From the June 2004 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Turning the Tables

The clich? about being "on the same side of the table" as the client is about as old and tired as they get in the planning world. There are times, however, when it pays to really sit there--not just on the client's side, but in their chair (preferably when they're not in it, unless you want a whole different set of problems). When Marnie Aznar conducted her client evaluations recently, she was pleased by the positive responses, but totally surprised by one entry: "Your chairs are uncomfortable." "Who knew?" she says with a laugh. "I don't sit in those chairs, so I would never have known that without the evaluation. Client evaluations are really helpful, because certain issues comes back that you wouldn't necessarily think of."

Still, as Aznar notes, it's even more helpful to put yourself in the client's place on an emotional level, especially when things don't go as planned. Soon after launching her firm, Aznar helped a client roll over an annuity, and although she and the client discussed surrender charges and she even asked the client to confirm that the surrender charge period had ended, neither of them actually confirmed that fact, and the client was charged. Although the client didn't expect Aznar to eat the fee herself, she did so. "I felt that the right thing to do was pay for it, learn from my mistake, and move on," she says. "I think in the long run, it was a small price to pay." The client was impressed, says Aznar. "She told me, 'I never would have asked you to pay it, but you're a good businesswoman.'"

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