How Can I Resurrect an Angry, Lost Client?
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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We had a client leave recently who worked with one of our long-time advisors. The client had been with us for more than 15 years. When she left, I called her to ask if there was anything we could have done differently or better. I told her how disappointed I was to lose her as a client.
In response, she unleashed a torrent over the phone.
The gist of the conversation was how disappointed she was that we’d never “cared” or reached out to her children. She has been long divorced (before she came to work with us), so we never knew her husband or dealt with that aspect. Her four children are grown – ranging in age from 19 to 27.
I was taken aback by two things in the discussion: One of my advisors would not have the wherewithal to get in touch with a client’s children and the client was so very angry about the situation. It’s like we had offended her children.
When I spoke with my advisor about this, he shrugged it off. “None of her children have made anything of themselves,” he said to me. This seemed short-sighted given how important the situation was to the client. She was not a small client; we had all her assets, and it was over $7 million. I’m stuck because there is a lesson for my advisor, but I don’t know how to get him to embrace it. It is probably too late, but do I offer to speak with her kids now?
I was meeting with a client today and we were talking about the “care about what I care about” dynamic between advisor and client. We were talking about how often the advisor misses the mark to listen and learn what is meaningful to the client to focus on what matters most.
In your case, I’m going to guess the client dropped hints – at least – about her children, including talking about them a lot. Once my financial advisor was at our home and my son, a college graduate with a good job, was walking by us as we talked in the hall. While my advisor said “hello,” he never asked to speak with my son even to share insights or ideas about what decisions to make early in one’s career. We have taught all our children financial fundamentals, but it struck me in that moment there was a missed opportunity; it was for my son, and for my advisor. Don’t assume any of this is “natural” to advisors. It has to be pointed out and acknowledged.
Have a discussion with your advisor. I speak on the topic of emotional intelligence (EQ) quite a bit – what it takes to be a great advisor. This is an example. The advisor missed the cues and didn’t recognize the importance of this focus to his client. That often means the advisor spent too much time in his own head or focusing on the financials instead of the bigger picture. He missed the signs about the client’s values and concerns or generally wasn’t interested in what the client was interested in. You are doing him a disservice if you don’t sit down and – in a non-accusatory, non-threatening way – ask him to explore what might have gone off-track. No one likes to be told they were wrong, did something incorrectly or messed up – it is why research shows most of us have a negative reaction to the word “feedback.” We don’t like to be told we could have (and should have) done better. However, if this is a pattern for this advisor, he is missing a chance to do a better job getting to know his clients and getting in touch with what matters to them.
On your second question, it can’t hurt to call this former client back and let her know you have been thinking about her needs and those of her children. You realize it might be too little too late, but you are more than willing to share your time speaking with them to educate and inform. She might disregard the outreach or let you know it is far too late to bring this up, but it certainly would not hurt. You don’t know what her experience will be with the new firm. Keep the lines of communication open. The best-case scenario would be her actual advisor doing this. But from what you’ve written, I’m not sure this is a feasible request to make to him.
We have had several clients pass away in the past month. A couple were much older, in their 90s, but one client was 50 and diagnosed with cancer just seven months ago. One was in her 30s and was killed in a random act of violence.
We become very close to our clients and the entire office, 12 of us, are having a hard time picking ourselves up and being in the holiday mindset. We have gone to the funerals, sent flowers to the families and expressed our condolences. We have also had a couple of internal group discussions to talk about these people and share stories about how we admired them or what we enjoyed about working with them.
Is there anything else you have heard about advisors doing to honor clients who have passed? We have a practice to run, and we can’t stay mired in the sadness. But it seems so disrespectful to ignore how sad we are all feeling.
This is such a sad reality of the work you do – becoming part of someone’s life and then also a part of their death and passing. I respect how much you care and the steps you have taken to honor these clients and preserve their memory.
You didn’t mention identifying those charities or causes each of these clients might have cared about. If you don’t know a specific organization, choose one relevant to their life such as the American Cancer Society for the cancer patient who lost their battle. Making a significant donation in the client’s name to something meaningful to them and then having a nice note sent to the family to make them aware this has been done could be another step to help with your own healing.
You are doing well to discuss the sadness and mourn in your practice. It sounds as if everyone feels supported and your focus is on the positive attributes of these clients. Put a limit on how long you will place your focus here. It isn’t that you will no longer care about these clients. But as you mentioned, you have a practice to run and your remaining clients deserve your full time and attention. Mourning is such a balance – acknowledging the sad feelings and even depression-like sentiment that can accompany such devastating losses, but then also continuing to serve those who depend on you and need you. There are no easy answers here.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry, in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. 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, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.