Putting Empathy on the Map

Cropped Map

by George Ray

As we get closer to Christmas, we’re naturally thinking about what we’re going to give the people who are on our Christmas list.  We typically go through a process that attempts to help us by asking ourselves “What would my brother like for Christmas?” or “What would my 12-year old nephew want?” To accomplish this (and to come up with the perfect gift), we practice ‘empathy’.  Merriam Webster defines empathy as ‘the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner’. In other words, when we ask those questions, we try to place ourselves in the mindset of the person who will be receiving our gift.  By doing so, we hope to give them something that they will value, appreciate, or enjoy.

Empathy is an important concept when it comes to your business. As you think about your goals and objectives for the new year, now may be the perfect time to practice empathy with regards to your clients, and prospects.  The idea is to project yourself into your clients’ experience with you, your firm, and staff in order to gain a deeper level of understanding of your client — by placing yourself ‘in their shoes’.

To accomplish this you can use something called an Empathy Map that was developed by David Gray and his visual thinking company, XPLANE. The map is described in his book Gamestorming – A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. Its use for businesses is also discussed in Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur where it’s referred to as a ‘really simple customer profiler’. Osterwalder says that ‘it allows you to devise a stronger business model, because a customer profile guides the design of better value propositions, more convenient ways to reach customers, and more appropriate Customer Relationships. Ultimately it allows you to better understand what a customer is truly willing to pay for.’

Your use of the Empathy Map should include a visual representation of your ideal customer in the center. Around the customer are six areas that will help you to brainstorm the needs of your customer by ‘empathizing’ with them about their needs and desires. The map helps to get the process out of your head (where it usually stays when thinking about buying Christmas gifts for your family) and onto paper (where it will do you and your staff a lot more good). To help you, I’ve created a map that you can print and use for this exercise.  Empathy Map TBoFA 121113. (You’ll also find other examples by doing an online search.)Empathy Map TBoFA 121113

It’s wise to start with some basic demographic characteristics such as income, marital status, education, portfolio size, etc.  Much of this information can be found with a little digging through your CRM, financial planning software, and asset management reports. After pulling together a basic ‘objective’ profile of your typical client, the true value comes from ‘getting inside his head’ (developing a ‘subjective’ profile).  You’ll then want to ask the six following questions (which can be recorded in each of the six areas on the map):

1.    What does my client see? His environment. What does it look like? Who is around him? Who are his friends? What types of offers is he exposed to?
2.    What does my client say and do? Imagine what he could be telling others. What is his attitude? Are there conflicts between what he says and what he does?
3.    What does my client hear? What does his spouse say? His friends? Who really influences him? Which media channels are influential?
4.    What does my client think and feel? What goes on in his mind? What is really important to him? What are his emotions? What moves him? What keeps him up at night? What are his dreams and aspirations?
5.    What is my client’s pain? Biggest frustrations. What obstacles stand between him and what he wants to achieve? What risks might he fear taking?
6.    What does my client gain? What does he truly want to achieve? How does he measure success? What are strategies that he might use to achieve his objectives?

The goal of producing an Empathy Map is to create a customer viewpoint for continuously questioning your business model assumptions.  Understanding your customers’ needs and desires will enable you to better determine if you have the right Value Proposition for your business. It will help you determine if your customer will be willing to pay you for this value. And, it may help you determine how to better reach new customers who have the needs and mindset that match your Value Proposition. The point is to truly understand and empathize with their situation so you can design and provide a better product or service — as well as create deeper relationships with your clients.

So, what does your client want for Christmas? The same thing we’re all are interested in — your empathy.

What if YOU Created the Disruption?

Newton Cradle Crop 2

by George Ray

(Damn. This one’s a bit long. Better grab a cup of coffee.  Or maybe Instapaper.)

We’ve been talking about the disruptive changes that could occur to an adviser’s business model and where they might originate (for a review, see this post). I’ve suggested that every business should be concerned about disruption, provided some examples, and said that financial adviser practices are not immune.  But let’s turn from the negative idea of disruption to the positive side —- INNOVATION.  Can you proactively innovate in your practice to stay ahead of the potential disruption that is inevitably on the horizon?  And, (now ‘free your mind’ as Morpheus told Neo in the Matrix), could the innovation that you put in place in your own practice actually become some other adviser’s disruption? (and, just as Neo reacted, it’s OK to say ‘Whoa’). Rather than waiting around to have your business disrupted by someone else, what if it was you who proactively innovated — and created the disruption? Hadn’t thought of that, had you?

Ideas for business model innovation can come from almost anywhere, but there are primarily four hubs (or epicenters) that can be a source for business model innovation. Each of these hubs can serve as a starting point for major changes to your business model and have the potential to create powerful changes in your practice.  Let’s take a quick look at each of these four hubs:

1. Resource-driven hub

Innovations that are resource-driven usually originate from within your organization’s existing infrastructure, but could include products and services that you get from your key partners.

For example, Microsoft used its extensive software development resources to drive the innovation of its successful gaming platform, the Xbox.  This gaming/entertainment machine wasn’t originally in their business plan, but they realized that they could use their existing key resources (programmers, hardware designers, manufacturing partners, etc.) to open up a new market for their business.

With a bit of brainstorming with your team, are there any resources that you have developed that could be utilized in a different way to provide a product or service that could be of value to your existing clients — something that your competitors aren’t offering? And, more importantly, could you use those resources or key partners to help you open up a new market for your business (much like Microsoft did with the Xbox)?

2. Offer-driven hub

Your offer is your value proposition.  You can certainly innovate by changing your value proposition, but it will create changes to other components of your business model.

As an example, we saw in our own industry years ago the rise of no-load mutual funds. Some fund companies changed their offer by telling consumers that they didn’t need an adviser, and should do it themselves.  We can argue how successful they’ve been and what this has done for (or to) clients, but it certainly created disruption in my practice back in the 1980’s.  This new offer by some fund companies increased their revenue streams (i.e., they no longer had to pay commissions to an adviser), but may have added to their cost structure (i.e. they had to pay to advertise directly to the consumer and now hire their own service staff). This offer-driven innovation certainly placed these fund companies in a different space in the marketplace.

Today, there is talk of online robots (Michael Kitces says cyborgs) that use artificial intelligence to replace advisers by offering financial advice at a lower cost to consumers (e.g., Betterment and Wealthfront). You may not be frightened by this, and even laugh it off as something that will only take hold at the lower end of the market (i.e., for consumers with lower incomes and smaller investment portfolios), but back when you owned all of those big record albums wouldn’t you have laughed if Steve Jobs came from the future to tell you that one day you could have ‘a thousand songs in your pocket’?

3. Customer-driven hub

Have you ever seen a pop-up box on a website that is offering you a chance to connect directly to a live chat with a salesperson who can answer your questions?  Have you ever shared a comment about something you purchased or about your meal at a restaurant? If so, you’re seeing the result of customer-driven innovation. Customers want to easily find someone to help them get answers (hence the rise of the pop-up chat box) and also have a way to share their comments about their experience directly with the business, or with its other customers. So, are you reacting to your clients’ needs by implementing innovative solutions in your practice that provide increased convenience, better information, or faster access to you and your staff? What are your clients telling you that they need? Are you really listening?  And (here comes the ‘Whoa’ again), why not try to listen to what your competitor’s clients are saying? If he’s not listening, and you are, your customer-driven innovation may bring you some new clients – his, actually.

4. Finance-driven hub

Changes to your business model that are driven by finances can have a significant impact on your revenue streams, and many of the other business model building blocks as well.

We’ve all heard of the razor vs. razor blade analogy.  The company forgoes the revenue stream and potential profit that it may get from selling the razor by giving it away for free — in order to make higher margins selling the blades.  Printer companies do this also – the price of the printer is relatively low upfront, but the long-term ownership costs can be high because of the price of the ink cartridges.

We’ve seen advisers who forgo a potential revenue stream by giving away a financial plan for free in order to get the product sales that may need to be implemented as a result of the recommendations in the plan.  (We’re assuming that this is a real plan, and not just a disguised sales piece.) But there are also fee-only advisers who forgo the revenue from product sales completely. Their value proposition (i.e., offer) is much different from the adviser who gives away the plan for free.  They’ve decided that they can build a revenue stream that won’t fluctuate as wildly with changes in the market or a lack of sales. And, as a result their customer segments are likely much different from the sales person.  They work with different key partners than the salesperson.  And, the other building blocks of their business model (distribution channels, customer relationships, key activities, and cost structures) are also affected.

Innovation originating from the finance-driven hub can be the toughest for your business to take.  We’ve all seen stories about the adviser who decides to switch ‘cold-turkey’ from a commissions-based business to a fee-only practice.  He’s developing a brand new revenue stream while completely giving up his existing revenue sources.  This may be noble, but it’s very difficult to manage and to survive.

So what should you do now? Well, consider these four hubs of business model innovation as you look for ways to innovate in your practice. Each of them could provide starting points and direction for innovation. I suggested a rather bold move – innovate proactively to cause disruption rather than passively waiting to be disrupted.  Your innovations may not come to you easily.  You’ll need to continually watch for ideas and search for opportunities. But, if you’re not comfortable with this, you could always just take the blue pill instead of the red one, Neo.

Are You a Pain Reliever?

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by George Ray

I was recently stung by a bee in my backyard (one of the most painful places on the body to be stung). I’ve been taking some pain relievers to lessen the discomfort, and it got me thinking about how financial advisers can provide pain relief to their clients.  In fact, I believe that there are two primary ways that we provide value to our clients — by creating gains and relieving pains.

In my last post, we briefly looked at the need for financial advisers to continue to innovate and adapt their business models in order to avoid being disrupted — or wind up like Blockbuster, Kodak, or Blackberry (maybe soon). I’m a big advocate of completing an annual SWOT analysis (and have lead adviser workshops on the subject) so that advisers can examine their current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOTs).  This can be one of the most effective ways to build (and update) your business plan for the coming year (if done correctly). And although the SWOT analysis can be effective, I believe that we now have a need (because changes are occurring so rapidly) to actually take a step back even further by re-examining our business models much more frequently.

One of the key business model building blocks is your value propositionIt must describe how your firm’s products and services create value for your clients. If you can’t clearly show a potential or existing client how you can create value for him, you really have no business talking to the client. Most advisers think about creating value by creating gains for the client (and I’m not just talking about investment gains). We often suggest that we provide better service (although we have difficulty defining what that means exactly). We might focus on the array of solutions that we have available. Or how long we’ve been in business. Or how many credentials we have after our names.

But your value proposition isn’t about you.  It should be focused on your clients. And your clients often have pains — financial pains. You can differentiate your business from other advisers by letting clients know that you can be a pain reliever. In fact, here are some questions to ask yourself about the pain relief ability of your value proposition:

  • Can you make your customers feel better by killing frustrations or annoyances that give them a headache?
  • Can you fix an underperforming solution from a competitor by offering better performance, higher quality, or new features?
  • Can you relieve the pain of difficulties and challenges that your customers encounter by making things easier or helping them get things done?
  • Can you help your clients sleep better by diminishing their concerns or eliminating worries about their finances?
  • Can you limit or eliminate the conditions that develop from common mistakes that clients often make?
  • Can you break down barriers that are keeping your client from adopting better solutions?

Take some time to think about your ability to be a pain reliever for your clients. Consider all of the things that you do to help them to improve their financial wellness, and help them avoid getting stung in the backyard.  It really hurts.

What Will Disrupt YOUR Business Model?

disruption

It’s said that nothing is certain but changeLook at almost any industry these days and you’ll find it facing disruption from changes that are coming from multiple directions.  You really don’t need to look far for examples — just open up the business section of the newspaper. Oops. Wait a minute. You don’t get the newspaper anymore — do you?  Because as of the beginning of 2011, more people now get their news online than from reading a newspaper.  How do the newspaper companies feel about that? Disrupted, that’s how.

Ask the music industry how they initially felt about mp3s and digital music back in 2001. They were in the process at that time of making lots of money getting us to re-buy all of our old albums on CDs. They fought against digital music for years by suing college kids who were downloading songs over Napster on fast internet connections from their dorm rooms.   You could say that when it came to their business model, they’d ‘rather fight than switch’. (For the younger advisers out there, that’s a reference to a 1960’s Tarreyton cigarette commercial that you can watch on YouTube. By the way, since we’re talking about it, the tobacco industry’s business has also been disrupted — by industry regulations and societal trends.)

And when it comes to disruption, companies who have enjoyed success as a result of their business model often believe that their model can prevent them being disrupted. They believe that they’re invincible – kind of like Superman. Eastman Kodak had the market cornered on selling film, disposable cameras, and film processing equipment until smartphones got cameras. That was Kodak’s Kryptonite. Now people share photos almost instantaneously over Facebook and Instagram.  No more film. No more disposable cameras. No more selling expensive processing equipment to Walgreens.  Goodbye Kodak. You thought you were Superman, but you’ve just been disrupted.

Successful companies and industries can’t stand still.  They must continue to innovate. Even some of the shine has been taken from Apple recently as Google’s Android phones have been embraced by those who want a less expensive solution that also offers more control over how they may use it. And, disruption will continue. How will the automakers deal with the threat of Tesla and its amazing electric car (which is so safe that it broke the safety testing meter) as Tesla begins making more affordable cars for the general public?

I think you get my point.  If you’re a financial adviser who is complacent and you continue to believe that our business will look the same in the next 10 years as it does today, you are heading for the same fate as Napster, Kodak, and most of the small newspapers in our country.  So what can you do? You’ll need to adapt your businesses for the future by seriously thinking about what factors will cause disruption to your existing business model.

Disruptive changes come primarily from four key areas (and I’ve tried to include a few examples from our industry to help explain these factors):

1.     Industry Forces – Competitors (e.g., trends toward ensemble practices), new entrants into your business (e.g., will online robot advisers replace you?), substitute products and services (e.g., which products or services from another industry could replace yours?) changes in suppliers (e.g., to what extent do you depend upon a certain company to provide products or services?)

2.     Market Forces – Changes in market segments (e.g., where will the largest growth potential be?), their needs and demands (e.g., what are they trying to get done), revenue attractiveness (e.g., can they purchase less expensive services elsewhere?)

3.     Macro-Economic Trends – Global market conditions (e.g., how will financial market and economic changes affect your business? Remember 2008?), changes in capital markets (e.g., will your firm be able to get capital or credit if needed?), economic infrastructure (e.g., access to suppliers and customers), changes in costs of resources (e.g., human capital, benefits, etc.)

4.     Key Trends – Regulatory trends (e.g., will you have to become a fiduciary?), societal and cultural trends (e.g., will clients want to pay commissions or fees?), technology trends (e.g., desire for quicker access to data online), socioeconomic trends (e.g., changes in future disposable income and spending patterns)

Should you wait until these outside factors change the shape of your business model by pushing in from all sides, or would you rather proactively adapt? Is it possible to observe trends that are taking place and attempt to predict how they will affect our practices? Although it may not be easy, let’s continue to discuss business model innovation and how we can manage and adapt to the disruption that will inevitably occur in our business.