We face battles everyday within our practices between time spent on service or production. Going the extra mile is key to a great practice but certain clients are just too needy. You would hate to fire the client, but they are distracting you from the rest of you practice. It's a love/hate relationship. Dealing repeatedly with a few ornery clients and their misplaced documents along with waiting for their unreturned phone calls, having to re-explain low renewal cap and participation rates...they're rarely pleased and it can seem never ending.
On the other hand, we still get the privileges of the most rewarding; flexible and usually financially lucrative career imaginable. Helping our clients and friends understand their retirement is not just a pipe dream is the most exhilarating experience ever.
Great customer service is obviously paramount but when does client service turn to monopolization of your resources? Some clients can become so demanding that I wouldn't be surprised if they asked my staff to come sit at their home to wait on the cable guy and pick up their dry cleaning on the way there.
A DIY solution
I've found by explaining why we won't get to an ornery client's problem until next Thursday and then politely offering the client a do-it-yourself solution works really well. Often, the client request isn't actually urgent but this empowerment tactic allows the client to decide if they want to invest their own time to get the answer. Be prepared with the number of their contract, carrier phone number and the name of the person they should ask for before they call. Communicate how much quicker they can get answers by going direct.
Think ahead of all the excuses your client will use to guilt or goad you into being their menial task go-to person. Practice your responses ahead of time to deflect and divert them directly to the carrier. Train your staff on these polite responses to those often difficult clients. The client will likely insist on speaking to you, their agent or rep. Still, use your staff as the first line of diversion.
I had an elderly widow client that got in the habit of calling me three times each week with "issues." I dutifully would take 30 minutes to track down her statements or locate a copy of some random letter she had received from one of her investments. It was always a fairly simple and repetitious explanation and yet she insisted on only speaking to me. After her fourth call one particularly chaotic week she said, "Oh, Michael, I am so sorry, I am such a difficult person...you must really hate having me as a client." I waited for this day so I was ready with my retort: "Why no ma'am, not at all. In fact I wish I had five more clients exactly like you but the trouble is I have about 50." She didn't get it until about 10 seconds later.
I chuckled and defused the tenseness with humor. I told her "if we can help you feel comfortable utilizing the resources of a much larger organization for some of your questions, then we can spend more time building a relationship with you and thus learning more about what you enjoy in life." At this point, you might invite your ornery client and two of her friends to lunch, so you can learn more about her through her friends. (This is a referral opportunity for you.)
Morale to this story: Keep a positive attitude and be consciously looking for opportunities to flip the script by using communication to simultaneously accomplish multiple goals for growing your practice.
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Michael Ham is a financial planning expert and personal budget coach. He is the founder and president of My Money Track and founder of J. Michaels Advisors in Dallas.