…Wow moments do not always require a heavy lift. For instance, ensuring that each customer is greeted by a friendly, authentic employee when they enter your space can make a big impression and create a wow moment.
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 Lisa Colletti, Managing Director of Planning Strategy & Research, Partner at Aspiriant.
With more than 20 years’ experience serving the varied needs of affluent families, Lisa serves as a Managing Director in Aspiriant’s Planning Strategy & Research group. In addition to serving clients directly, she is responsible for creating a best-in-class wealth management experience for clients and advisors alike. Ultimately, she helps clients see the big picture while mastering the details necessary to make strong financial decisions for themselves and their families. Her goal is to provide every client with a comprehensive perspective, independent and objective advice, and solid support to help them achieve their financial goals, have peace of mind and live life well.
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?
I started my professional career with Deloitte, in their employee benefits tax practice straight out of law school. It wasn’t a perfect fit, so I made an internal transfer to Deloitte’s consulting practice. I felt I needed exposure to different companies, industries, and projects in order to figure out which direction I should take my career. What I uncovered during this professional exploration period is that I wanted my life’s work to be individually focused rather than corporate-focused. My mentor at the time helped me find my way to Deloitte’s Private Client group in 1999 where I launched my career in wealth management. This ultimately led me to Aspiriant, and the rest is history!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or “takeaways” you learned from that?
I wouldn’t characterize this mistake as funny, but rather immature and naïve around how the emotional side of money can play out in one’s life. I was assigned to help a wealthy widow, who was in her early 40s and the mother of two, gain a better understanding of her financial situation. Her husband had been the family CFO and she was extremely nervous about whether she would be able to afford the same lifestyle and care for her children going forward. Sadly, looking back, I had a very hard time relating to her worries. I grew up in a modest middle-income family, and the balance sheet I was reviewing was beyond anything I could ever imagine having access to. I think I did a good job hiding my feelings, but looking back, I realize my reaction was that of a rookie. There are two sides of money, the technical side (actual numbers and projections) and the emotional side. More often than not, the emotional side of money plays out more prominently in our financial lives than the actual dollars and cents. Intellectually that widow may have known that she would have enough to live comfortably, but emotionally, she had been through a lot, was now responsible for something new, and had children to care for — all leading to feelings of scarcity and fear. My job was to lay things out for her to create peace of mind. I think I ultimately got her there but suspect my more mature and experienced self would do a much better job of it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My former boss at Deloitte, Larry Montague. Larry hired me into the Private Client Group at Deloitte in 1999 as a senior associate, despite the fact that I had very little knowledge of how to deliver tax and wealth management services at the time. He taught me the ropes and provided me with many opportunities to grow professionally. When I became a mother, Larry supported my decision to pursue a flexible work arrangement. This allowed me to continue advancing my career while staying true to my goal of always treating my family like my very best client. Shortly after Deloitte sold its investment management practice to Aspiriant, I realized that I needed to leave Deloitte if I wanted to remain in the wealth management business in earnest. Upon learning that I intended to leave Deloitte, though I had not yet secured a job, Larry said, “I understand. You have a home until you find another.” He later supported my transition to Aspiriant and encouraged the clients I served to follow me there as well. Larry has since retired and is now a client of Aspiriant. Working with him and his wife is one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.
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?
We live in a world of endless choice and access to many options. Delivering great service and experience is going to yield strong relationships — this is what it’s all about. We are on information overload these days, and no one client is going to remember everything I said or recommended in a particular meeting. They will, however, remember how I served them and how I made them feel. Was my communication timely? Was I empathetic when considering an issue they had trouble with? Did I offer to help their recent college grad enroll in her 401(k)? While a complex estate planning strategy will yield significant savings and financial results for a family, it is not the stuff that strong relationships are made of. It is the million little things you do every day that lets clients know you have their back.
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?
Probably because focusing on this is hard, results are difficult to measure, and the bottom-line impact is not immediately apparent as other initiatives that require a heavy lift. I also think that some companies just do not define themselves by the client experience because they offer some other value that customers want. Think about shopping in discount stores. The experience is generally awful because there’s not a lot of staff to assist, but customers deal with it because they value the low pricing. Another example is air travel — in some ways we are captive customers — none of the airlines deliver a particularly wonderful experience. Without competition, they can continue being mediocre. In fact, I am on a flight now. The flight staff look miserable!
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?
Competition absolutely leads to improvements, as noted above. Also, we live in a highly connected world where people share their experiences on social media instantaneously with others, the good, bad and ugly. Garnishing real-time positive reviews from customers can lead to improved business results. Conversely, negative attention can be damaging.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
A client I serve put me in charge of organizing a family meeting with his children and sharing, for the first time, the details and extent of the family wealth with the children and their spouses. We reserved an off-site location with a living-room type atmosphere so that everyone would be relaxed and comfortable. We also spent a lot of time working through the details of the meeting with the client to ensure the appropriate messages around the family wealth were delivered. This meeting was a milestone of sorts for the client and for our relationship. We celebrated over a nice meal at the close of the meeting. It was a huge success and added a tremendous amount of value to the client and the family.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
The client’s children became valuable clients who have since referred us new business. It solidified our relationship as a trusted advisor, one that’s able to deliver a service outside the normal realm of our day-to-day relationship, with particular attention paid to the emotional side of the discussion and the family dynamics involved. We became part of the extended family that day and continue to enjoy a wonderful relationship with them.
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.
1. Wow moments do not always require a heavy lift. For instance, ensuring that each customer is greeted by a friendly, authentic employee when they enter your space can make a big impression and create a wow moment.
2. Employees need to be empowered to create wow moments when they see an opportunity. For instance, if an employee knows a client is interested in a particular topic, they should be empowered to send a book with a hand-written note. If they like a certain type of tea — employees should be empowered to always make it available when they visit. I’ve heard many stories of how the Four Seasons hotel chain has incorporated this approach into their culture.
3. Founders and CEOs must explain the “why” behind the focus on experience. Employees need to understand the importance and really buy into it in order to look for opportunities to create that wow experience on a daily basis.
4. They should perhaps consider recognizing employees who have identified and created wow experiences for customers. Frequent acknowledgement sends the message that experience is important and something we intend to focus on relentlessly. One of our C-Suite execs often sends a communication to the entire firm when he learns of an example of someone creating a wow moment.
5. Wow moments lose their power if not delivered with a personal touch or the activity feels like it is on autopilot. For instance, sending wine to clients each holiday — after the first time, is it really that special?
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?
Don’t let the opportunity pass you by. Be sure to impress upon them how much you appreciate the relationship and enjoy doing things that bring them joy. (e. g. “We’d love to do much of the same for others you think could benefit from our services …”)
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. 🙂
I would encourage our young people to get off their phones and go old school. I am really concerned about how our constant connectedness and social media culture has impacted the way we relate to each other. While I love the convenience technology provides, we need to keep our use of it in check.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I encourage them to visit Aspiriant’s LinkedIn page. I’m also a contributor to our firm’s blog, fathom.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!