Enforcing an Office Dress Code

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

Is it too much to ask of my staff members to be dressed well when clients come into our office? I may be old school but the disregard for professionalism is annoying to me.

George M., New York

Dear George,

I understand your perspective, but I don’t understand your question. If you are running the firm, you can create a series of policies and guidelines and ask staff members to adhere to them.

I’m not sure of the extent of the problem. For example, do they dress in a “grunge” fashion or do you just wish they owned nicer and more expensive clothing, so they looked more successful? It’s hard to dictate where your staff members should shop and exactly what they should wear. But, you can certainly publish some guidelines and circulate them. The important thing is then to enforce them. Too often a firm has policies but when staff members break the rule, there is no communication or penalty.

One firm I know sends staff members home when they haven’t adhered to the dress code. In other cases, the code exists but it isn’t enforced. This can be frustrating for employees and the leader. If this matters so much to you, create the policies, communicate them but then follow through and be sure it becomes part of the culture so it is taken seriously.

Dear Bev,

I recently landed a $6 million client. Our firm works mostly with clients in the $250k to $500k range. This will be our single largest client. I believe I should treat them differently, but the owner of the firm doesn’t want to change anything. Can you offer some good communication tips that appeal to the higher-end client?

Barbara S, CT

Dear Barbara,

First of all, heartfelt congratulations on winning the business! Communication is so fundamental to success with any client, but especially with those who trust you with millions of dollars, so I applaud you for thinking about this early on in the relationship. It’s hard to know whether the owner of your firm is right or whether you need to step up a different approach to communications without knowing exactly what are you doing now. But, here are some key tips for communicating with the high-net worth investor:

  • Vary your communication. Don’t rely simply on the quarterly newsletter. Engage with them in different media. Do you do use audio programs for clients? Do you offer a client call-in or webinar once or twice a year, or even quarterly? Do you have video on your website where clients can learn about your outlook and perspective? And of course, prioritize the face-to-face or phone interactions so that you are connecting one-to-one several times a year.
  • Be proactive. If markets move, there is an economic crisis or opportunity, or international news that could impact investments, don’t wait for clients to ask you about it. Proactively communicate and offer your firm’s perspective.
  • Know your audience. What are their interests? What do they care about? What do they want to learn more about from you? You can query clients, or conduct a survey to uncover their needs.
  • Provide a variety of educational and informational opportunities. You want to be the go-to-resource for investment, planning or tax-related information. Showcase your knowledge.
  • Communicate with the other trusted advisors. You should know any other third-parties your clients are working with in order to engage and serve them most effectively. Obviously getting to know those centers-of-influence presents a referral opportunity, but you also learn more about the client and their needs and may be able to offer specific types of communication. Having a lawyer, accountant or other expert write for your newsletter or post information on your website in a specialized area adds value, too.
  • Allow clients access to information on your website. Have a special client log-in area with updated information and tools they can use that are separate from your main website, so clients know you are offering an additional value-add for them.

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

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