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Joe Duran: Asking for Referrals Is ‘Demeaning and Cheap’

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Asking for referrals is “demeaning” and “automatically sullies” advisors’ reputation, Joe Duran, founder and CEO of United Capital, said Tuesday.

Speaking during a panel on delivering a positive client experience at the annual Charles Schwab Impact conference in Washington, Duran — whose firm has 650 employees with 95 offices nationwide — said that he “always chuckles” when he hears advisors asking for advice on how to ask for referrals.

“If your mission is to help people — our mission statement is ‘We Help People Live Richly’ — if that’s the goal, then you never, ever have to or should ask for referrals,” Duran said. “What you should do is offer your help.”

He told attendees to imagine their doctor asking: “Do you have any other friends or family who have cancer who I can serve?”

“You would be insulted on every level,” he said, “… It’s demeaning and cheap. And it automatically sullies your reputation.”

The better approach, Duran continued is to say: “My No. 1 goal is to help you live richly and I want you to know if you have any friends or family members that need my help … they can have my time for free.”

Said Duran: “That is how you ask for a referral. You are not asking for a referral, you are serving your clients. They will view it as an asset. … It will mean you’ll spend an hour with two or three people for every one you get, … but your clients will say, ‘Thank you for meeting with my lost brother who I’ve had to support. Thank you for kicking their ass.’”

Referral books and seminars “drive me nuts,” Duran said. “It’s so demeaning of our profession. We do really important work, but we treat it in such shallow ways, and it translates to the consumer — they can’t tell the difference between you [an advisor], an accountant or a bank teller — they’re all money people.”

Duran was joined on the panel by Arthur Rubinfeld, the former chief creative officer and president of global innovation for Starbucks, who’s now founder of Airvision, an advisory firm that helps customer-oriented brands, as well as Joseph Michelli, founder of The Michelli Experience and author of Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way.

‘What Is Client Experience?’

“Your culture is your client experience,” Michelli said. “Client experience is perceptions of everything that’s involved” — every contact point the customer has with your brand, from technology to the people.”

Why is client experience so important? “Every one of us is a brand,” Rubinfeld said. In the client experience, “you have to differentiate yourselves. All of us do. We have to differentiate ourselves from everyone else because there’s a ton of mediocrity in the world, and you want to be above that.”

Duran added that “the interaction between the human and the product that they ultimately consume, everything that happens” is what justifies your pricing.

“Ultimately, that brand of what we say we all are is summarized by what people say about us when we’re not around,” Michelli added.

Empathy, Michelli continued, “is our willingness to think about what other people think about us. And think about what they are thinking beyond us so that we can fill in the spaces … on the things that they value.”

Check in with your clients, Rubinfeld said, “and maybe even talk about your insecurities a little bit so that the other person on the other side remembers you as an individual.”

Duran said that advisors need to put themselves in clients’ shoes. “We choose not to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes and say: ‘What’s it like when I come here?’”

Advisors “don’t turn around and say, ‘What’s it like to be a client? What’s it like when I call in? How frequently do they respond and most importantly, how’s my technology interaction with this firm?’”

As for Technology…

“Technology is not a solution; it is a tool to the client experience,” Michelli said.

The investment advisory business is “an emotional business,” Rubinfeld added. “Be social media gurus to a degree, [but] stay in touch with clients … You have the opportunity to give people what they are craving, which is a human, one-on-one interaction.”

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