So I’ve spent a lot of time talking about establishing strong relationships with your clients. For example, in an earlier series of posts, I focused on the best practices before and after a client meeting. In another, I discussed the value of rapport to the client-advisor relationship. And that’s all well and good, but today I want to look at this topic from another angle. Specifically, I want to talk about the best four ways to absolutely obliterate a budding relationship as a financial and / or insurance advisor.
To get this list, I chatted with a number of insurance agents, financial planners, and wealth managers. I wanted to hear their thoughts on things that they believed would destroy a client relationship. That is, I basically wanted them to share their horror stories for our educational purposes (and guilty pleasure). In the end, there were four specific themes that I heard coming from a great many of the interviewees:
- Forgetting the follow-up
- Forgetting important client details
- Letting the relationship wither after the close
- Failing at support
This blog is all about how these four things can harm fruitful relationships with your clients, and how you can act to minimize their impact.
1. Forgetting the follow-up
The first and most common reason that insurance agents and financial advisors mentioned which sabotaged a relationship was not sticking to their promised follow-ups. Across the board, advisors had stories about times they had forgotten to do something and paid the price. One of my favorite examples came from an insurance advisor:
“The first time forgetting a follow-up really bit me in the ass was when I watched an almost-signed contract evaporate before my eyes because I was a few days late in getting it sent. The client felt disrespected and told me where to shove it.”
What you need to take out of this is that forgetting a follow-up and leaving the client waiting can be seen by many as an issue of respect, or a lack thereof. In the quote above, the client felt disrespected by the tardiness. You certainly don’t mean it that way – you’re busy and something just slipped your mind. But your client is liable to see it otherwise. If I promise to do something for you and then fail to deliver, you may just think I’m a jerk. And even if you don’t think malice is the issue, you probably are starting to question whether I’ll be incompetent in other aspects of the job. How do you trust a person who screws up from the get-go?
How to avoid it
Have a good task management system in place. Whether that’s a digital helper, a real life assistant, or through pen & paper, you need to focus on building out smart processes. After a meeting, make sure you know exactly what you need to do and when it’s due. And once you’ve written it out, make sure to constantly check it. A post-meeting checklist is not very useful if you forget to check it before a task you wrote in it has already come due!
You should also consider scheduling aside time each day to follow up on your tasks. This is something I’ve found to be incredibly valuable. By being able to block off chunks of time each day to focus on follow-ups and getting through your checklist, you’ll ensure that you get quite a bit done on a daily basis. Just make sure you protect this time – if you start treating it as optional, you’ll very quickly start booking meetings over it. I’m a big fan of setting this time either first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon, before I head out of the office.
2. Forgetting important client details
Aly once told me a story that resonated with me. He had bumped into a client of his at Starbucks in early 2009. This was after the market took a dive and many of his clients were unhappy with him and the bank he was affiliated with. He tried talking to her and she was responding curtly – clearly Aly was not someone she wanted to deal with at that moment. Undeterred (and if you’ve ever met Aly, you can attest that nothing deters him), he asked her how her daughter, Stephanie, was doing. The woman lit up. She had mentioned her daughter before, but hadn’t expected Aly to remember the girl’s name. All of a sudden, the conversation went from uncomfortably tense to warm and friendly.
The converse is also true. Nothing ruins a relationship like forgetting important client details or, worse still, bungling them. When talking to advisors, many of them had egg in the face moments. Now, most of these aren’t deal breakers. People make mistakes all of the time. However, sometimes you really do screw it up:
“I once asked a client how her husband was doing without remembering that he had passed away a couple of years ago and I had been the one dealing with the death benefit at the time.”
How to avoid it
First off, keep meticulous notes about your clients. I cannot stress this enough. This includes notes around both your business together, but also family details, hobbies, vacations, and basically anything else that your client deems important enough to share with you. Basically, you want to create a fleshed out client profile. As you spend more time with the client, as you learn more about them, you add more details and continuously build out this profile.
The second major step is to review these notes before a meeting. The number of advisors I’ve met who take good client notes but then fail to organize them in a useful way is staggering. If you have a dossier with fifteen years worth of client notes, what good will it do you when you have ten minutes to prep before a surprise client meeting?
So how do you do this? Well, the easy way is to use Finaeo (shameless plug). One of the things we really focused on with our platform is a streamlined client view that gives you a snapshot of your client information before a meeting. But there are other ways as well. One advisor I met created cue cards for each client. These were those small 3” x 5” notecards you used to study for high school chemistry. She would update the card after every meeting, sometimes adding important details, other times recreating the card when she ran out of room on an old one and needed to remove less relevant client information. This way, she kept prioritized information about the client always updated and a quick glance away. Before a meeting, she could quickly read through the latest cue card and would have enough high level knowledge to make sure she didn’t put her foot in her mouth.
3. Letting the relationship wither after the close
Another common issue that kept coming up was taking relationships for granted and watching them wither away over time. I expected to hear this from high volume insurance advisors, but I was warned about it by many wealth managers as well. One, specifically, told me:
“After the client transferred his assets over, I thought my job was done. I would send him quarterly reports and answer his questions in a timely manner. During Christmas, I would send him a bottle of wine. Then, one day, he pulled all of his money out and I didn’t know why.”
This is problematic. Lots of advisors will put in the time, effort, and money to win business over, but once it is won, they are quick to believe that it will remain theirs forever. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve written at length about churn, but a quick reminder is always worthwhile – churn is awful. It will also cost you a fortune over the long run. Insurance advisors told me about renewals they lost or long-lasting policies where they were replaced as the agent of record on. Wealth managers spoke of AUM being moved to their competitors. Many of these happened simply because the advisors, after the sale, stopped putting in the time and effort.
How to avoid it
So how do you avoid churn? Well, you need to make sure that you are communicating regularly with your clients, adding value whenever possible, and making sure that they would never dream of leaving you. In a nutshell, you need to invest in your clients after the close. This can either be through technology or just through a good amount of hard work. Either way, it’s all about putting proper processes in place.
So what kind of processes? Processes revolving around client success! I won’t go into the nitty gritty on defining success (I did it here already), but the important part is that it’s about taking proactive actions to make your clients love you. Now, a lot of this is obvious – regular temperature checks, renewal conversations, quarterly reviews. But there are things you can do for your client that may be less obvious and more client-specific. For example, adding your clients on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn so you can stay abreast of their life changes is a powerful way to generate strong rapport. It’s amazing the power of a congratulatory phone call after your client gets a promotion. Or a “it’s all going to be okay” card after they have a child.
Client success, then, is all about finding ways that you can add value to your clients’ lives on a semi-regular basis. However, notice that the key here is to be process-driven. No, you can’t necessarily predict when your client will be promoted or will have a child. But I bet you can predict that some of them will be promoted and have children, and put in place a process to discover when it happens and then be able to proactively act on that information.
4. Failing at Support
The final way you can catastrophically sabotage a client relationship is by failing at client support. My absolute favorite quote came from one investment advisor who told me that:
“I had a client who panicked over a market dip on a Friday afternoon and I missed his call since I had already left for the weekend. Over Saturday and Sunday, he tried calling and emailing me, but I wasn’t checking my work phone or email. By the time I got into the office Monday morning, he was fed up – his last email said he was going to switch. That was a wake up call.”
Okay, so we all know that customer support really matters. Don’t suck at client support is one of those “well, duh” statements, isn’t it? And that’s fair, except one thing I’ve noticed is that many advisors don’t recognize that support today is very different from support a decade ago. Why? Because most people live in an always-on culture nowadays.
So what does this mean? It means that where a client may have been willing to wait for a response in the past, she may demand a much faster response time today. Just-in-time client support to match just-in-time inventory stocking, if you will!
How to avoid it
To avoid this, you must be able to offer always-on servicing to your clients. Now, I know, that doesn’t sound great. Everyone needs down time to switch off and unplug. And no one will fault you if you don’t respond to a call immediately on a Friday evening. However, gone are the days where you could leave the office and not respond to a client until working hours Monday morning. Clients simply expect better service today. We’ve become accustomed to it.
So how do you tow the fine line between providing great support for your clients and not going mad? You offer tiered levels of support. Simply put, you tell your clients to email or call your business line with urgent manners. However, if you’re not in the office and they really want to speak with you, you also have an emergency cell phone number. And if calling doesn’t work, you ask them to text you. What you’re doing here is building out layers of communication.
On top of that, good client success can help minimize the necessity for client support. For example, if you are an investment advisor and the market has taken a hard dip, you can wait for panicked clients to call you, or you can write a mass email explaining the situation and why they shouldn’t worry. If you have a few particularly valuable and / or neurotic clients, you can follow it up with a phone call. Increase your success touchpoints to reduce your support ones. Another example would be to create FAQ videos describing general questions. This won’t help for urgent problems, but it’s very useful for tackling questions that are repeatedly asked and answerable in a generalized way. This way, if a client has a question, they may go there first and be satisfied with the response. You look like an expert and save time.
Take a look at these four ways to sabotage your client relationship, and make sure you aren’t doing any of them with your business! If you are, figure out how you can ameliorate the situation. That is, brainstorm and build out the processes necessary to ensure that you fix the situation. Beyond that, please subscribe and share our blog.