, and that only gets so far.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting you mentioned Starbucks because I wrote a blog post that’s called Every Client Should Have a Different Client Experience, and maybe you’ll disagree with that. I don’t know. I used Starbucks as an example because that’s a common example that we hear in the industry, and there are some firms that are trying to model themselves after, quote, the Starbucks experience. In this article that I wrote, I talk about how when my wife and I go to Starbucks, we have two very different experiences at Starbucks. So for example, I order coffee, and sometimes I’ll get one of those high-calorie gooey lattes. She usually will get tea. So first of all, we’ve got a different experience because mine’s coffee, hers is tea, and we have a different reaction to Starbucks itself. I kind of like the hubbub that’s going on and the energy and the music and that sort of thing, and that’s not necessarily her thing.

So even though we have different experiences when we go there, I think this process is consistent. So even though Starbucks says that they have like 87,000 different drink combinations, the way that they go about creating that drink, from taking the order, to going around to the other counter to pick it up, to having my name written on the cup, to just the whole process that they go about is consistent from one Starbucks to another. But the experience of how each person experiences that, I think, is different. So I hope people don’t think I’m splitting hairs here, but I think, again, we can have a consistent process but also need to understand how is each person, who is a unique individual, going to experience this process. Again, putting yourself in the shoes of your client, try to think about how is the husband going to experience this? How is the spouse, the wife going to experience this? That sort of thing.

Julie Littlechild: Well yeah. One of the steps in client journey mapping is to identify the other stakeholders that are involved in the process and decision making. I think that’s again where you start to think about okay, there are other people here, so I do need to deliver in a different way. The other thing that I think, and I don’t know if everybody’s aware the depth to which Starbucks does this, is I think they represent a firm that is tapping into a trend that I’m a big believer in, which is really co-creation of value. So they take client input incredibly seriously, and it’s not just what flavors of syrup should we have. I’m sure they ask about that, but they invite input on the environment and the process and their social responsibility and the charities they support. So in a way they’re starting to co-create the experience, and to me that is next-level experience, right? When we’re not just delivering value but we’re co-creating that, something different comes out of that.

Steve Sanduski: So how would that look like, using our example here of the advisor who’s working with pre-retirees, how would you think that co-creation would look like?

Julie Littlechild: If we take generally the concept of co-creation, it has two paths, generally. One is feedback, I guess, or input, and the other is in the actual delivery. So let me sort of tackle both, I guess. Co-creation could be as simple as sitting down one-on-one with a group of five pre-retiree clients and asking them to describe a client experience that has had a significant impact on them. So it could just be trying to peel back the onions and go deeper and understand what extraordinary looks like through the eyes of your target client, what really resonates. It certainly could be feedback, which is an area that obviously we deal with a lot, where you are not just saying, “How are we doing?” That’s not co-creation. That’s measurement. But you’re saying, “What are your key challenges? What’s on your mind? What kind of educational topics are you interested in? How do you want to meet? When do you want to meet? Where do you want to meet?”

So if we can take client input and then use that to personalize the experience, in a way like Starbucks does, I think, in a different industry, to me that’s co-creation. It could be that in advance of a review meeting with a couple who are heading into retirement, we send a poll that says, “Can you rate from one to five your level of concern with the following?” and give them some different topics that might be on their mind. What you’re doing is co-creating the agenda by inviting their input. I think there’s all of these different moments where we invite input, and if that input changes the experience, that’s co-creation.

Steve Sanduski: Okay. Now there’s so much that I’d love to talk to you about, and I know that we’re kind of bumping up on time here. I want to make sure that we touch on all the key pieces that you want to touch on here as it relates to the client experience, and I do want to check in on some of the other work that you’re doing, as well, if we do have a moment. So anything else that you want to add here on the client experience piece? Again, we had these 11 steps in your framework. Is there any other step that you want to point out here that we haven’t touched on yet?

Julie Littlechild: No, look, I think that we’ve covered a lot of it. This is something that doesn’t end, right? I think if you think about client experience with a sense of curiosity and look at other industries and just try to stop and look around you when you’re having a good experience, I mean, some of that can be incredibly helpful if you bring it back to.

Steve Sanduski: Okay, so another area that I just want to briefly touch on is when you and I first met each other, gosh, probably what? Maybe 10, 12 years or so ago. Maybe more than that. You were doing work in doing client surveys, so you had a company where you were working with advisors to survey, get feedback from their clients and then working with the advisor to interpret that and make changes to the business. So what’s your current thinking on that, and what should advisors be thinking about as it relates to trying to get feedback from their clients and using that feedback to make improvements in their business?

Julie Littlechild: So the feedback is a big part of our business, and I would say that the evolution in thinking there has been more from just looking at a survey. A survey is, I believe, an important way to get feedback, but it is a tactic in a broader strategy, which we would generally call voice of the client. That’s where I think the most progressive firms are really looking to say, “Are we pulling in the voice of our client in different ways?” That could be a survey. It could be comments that you get if you send out a … I don’t know, after a workshop. It could be focus groups, advisory boards, exit interviews. It’s really pulling in all of the different insights from your client and using that actively to shape your business. So to me it’s the place to start all client experience work, and that’s why it’s still a big part of what we do.

Steve Sanduski: Are you seeing any common threads right now, in terms of the feedback that advisors are getting? I’m particularly interested in I’ll call it the negative feedback. What are things that clients are saying, “Hey, advisor, this is an area that you need to improve”? Is there any common theme in there?

Julie Littlechild: Well, what I think is interesting is the feedback often, or is rarely, I would say, negative. I mean, advisors are doing quite well. The clients are satisfied. They’re loyal. Net promoter scores are high. But I think the lens to look through through this is to say not what can I fix. I mean, sometimes there are fix. Call me more often, or that sort of thing. But I think the bigger opportunity is to use feedback as a way to get the experience to the next level and to really start to tailor and segment the experience based on what clients are saying.

Steve Sanduski: Based on what you’re hearing and feedback, is there one or two area that are a major opportunity for advisors to take that client experience to the next level? Is there anything common in that respect that … I don’t want to say low-hanging fruit, but anything where gosh, these are some easy wins for advisors if they just would do these couple things. That’s kind of a simple place to start.

Julie Littlechild: Well, I think one area is tailoring your communications plan around what people say they’re actually interested in. Sounds obvious when I say it out loud like that, but a simple question like asking clients to rate different topics. Depending on the list provided, things like data security still tend to be at the top of the list if it’s there, or communicating about money with my family. So I think that just tweaking what we’re delivering on the communication side can be one thing. The other big area that has always been there is just the incredible untapped referral opportunity and the way in which feedback unearths that and gives an advisor an opportunity to have a conversation. The reality is they’re not meeting most of the people who hear about them.

Steve Sanduski: Well, and we could have a whole nother conversation on the referral opportunity, so we’ll have to say that for a future podcast. Excellent. So then let me just ask you a few rapid-fire questions here. The first one is what is a new skill that you are trying to learn or improve?

Julie Littlechild: There’s always so many. You know what I think I’m focusing on most, and it’s a form of delegation in the business, if I think about my business life. It’s not about delegating more. It’s about giving more time to supporting the people on the team to enhance their skills and sort of losing my superwoman complex. If I could do that, I’d be good.

Steve Sanduski: Mm-hmm (affirmative), great. Okay, and how about … I got two here. So I’m going to start two sentences, and I’d like you to finish it. So the first one is, “What I know to be true is …”

Julie Littlechild: I think what I know to be true is that the most successful people, the most joyful people that I meet in this business, align their business goals with a really clear and compelling personal vision. I really believe that it starts with a clear personal vision.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, so that just has to be in alignment.

Julie Littlechild: Yeah, yeah.

Steve Sanduski: Yep. Okay, and then the final question here. What is the best way to accelerate personal growth? What would you say is the best way to accelerate personal growth?

Julie Littlechild: I want to say give yourself a break. Maybe that’s just me.

Steve Sanduski: Is that a Burger King or McDonald’s or …

Julie Littlechild: Right. Well, I don’t know because I wonder, maybe I’m alone here, but a lot of us don’t develop sometimes because of this perfectionism trap that we get into. It’s all or nothing. In business we read a lot about lean management and lean development. I feel like whenever I apply that to my own life, which means I’m just making small changes, pausing, reflecting, pivoting as needed, then the path is much faster than waiting till I get it all perfect, failing, and then beating myself up for it.

Steve Sanduski: Mm-hmm (affirmative), great. All right, Julie, well we’ll go ahead and we’ll wrap there. So what’s the best way for folks to get in touch with you or learn more about what you’re doing?

Julie Littlechild: Yeah, I think the website and blog, which you can both find at, or a quick email with any specific questions at

Steve Sanduski: Excellent. All right, well Julie, it’s great catching up with you, and appreciate you being on the show.

Julie Littlechild: Thanks so much.

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