Getting return call from clients

An advisor recently said to me “I’m investing too much time and resources in pursuing clients. It’s a lot of work to get them to come into the office. Sometimes my assistant has to call half a dozen times just to get them on the phone.”

This is kind of an extreme example but you may have experienced something similar yourself. Have you ever been challenged getting a client to send you documents you need to complete their plan? The temptation may be to blame the client. If people were just more responsive, you may think, running your business would be a lot easier.

In the example above, there were actually two professionals in the firm. They had recently acquired another advisor’s business through a continuity plan. And the second planner had no difficulty scheduling second, and even third, meetings.

If clients are not responsive, that’s important information. Dwelling on the behavior and the frustration it causes misses an important sign. Consider what it might be telling you. Why is the client putting such a low priority on responding to you? If you can identify and remedy the source of that behavior it could affect your relationship in ways more significant than simply being more responsive.

Here are a few things you might consider if you are having trouble getting your clients to follow through.

  • Is the outcome or purpose of the activity clear? If you are asking for a return phone call, does the client know what you want to discuss? If you want them to come meet you, do they know what value they will receive by getting together? If there is ambiguity in the request, it lowers the odds the client will want to respond. That’s one reason I have never been a fan of reaching out to clients “just to touch base.” Every contact with the client should deliver value. And making that value clear will motivate a response.
  • Does the value outweigh the effort? Have you ever asked a client to send you all their bank statements, investment statements, benefits statements, credit card statements, insurance policies, wills and trusts, family trees, and recent blood tests, and then been frustrated that it takes months for clients to comply? Do you promote “helping you get organized and simplify your finances” as part of your value proposition and then immediately assign 20 hours of homework forcing client to get themselves organized? People are likely to respond more quickly if it is clear the benefit will exceed the investment. Maybe that means breaking the process into smaller pieces. Maybe it means considering account aggregation rather than rounding up printed statements. Clarify how they will be better off when you have all that information. Having enough to complete the plan may not make it obvious enough. Getting their 401(k) statement to make sure they are receiving as much benefit as possible from their employer makes it clearer.
  • Is it an outcome the client desires? I have heard many advisors call clients and propose a meeting to update them on their accounts. Many clients may feel that they can be updated on their accounts by logging into your portal or looking at their last statement. Is being current on their accounts (in person by you) something they seek?
  • What are you doing to make it easier for them? As an alternative to just simply telling clients they need to get something done, can you support them and ease the burden? Can you leverage technology? Are you willing to dedicate some staff time to save the client the trouble? I know one advisor who gets authorization forms from clients to obtain bank information, estate documents, and benefits statements. It dramatically cuts down on the workload and enables the advisor to have communication with several centers of influence in the process.
  • Is it a good investment of the client’s time? We are all very busy. We all have to make trade-offs when we decide how to invest each minute of each day. Does the investment of the client’s time in fulfilling your requests create a sufficient return on that investment? Assuming it does, have you stepped the client through that calculation so that they realize the payoff?

In our original example, what was the difference between the first advisor and the second? The one having trouble spent the first meeting with clients talking mostly about the portfolio. The one finding no resistance spent most of that first meeting talking about the client’s goals. The first talked mostly about the stuff he was working on. The second talked about what the client wanted.

Client feedback is not limited to answering explicit questions you pose to them. If you are bumping into obstacles in getting clients to follow through, they are telling you something. Consider the message behind the behavior and you may discover new ways to increase the value you deliver.



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