Create a balance between the digital experience and human experience: When a prospect reads the website and educational materials that we offer them, they should be familiar with what we discuss in person. We also produce a lot of educational content that is applicable for investors, clients or not, to use in their everyday lives.
As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Beninati.
Chris Beninati is Heritage Financial Advisory Group’s Chief Relationship Manager, exhibiting high standards, excellent communication skills, good judgement, and the ability to take initiative for the firm’s successful relationships. Throughout Chris’s day to day, he works directly with the advisory team and executes strategic plans for each client, outlining their communication model, specific deliverables, and service suite opportunities.
With strong attention to detail, he successfully logs vital notes on all client interactions to enhance service capabilities and standards. On top of existing client groups, he has a clear focus on coordinating prospect pitches and identifying new business opportunities with other senior team members.
Chris also heads the marketing division, ideating and producing client-facing touchpoints including the Heritage advisory council, client appreciation events, educational dinners with MIT, and spearheading content marketing, and public relation strategies.
In his personal time, Chris is on the Executive Leadership Team for the Hamptons Heart Ball, an annual gala in Southampton raising money for the American Heart Association. He is also proud contributor to the Ellen Hermanson Foundation. Chris’s passion for history has led him to become a member of the Southampton History Museum, as well as the New York Historical Society and Museum.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Before my career in finance, I spent a decade in marketing, across various functions including content development, brand activations, and experiential programming for some of the world’s most leading brands. My time was spent leading companies and personalities who influence culture, to create memorable experiences IRL to inspire digital content and purchase intent, ideating then executing on these big ideas. I worked with brands such as Conde Nast, Uber, Maybelline, Vayner X, GQ, and many more.
Currently, I am the Chief Relationship Manager at Heritage Financial Advisory Group. We’re a New York based investment management and financial planning firm. My time in marketing gave me critical thinking and the strategic skills to successfully lead a client experience division today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I made and most companies continue to make today when creating their client experience model or any new initiative, is building it from their own POV. In 2014, I built an experiential marketing agency based in Southampton, New York. My objective was to produce world class experiences for brands. My sales deck and pitch was not unique or effective because it was all about what me, not them. To turn things around, I started pitching brands that my agency was a “creative partner” or a “local resource” for them to do great work. That started to change the conversation. Client’s started to see my team as a partner to execute a complex initiatives which led to trust and a comfort level that brought in repeat business and more responsibilities in decision making.
I applied the same understanding to my role at Heritage, where we have a client specific strategy for every single relationship. It is my job to understand what moves our clients, their needs, wants, and expectations of us, then execute on that. Therefore, my key takeaway, is to understand your audience from top to bottom, and start communicating to them in a way that will inspire them to do business with you.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have to thank my best friend and Vice President of Heritage, Mike Desepoli. In 2016, I was living in New York and in search of a new opportunity. Mike called me and offered me the director of marketing position with Heritage. At that time, Heritage was about to launch a rebranding effort, outlining new marcom strategies, and really focusing on client development practices. I decided to pivot and work with Heritage on these initiatives and as the role evolved, I was asked to be the Chief Relationship Manager.
I owe it all to Mike and his vision for seeing me in this position as well as his leadership with Heritage as we continue to grow and innovate. I am so proud to work with him and the entire team here.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
Businesses do not exist without clients and mature businesses do not get to that point without obsessing about their client base. Therefore, every part of the operation, regardless of industry, must put the client, their needs, wants, and expectations first.
When you look at the business landscape today, the most beloved and frequented businesses are the ones with the most customer-centric service. Amazon makes things easier for all their clients from shopping, shipping, and returning. The most popular restaurants are the ones with the best service, but also the nicest ambience and design. The social influencer with the most followers, is the one most engaged with their audience on a regular basis. These companies and brands focus on the client as a part of the product/service success, can build advocates and financial success to last a very long time.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
The major disconnect is what we discussed before, companies write out a client experience strategy or write content plans, based off of their own POV of what they want the customer to think and do. It takes more work, but understanding the client journey, each point on the journey, outlining the user experience on your app or navigation of the website, it all relates to understanding and being in the client’s shoes.
At Heritage, we have a client specific strategy in place for every single relationship. We understand so many elements of their investment preferences like risk number, but we also note how they like to be contacted and how often, do they read our materials, open rates, communication strategies, fears, doubts and ambitions, and more. Blending this data with our service standards, we’re always improving the relationship to what is best for the client.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
In today’s competitive landscape, the most client focused companies and consistent and innovative experiences will win. There is simply too much competition for a company to not have a “client first” approach to every part of their business model and overall culture. The external pressure companies will ultimately face is the voice of the majority through social media platforms. As we know, social has been a game charger for experience driven companies and brands, but it is also the template for audiences to speak out when things go wrong.
Every consumer has a voice now and between Google Reviews, personal websites/blogs, let alone social platforms, the word will spread quickly of a poor experience. This has put most brands and companies on notice to really invest how they’re spending time with client service teams and developing an experience model that can be integrated into their operation at scale.
At Heritage, we take advantage of the fact that we know every client by name and when they call, they’re greeted with a friendly voice that really knows them. We know their families, financial objectives in working with us, and are here to serve. This isn’t a trending strategy, this is our competitive advantage and built throughout our business model.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Last August, we started working with a great husband and wife that came over from a financial advisor who did not give them a positive experience or consistent communication. Soon after we signed paperwork, the women was confronted at her place of work by her old financial advisor, making threats against her and her financials.
The first phone call she made was to me, explaining what happened as she was in disbelief and very shaken from that awful experience. I stayed on the phone with her for two hours, calming her down and ensuring her that she made the right decision for her and her family.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
While this event happened very early on in our working relationship, it was a foundational moment that has led to our continued success. Check in calls and meetings with her have a different meaning now as we were there for her at a dire time and both sides are very happy.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Create a balance between the digital experience and human experience: When a prospect reads the website and educational materials that we offer them, they should be familiar with what we discuss in person. We also produce a lot of educational content that is applicable for investors, clients or not, to use in their everyday lives.
- Manage First Impressions: We have a director of first impressions for this specific reason. As you call, enter the office, seek information, have a questions, this person is in charge of making you feel welcomed, understood, and that you’re a valuable person with a valuable voice.
- 360 Technology: We have a viewing platform called “Heritage CFO” where clients can login and see their entire financial picture. This includes accounts we don’t manage, such as a savings account, but it helps the client by showing them everything in one place, making it convenient, and showcasing our role as a financial quarterback to reach their strategic objectives. We also show our clients that staying on top of trends that are mutually beneficial also help us. During the Covid time, we’ve managed financial strategy meetings and prospect pitches on Zoom and use other leading tech to help us stay informed on our clients during these challenging times.
- Thought Leadership: Companies today are individual media entities and publishing content is an obvious mandatory initiative. For Heritage, we started the “Ask The Advisor” brand internally, which our content arm producing content at the intersection of personal finance and current events. The wow factor of an experience here, is for our audiences to engage with us by learning key information and news, through relevant platforms. Seeing their advisory team produce content at scale, consistently, is a vital ingredient in today’s experience ecosystem.
- Personalization at Scale: Every single client has a profile that we use to understand them and their preferences in more detail. When a client calls, no one from our team will ask for an account number to reference who they are. We know them and will make them feel something each time they interact with us on top of the convenience and service of doing our everyday business for them
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
Our team feels like we did right by the client and curated a successful experience when a client passes on a referral. People will always do business with people that they like and connect to, that is why it is vital for our organization to know who our client’s really are, gather information on them and their families, organize their financial objectives, and preferences for communication and meetings. All of this data is organized, consumed and studied by the entire team, to ensure that we’re doing our job and listening to our client base. After all, an impressionable experience for the client begins with actually listening to them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One of my goals is to create an alumni network at my high school. This is was one of the things I wish I had when I was a student, connecting to different people to learn about various careers, continuing education, military careers, and life.
With the connectivity we have today as a society and the world changing so fast every year, it’s important to give students an education outside the classroom. The network would connect the current student body to alumni around the world through social media, Zoom, and other tools, while also providing workshops, speaker series, and other inspired initiatives. I am currently working with the superintendent on this framework and hope to launch by 2021.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!