When it comes to saving time and keeping clients happy, automation is the name of the game for Ross Marino, who heads a three-advisor Raymond James office in Wilmington, N.C. He says that a little organization upfront, and technology can take care of most of the hassle of scheduling client communications.

“We have client meetings lined up every month,” he says. “And it’s all automated on the computer, so 40 names will pop up and our client services manager can shoot off an email to all 40 of them in under two minutes.”

That email contains an invitation to meet with Marino or one of the other advisors in his office on a range of dates. The client clicks on the date that works best and the system takes care of the rest. Marino says that 30% of clients who receive the email respond right away, while a follow-up email captured between 50% and 75% of the remainder. The client services coordinator does end up having to call the rest to set the appointment, but the computer has taken care of most of the chore. “It means we can set up a whole month of meetings in only two or three staff hours,” Marino says.

Marino’s system doesn’t require any unusual software—his office uses Microsoft Dynamics, a customer relationship manager that “if you set up a client for an update every 90 days, it’ll pop up every 90 days. We just make sure we identify the client as an A, B or C client and how often they need updates,” he says.

Most clients like the fact they can easily choose between a range of dates and times electronically. “They know it’s an important meeting, not just ‘How are your grandkids,’” Marino says.

It works out for the advisor, too, as he likes to arrange meetings for “low-energy” times of day he knows he won’t be preoccupied with running the office. “Sometimes you’re creative, sometimes you’re tactical, and when I’m feeling intense, the last thing I want is to conduct a review meeting with a 76-year-old widow,” he says. “That’s why I deliberately schedule meetings for when I’m at my most relaxed and receptive.”

Marino has trimmed back the time he spends on client review meetings, too. “Seventy-five percent of the time 30 minutes is enough,” he says. “I used to do 45 minutes or an hour, but when the market fell apart I told clients that if I kept meetings to half an hour I could update all my clients in 60 days, so I needed to shorten the process. I actually got great feedback.”

Even though many of Marino’s clients are retirement age, he makes it clear from the get-go that e-mail is his primary source of communication. “That’s just how we do it,” he says. “Some will call in when they receive the email, but most understand it’s a way to save time and give them options. Some don’t like it, but I’m still able to book 75% of my appointments electronically.”

The strategy has made Marino far more productive. “When I started aggressively managing my process five years ago, my branch revenue doubled in 24 months,” he says. “I hired people, I was automated and I was efficient. Now, the time I’m required to be at the office is half what it was.”