Don’t ask for feedback if you’re not willing to change

It’s client advisory board season again (yes, they have seasons). This fall we are talking about some interesting new topics with advisors and their clients and it is making for some great conversation. I’m also facing a challenge that has come up before. An unwillingness to work with the feedback clients provide.

When we do client advisory boards, we provide reports about the discussions and review them with the advisor on a conference call a few weeks after the meeting. Each report has a list of action items. And sometimes an item will elicit the response “we’re not doing that.” As in, full stop; move on.

That is, of course, deeply disrespectful to your clients. There are very few ways that asking for feedback can backfire, but that’s one. Failure to consider their suggestions is a lot worse than not asking for feedback.

We often find that although open to feedback and making changes, there are some things an advisor has no interest in changing. No problem. Just ask for feedback on the things you are willing to change and avoid those areas you won’t.

Not to say you must deliver everything your advisory board asks for. You don’t. You can’t. The real value comes from listening to what your clients have say and considering what’s behind it whether you can provide them specifically what they asked for or not.

Sometimes delivering on a request is easy. Many advisory boards have asked advisors to send meeting agendas and investment reports in advance of review meetings. The clients feel better prepared and it made for better discussion when it was time for the meeting. (Although even with that fairly straightforward request one firm strenuously objected to implementing it, telling me that doing it would require hiring more staff to handle the additional workload. What?)

Sometimes you cannot deliver exactly what the board requested. One asked the advisor to provide a different format for portfolio reports. Investigating it, they discovered that the limitations of their software prevented them from designing the reports just that way. So, we developed a couple alternative layouts that were possible, highlighting the areas clients described as most valuable, and brought them back to the board for more feedback. We let them know we could not do exactly what they asked for, but would any of these alternatives accomplish what they wanted?

That approach tells the board you want to do a better job for them and will seek ways to do it. That’s what motivates a board, increases loyalty, deepens relationships.

If your board (or an individual client) asks for something you cannot do, here are a few things you can do to be responsive.

Ask for clarification – what about that thing you just requested is attractive to you?

Distill – so it sounds like this (end result) is what you are really looking for, do I have that right?

Offer alternatives – we found we cannot do exactly what you asked for, but what if we could do this instead?

If all else fails, explain what you did to research it and why you’re prevented from moving forward (regulatory limitations, software limitations, the cost is too high, etc.).

I am often asked why busy clients would make time to participate in a client advisory board. The answer is to have influence over the experience of working with you. It is an honor to be asked for input on how you can improve. We have successfully organized boards that included doctors, senior executives of Fortune 500 companies, parents of middle school kids with multiple activities. Even if it is not apparent how you might be able to fulfill a client desire, even if you are just not interested in a suggestion your board has made, listening deeply and giving it serious thought is a reward that will honor their participation and deepen your client relationships.

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