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Financial Planning > UHNW Client Services > Family Office News

Oops! How to respond to the most awkward client scenarios

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During my college years, I used to work in retail and at a bank. Working at a video store and, later, at a higher-end ladies’ clothing store, I learned a lot about people and customer service in general.

It’s when you’re in a sales or service role that people really show their true selves. And it’s both a blessing in disguise and a curse. People will either show you compassion and treat you like a human being, or you will soon lose some faith in humanity.

The silver lining is that we can all learn from these situations. What we do and how we react to uncomfortable moments will not only make us better advisors, but will also, hopefully, help the other end learn to behave better, too.

The stories you’re about to read come from our own research and from several advisor contacts. Read, then tell us: Have you been in an awkward situation? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments section below. 


“I’m taking this call from … the bathroom.”

It might sound gross, but let’s be honest: How many of us take our smartphones into the bathroom? According to an article AdWeek published last year, two-thirds of Americans take their smartphones to the throne room, with 63 percent saying that they would take a call while doing “their other business.”

Now, it’s one thing to sit on the throne and another to take a call while in the shower. How does that even work? Nic West, an advisor and contributor at LifeHealthPro, provides insight. 

“All of my sales are over the phone. I called a lead, and the gentleman answers and we start chatting about insurance … the why, the what, etc.

After about a 15-minute call, I ask him to grab a pen so he can take a note. He says, ‘I am standing in the shower right now and my hands are tied.’

Without skipping a beat, I say, ‘Well, John — did you get all 2,000 parts?’

We both laughed and acknowledged how awkward of an interaction the whole deal was. Nevertheless, John is still a client.”

Editor’s Note: Client names have been changed for privacy purposes.


“Meet my ex-wife, my current wife, the children, the step-children … and the grandparents from both families”

Meeting a client’s family for the first time is like meeting your significant other’s family: You want to impress them and you want them to like you. After all, you will have to help them navigate the world of life insurance or financial planning after your client has passed. But how do you address a blended family?

One of our advisor sources, Nolan Baker, who is co-founder of the Retirement Guys Network, explained how that process usually works:

“You have to try to build a relationship right away with the all the family members before becoming their financial advisor. One example could be building that relationship via networking events. We have a BBQ day or pontoon boat rides events where we invite all of our clients. It’s a relaxed setting for the financial advisor to meet the whole family.

The reason why you have to establish that relationship from the beginning with the family members is also because you need to figure out what your client’s needs are and which products will better fit them. Plus, you’re providing added value.

After you experience the loss of a client, you will find out pretty quickly which family member is involved in taking care of the financial decisions, who the primary beneficiaries are, etc. You have to get them in the office, sit them down and let them know what financial plan was in place.

It is always an awkward conversation when you’re talking about life insurance [with a blended family], especially because the children are hurt emotionally when all the proceeds go to the new spouse. That’s why you have to have an open honest conversation; beneficiaries are thinking of their own financial situation and needs.

After getting the family together, set up individual meetings with each beneficiary and have them think through what they want.

Another awkward situation is when the ex-wife wants to know what the other wife is entitled to. Lay out a boundary, state the very strict confidentiality rules of the industry, and explain that you can’t divulge that information — plus, she wouldn’t want her information getting out to the other wife either.”


“What are your fees?”

While no one wants to discuss how much they make, this is a question that clients are bound to ask.

We know that price is a very important thing. But like everything in life, sometimes you get what you pay for. Would you take your car to a cheaper mechanic who might or might not use very used parts to fix up your ride? Consider the risk you are taking by driving a car that has not been properly repaired.

If your client is questioning how much you make, beware. You have to accept the fact that this person might never be comfortable with paying for your hard work. If the client keeps bringing up your fees, and you’ve already done everything to explain your value proposition, it might be time to let them go.

The above example of the mechanic could prove a useful tool with your client. And if you want to read more about value proposition and fees, read this article


“Everything is quick and easy.” Then … poof!

At first, this client might seem ideal: they seem engaged and respond quickly to emails or calls. But then, suddenly, they disappear. It’s like ghosting at a party — where you leave without saying goodbye to the other people there — but worse, because you have to track down the client to make important decisions or sign paperwork.

The client might not be a magician, but has pulled a successful disappearing act on you. And the worst part is, the ball is not at all in your court. Short of sending out a search party, what can you do? 

Frankly, the best thing to do is to avoid this scenario in the first place. Learn to recognize the red flags, such as if the client is dragging their feet in the communications or payment departments, and make sure that you set clear expectations on both ends from the beginning. When beginning a working relationship with a client, agree on a preferred method of communication and frequency, and follow through.

If you’re still in the negotiation phase of the relationship and he or she is not a full-fledged client yet, follow up with them or move on. Not all clients are created equal and not all clients will be a fit with your style of advising.

Also, take the time to establish a working relationship and be perceived as a peer. “A peer challenges his dream client’s thinking when it needs to be challenged. A peer makes sure that whatever he and his client work on together becomes the biggest value-creating initiative they can dream up. A peer does not avoid the difficult issues surrounding the results a client wants,” wrote LifeHealthPro contributor Amy McIlwain in this article about what a dream client wants.

See also:

Give me your worst (clients)

Clients from hell: Real bad stories about real bad clients

How to deal with difficult clients

Sources:, Entrepreneur, Investopedia.


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