Choosing Between Your Clients and Your Employees

Beverly Flaxington

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Dear Bev,

We have a client who has always been difficult, but lately is becoming impossible. She is one of our largest clients, but her belligerent and belittling attitude has some of my best people threatening to quit. Some clients think that just because they have a lot of money they can get away with anything. I need to protect my staff but I also don’t want to lose the income from this client. Is there a way to do both?

Ken D., Midwest

Dear Ken,

If the client has always been difficult and has become increasingly so lately, are you sure there aren’t some medical issues? Many advisors are struggling with an aging population – not just from a physical health perspective. As we age, our mental health starts to suffer, too. First, rule out the possibility that she is suffering from some sort of mental condition. Do you have contact with her next of kin? Are there people you know outside of the office who you could confidentially reach out to and see if this behavior is happening elsewhere?

If you think it’s “just her” and she is simply a nasty individual, there are a few things you can try before either an employee or the client has to leave. First, invite her out to coffee or lunch – go to a neutral place, not your office and not her home. Engage her in a dialogue with probing questions and using active listening. You can use the opportunity do a relationship review and ask whether she is satisfied with your firm and your staff. Try to uncover any underlying, unspoken issues that may be simmering.

If she tells you everything is fine, broach the issue of her behavior. Do it in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental manner. Many people who are as difficult as you describe here don’t know they come across. Assume positive intent - let her know you assume she doesn’t want to alienate people in her efforts, but she probably does want to get answers. Coach her a bit in dealing with your staff so she can get better results next time.

Coach your staff on dealing with difficult people. Anyone who is in a service capacity will find themselves from time to time being a punching bag for clients or customers. It’s not fair, but it happens. Help your staff with some coping approaches so they are more equipped and they understand the wrath is often times not directed at them personally.

I’ve seen many cases where staff learns how to let the wrath roll off of them and all of a sudden the difficult, belligerent person changes their behavior in response.

Dear Bev,

We send quarterly reports to clients and meet with them twice a year. In reading some of your past responses, I take it you don’t think this is enough. We have very happy and very satisfied clients so what’s wrong with our approach?

Dick S., Wisconsin

Dear Dick,

It’s not my place to tell you what’s wrong with your approach. It’s all about your goals, the type of clients you have and what you want your communication program to do – or not do – for you. It doesn’t sound like you have a problem per se, but I will clarify my perspective to give you some things to consider.

You may have set expectations with clients, and they may be the type of clients who don’t need much more than the updates you are doing. But, if you aren’t getting the client referrals you want and expect, and you aren’t engaging with your clients in a manner that brings additional assets, introductions to the next generation or additions to existing commitments, look to your communication approach for improvements.

Information and education is so important because few people understand the investment business and its nuances. It’s entirely possible you have highly educated clients who don’t need much information, but in my experience working with several hundred advisors, there is always an opportunity for providing additional education or insights.

Your communication approach allows your clients to learn more about you and your perspective. The information you convey shows you have a viewpoint. Portfolio performance alone doesn’t enable clients to learn anything about your philosophy or your story. For clients to become enthusiastic about what you do and share your story with others, they need to hear it consistently. You are missing an opportunity to reinforce what you do with clients, why it works well and what you can do for others.

Your approach may be working just fine for you. But, if you wish there was more coming from your clients, look at whether having a more robust communication program would help your efforts.

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,, 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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