How to Deliver Empathetic Service and Gain Client Loyalty

Journal of Financial Planning: October 2015


Kirk Loury is president of Wealth Planning Consulting Inc., offering practice management consulting, wealth management technology, and adviser-managed private placement life insurance.

How important is quality service? Vanguard and Spectrem determined in a 2014 study1 that the top four causes for adviser terminations were communication or service related; other studies put service failures second behind investment performance as leading dissatisfaction sources.

Given the importance of client retention in building a vibrant practice, losing a client due to poor service must be prevented.

In a professional services business like that of financial and investment advice, service is not a thing to do, but rather the foundation of the business. Vertically and horizontally in the organization, every person in an advisory firm is on call to serve directly or serve the server.

The Veneer of Service

Service is focused on doing something for another person by lifting a burden. Recently, I had a service experience with my wireless carrier in which a problem was 100 percent a result of their process failure. A surface analysis of my service experience would check many boxes: letting me know when an attendant would be available; confirming who I was; ready access to correct account information; a pleasant person taking the call.

The crux of my dissatisfaction was the veneer of service. For example, the attendant would say reflexively, “I apologize for the inconvenience you have experienced,” but it was clear this was no real apology—rather an apology to check a box off a to-do list. What was missing was the idea of service being a helping function, but I kept getting that I had to do the work to resolve the problem.

Empathy Is a Core Service Attitude

Empathy begins with consoling words that make a personal statement instead of a script:

“I see why you’re frustrated with [the specific issue], and I would be too. I want to help you.”

Just saying a canned expression like, “I apologize for the inconvenience,” completely misses that a call for service is for something specific.

Repeating the specific issue—the burden—demonstrates an engaged conversation, but stating a desire to help cuts to what service truly is.

Actual empathy shows with an action that supports the words. Since service seeks to alleviate a burden, empathetic words come alive when associated with action.

“I see why you are frustrated with [the specific issue], and I would be too. I want to help you. Let me take charge from here and get this resolved.”

In this regard, the server’s action becomes an investment of him or herself in the client’s burden.

A Service Infrastructure

Five key elements are required to deliver empathetic service that, in turn, grow the business by engendering client loyalty.

1. Putting honor in service. If a firm’s business is delivering services, then it must be that those in service roles have a place of honor at the firm. Giving recognition (for example, performance bonuses, awards, or website visibility) reinforces that top service wins in every regard.

2. Authority to act. “Let me get this resolved for you,” defines action that releases a burden. Giving a service person the authority to make this statement brings the resources of the firm at hand, even escalating to the firm’s leadership.

3. CRM for workflows and tracking. A workflow (a facility common to CRM systems) defines tasks for continued process replication that standardizes “best ideas.” Workflows similarly eliminate mistakes that devalue clients, such as missing deadlines or forgetting tasks.

4. Client feedback. Many companies follow up a service instance with a client survey. This is useful and encouraged, but it’s best done with a phone call. Valuable ideas resulting from the feedback are inserted into the associated service workflow for continuous improvement; this ensures delivery of the firm’s “best.”

5. Service reporting. A burden that is lifted is certainly appreciated, but it can also be forgotten or diluted as time passes. Each service instance, when completed, should have an outbound client email summary of the issue and outcome. Then, on a periodic basis, the firm can summarize to each client all these service instances provided in a single document. Doing so gives tangible evidence of the services provided for the fees paid.

Action-Based Service a Precursor to Client Loyalty

A client changes from a revenue source to an asset when loyalty sets in. The experiences a client has in being released from big and small burdens become stories that are retold. When this happens, each story told by a loyal client becomes a market force many times greater than the initial cost undertaken to install an empathetic service system. 


  1. See Today’s Affluent Investors: Insights and Opportunities, available at

Editor’s note

This column originally appeared on the FPA Practice Management blog powered by the Journal of Financial Planning, where Kirk Loury is a regular contributor. Visit and click on “subscribe” to receive an email each time a new blog is posted.

General Financial Planning Principles