Create Wow Moments by Solving for Clients’ Emotional Dynamics

Journal of Financial Planning; November 2014


John L. Evans Jr. is the executive director of Janus Labs (, a practice management consulting group of Janus Capital. A former RIA, he is pursuing his doctorate in organization leadership at Pepperdine University with a dissertational focus on driving extreme client loyalty in the financial services space. 

Understanding your clients’ emotional dynamics—the ways they prefer to be appreciated—might be the single most important method for retaining those clients for life. Thankfully, it’s not a very hard task. You simply need to (to borrow an expression from the late Steve Jobs) “think different” when it comes to engaging with clients and prospects. Start paying attention to what your clients appreciate most. Generally speaking, their appreciation preferences will fall into one of the three following categories:

Acknowledgement. This is the client who will call you regularly, reminding you, tacitly or explicitly, of his or her recent achievements and exploits. “Hey, I just broke 80 for the first time.” “My daughter got accepted to State College.” “My fishing trip was incredible—I’ll forward photos.” These bits of information and small stories are indicative of a person who values recognition. 

Time spent. This is the client who is continually dropping lines about how and when you two will be getting together. They ask you to play in golf tournaments with them. They invite you over for dinner. They buy symphony tickets and ask you to join them. These clients want—and need—to spend time with you on a regular basis. 

Acts of service. This is the client who, if you take any action that improves his or her life, will respond with outsized enthusiasm. For example, I mowed my neighbor’s lawn as a random act of kindness some 10 years ago, and he still enthusiastically recounts the tale at holiday parties. Acts of service—writing a recommendation letter for a client’s son, remembering a birthday or important anniversary—are highly valued by people like my neighbor. 

Now certainly, any one person will likely respond positively to all three types of appreciation. The point is to pay attention to which type is most important to each of your clients, to note that preference and to put it into action. Gaining this insight will allow you to create genuine “wow” moments for your clients. Those wow moments are what turn casual clients into evangelists. Those moments not only help ensure that a client will do business with you for life, but also will refer you to all of their friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Wow moments are what will make you stand out from the competition.

Creating Wow Moments

Emotional insight is essential to creating true wow moments and experiences, but if gaining insight into emotional dynamics doesn’t come naturally to you, do not fret. Many financial advisers got into this business because of their passion for capital markets, not the creation of warm, fuzzy moments for others. But if you don’t take the concepts of emotional dynamics seriously, your practice is in peril.

Advisers who simply possess a rock solid investment background or offer a comprehensive financial plan aren’t doing enough to compete these days. I just consulted with an adviser who, over the last 15 years, had grown his client’s portfolio from $600,000 to $2.3 million. It was darn good work—but not good enough. This adviser received the bad news that his client was leaving. When asked about his reasons for leaving, the client muttered something about how he and his wife hadn’t felt connected to the advisory team. “Obviously, I wish I had paid closer attention to what mattered to the clients, beyond investment returns,” the frustrated adviser told me.

The key, then, is to be aware of your individual strengths and the strengths of your team members. Maybe there’s someone on your team who would excel at assessing your clients’ emotional dynamics and organizing wow moments. Make that person your wow czar. Even if you are a solo practitioner, you can still identify a wow czar—perhaps it’s your spouse? The point is to take the concept of emotional dynamics in earnest. 

Putting It into Practice

Meet Brian. A rising star at an independent broker-dealer where he and his team reached $250 million assets under management as fast as anybody in the history of the national firm.

How did he do it? His success is at least partly due to the emphasis he places on assessing each of his top client’s individual needs and preferences. Brian “solves for emotional dynamics,” as we like to say at Janus Labs. 

Here’s how Brian uses emotional dynamics in his practice: 

On a weekly basis, Brian and his team conduct a wow audit session. Brian’s wow czar chooses the meeting time and location, usually somewhere offsite, like a nearby restaurant. The key, if possible, is to get away from the distractions and demands of the office, where great ideas have a better chance of emerging.

During this upbeat exercise, Brian, his wow czar, and his team openly and robustly discuss the emotional dynamics of handpicked prospects and clients. These sessions require full engagement from everyone involved. Brian insists that his team turn off all handheld devices. He also observes that his team’s best ideas often come after exercising. Brian and his team take these wow sessions seriously because this is discovery time, after all. The team is hunting for that magical idea to wow their subject. 

Brian’s appointed wow czar, Erin, leads the wow audit sessions. She has real power, including a budget, to execute wow moments on a regular basis. She was picked for the role because of her uncommon emotional intelligence. When recruiting Erin, Brian noticed her natural capacity and affinity for delighting clients and received overwhelmingly positive references. Delivering unique, personally engaging experiences that exceed client expectations comes easily to Erin. She is a walking wow machine, and one of her most important levers is the knowledge of emotional dynamics.

During a wow audit session earlier this year, the team started discussing Cheryl, a client who is a female executive with a global services firm—a target market of Brian’s. Erin had been paying attention to clues about Cheryl’s emotional dynamic for months. She noticed that Cheryl routinely talked about how nice it was when a friend washed her car or when her husband surprised her with a lunch date at her favorite restaurant. Because Erin had been listening, Cheryl’s emotional dynamic was clear: this extraordinarily busy executive preferred acts of service. 

That insight eventually led Brian and his team to organize a Mother’s Day mimosa and manicure party for the executive-level moms on their client list, including Cheryl. A little pampering, the team reasoned, was an act of service Cheryl would truly appreciate. Remember, when it comes to delivering outstanding client experiences that can create deep meaning and loyalty, you are limited by only two forces: your imagination and your compliance department. 

The event, which Cheryl and eight other women attended, was a home run, of course. Since then, Brian has set up appointments with four female executives, all referred to him by Cheryl. Additionally, the event is still being talked about with enthusiasm and zeal among members of Brian’s target market.

This is what a customized wow idea can accomplish. Your clients want what money can’t buy; they want “wow.” Wow is the difference between you and everybody else; you just need to discover the clues to creating a meaningful wow experience, and understand emotional dynamics is one giant step in the right direction.

General Financial Planning Principles