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The Advisor’s Report Card

Let your clients grade you, and you’ll find better ways of meeting their expectations.

By Janet Arrowood

Clients expect a lot from their advisors, and when those expectations aren’t met they vote with their feet and money. Too often an advisor feels blindsided when this happens and is left to wonder, “What went wrong?”

You may have neglected an often-overlooked step: to ask your clients for feedback about your performance. Your clients will rarely call up to offer this kind of information. Instead, most advisors learn about their clients’ dissatisfaction in one of three ways:

  • The client never or rarely gives referrals, even when asked.
  • The client takes part or all of his business elsewhere.
  • The client sues the advisor.

Hopefully, this last scenario has never happened to you, but odds are high that the first two happen all too often.


Meeting client needs
So, how do you ensure that you are meeting your clients’ needs? By exceeding their expectations, of course. And how do you exceed them? By asking which aspects of your services they value, which they could take or leave and which you could do better. You can gather this kind of information through regular, systematic report cards. Then, by examining responses—at what’s said and unsaid—you’ll be far better equipped to formulate a plan for avoiding problems and meeting expectations.

A well-thought-out plan can also make annual reviews and other client conversations more productive. You’ll be in a better position to ask for and get quality referrals and additional lines of business from clients. And you’ll see your retention rate and income per client rise dramatically.

Written feedback is also useful if a departing client, or any client for that matter, decides at some point to sue you or go to arbitration. The report card may become an essential element in the all-important paper trail, and may back up information in other correspondence and annual reviews.

Create your report card
Getting client feedback takes planning, you can download and modify an advisor report card. Meanwhile, keep in mind these main points about your report card’s purpose:

  • Its focus should be on the client—not the advisor. Even though you are the ultimate beneficiary of the input, the exercise is not about you—it’s about better meeting your clients’ needs and goals.
  • It is not a substitute for an annual review.

What to ask
The list of questions to ask is almost endless, but here are a few key ones (the online form gives specific ideas for presenting each question):

  • What are the three most important aspects of our relationship?
  • What areas do I need to improve?
  • What are your top criteria for choosing an advisor?
  • How often do you want to talk? Receive emails? Meet?
  • What is your preferred means of contacting me or hearing from me?
  • What are the three most important services I can (or do) offer you and what are the least important?
  • How would you rate my staff and my office environment?
  • What new products or services have caught your attention?
  • What else is important for me to consider, or start/stop doing to better serve your needs?

What not to ask or do
Here are some things to avoid:

  • Questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no or with one- to two-word responses.
  • Asking for referrals.
  • Making product recommendations or discussing investment portfolios or cash-value performance—doing so crosses the line into advertising.
  • Putting down other advisors.

Maximizing response rates
To maximize the number of responses you get, use as many different means of communication as possible and let your clients choose how they wish to provide feedback. Depending on client preference, you might try the following:

  • Telephone queries—older and more established clients may appreciate the call
  • Mailed survey forms with postage-paid reply envelopes
  • Emailed surveys with your reply email address included
  • Face-to-face meetings in your office, at an off-site location or at the client’s home or office


If you do solicit the report card through multiple means, make sure that your cover letter or email lets clients know so that no confusion arises. Compliance approval is very important and is one more reason to make this exercise purely about your clients, their needs and wants and the quality of services you are providing.

Understanding no response
Some clients will ignore your request for filling out a report card. Here are some reasons why:

  • They are happy with you and see no need to respond. You need to convey to this group that receiving their feedback about what they value will help you better serve their needs.
  • They are about to change advisors. Feedback from these clients can be invaluable for avoiding future mistakes.
  • They are too busy—hence the multimedia approach.

In the end, though, most clients will provide some level of response if you convey to them how critical their input is.

For a sample advisor report card that you can download and use with clients, and for help in analyzing the responses you receive, see Making the Grade.

Janet Arrowood is a regular contributor to Advisor Today. She can be reached at


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