Seven Proven Client Acquisition Tips from American Express

Dan Richards

What can advisors learn about attracting clients from one of the world’s most admired companies?

Each year, Fortune Magazine surveys 4,000 senior executives to compile its list of the world’s “most admired companies.” A perennial leader on that list is American Express, which in 2016 ranked right behind General Electric and immediately ahead of Costco.

One of the areas where Amex ranks highest is innovation. That’s why I encouraged the students in my MBA course on innovation in financial services to attend a recent talk by the CEO of Amex Canada on “Reinventing Personal Service in a Digital World.” And that’s why I went out of my way to attend the talk myself, to learn firsthand what Amex is doing to grow its customer base.

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Here are seven takeaways from the talk by Rob McClean at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Change or die

McClean began by talking about the critical importance of a clear vision that defines every aspect of your business. For Amex, “becoming the world’s most respected service brand” drives all its decisions around customer communication, products, staffing and pricing. Amex refers to the people who hold its cards not as customers but as “members,” something that’s reflected in how it runs its call centers.

By coincidence, the week before the talk my class had discussed a case in which Amex abandoned the traditional practice of measuring call center productivity by time per call and shifted the standard for success to whether members said their questions were entirely answered and whether they were fully satisfied at the end of the call.

The result: while calls lasted longer, not only did overall satisfaction increase and card attrition decline but there was a spike in spending and profitability, as staff had time to talk to members about Amex solutions that met their needs. Removing the pressure to keep calls short also meant the virtual elimination of transferring calls for someone else to deal with – something that customers hate, but is a common practice to reduce call times.