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How to Be There for Clients in Difficult Times

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We love our clients, at least when things are going well. We see a professional relationship with the added bonus of working with people we like. Then something happens, knocking their train off its tracks. It’s a situation where the advisor might not be paid if they insert themselves. What do you do now?

When Tragedy Strikes

Lots of things can throw a spanner into the works. Your client loses their job for life. They get a serious illness. A spouse dies. Obviously you feel sympathetic, but is that enough?

Many people don’t know what to do in these situations. They express their condolences. They send cards. They say “Is there anything I can do to help?” Not knowing what else to say, they often fall silent. The injured or bereaved party feels forgotten and neglected.

Others see an opportunity. They swoop in, say: ‘So sorry you lost your job. You’ll find another. Let’s talk about that rollover!” The advisor is seen a predatory, or even worse.

Scenario 1: The Job Loss

“Restructuring” is one of the worst words in the English language. Although advisors see rolling over the client’s retirement plan as low-hanging fruit, that’s the last thing you should be going after. It’s very far down on your client’s “to do” list, too.

Visit with your client. Let them tell their story. Ask questions. Try to back up from the extremely detailed nature of their most recent job to the background they have. Where does their expertise fit into their industry? Government?

Offer to help with several specific examples. You are likely connected via LinkedIn. If not, remedy that oversight. Suggest they look through your first-level contacts. Who do you know that might be a resource? Bear in mind in today’s world, companies may let people go, but talent is in short supply. They might be selling what someone else is buying. You can act as an intermediary, helping them get an informational interview. That’s the first step.

If they aren’t up to speed on LinkedIn, suggest that as another step forward. Two popular uses of the platform are selling your product and job hunting.

Check in with them regularly. Don’t ask: “Have you found a job yet?” Instead, talk about the steps they said they were going to take. How did that work out? If this was Alcoholics Anonymous, you might have been their sponsor. You are helping them through a difficult period.

Hopefully they land safely. After they settle in, that’s the time for the rollover conversation. They might bring it up themselves.

Scenario 2: The Serious Illness

Your client has been diagnosed with cancer. The word is even scarier than “restructuring.” Although medical science has made great strides, they know people who have lost their lives. There’s chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Hair loss. Even the road to recovery is rough.

You keep in frequent contact. You know where to find the statistics relevant to their illness. You talk about the light at the end of the tunnel. If the illness they’ve got has them hospitalized, you buy books by their favorite authors. You probe to confirm they have access to Netflix or something similar to watch their favorite movies. You visit, packing a picnic lunch or dinner.

They may be stuck at home. Chores still need to be done. You replaced “Just tell me what I can do” with specific situations: “Can I collect your mail and bring it to you?” “I’ll shovel the snow or bring the trash cans back from the curb.” You are taking the strain of little details off their shoulders.

The illness might be terminal. Their spouse is their round-the-clock caregiver. Ask to come by and spend the afternoon with your friend. Give the caregiver some time off. They take their task seriously, but that spouse needs some time to recharge.

They may come out healthy or the disease may run its course. Either way, everyone in their circle will know about the extraordinary steps you took. You will likely get business, because they want an advisor as compassionate as you.

Scenario 3: The Departed Spouse

This is a different approach. Although you may not want to intrude on a person’s grief, we remember the adage “He who hesitates is lost.”

A regional manager once shared a story. A close client of an advisor died. They saw business potential, but felt it would be predatory to be looking for business right away. Over time, they found this good client suddenly putting distance between them. Confused, they asked what was the problem.

The client explained: “After my spouse died, I was going through a difficult period. There were lots of financial details I needed to sort out. It was tough, but I eventually got it done. You asked why I’m upset. You knew I was going through a difficult period. You knew you could help me. You chose not to offer your help. That’s why I’m upset.”

Sometimes advisors see themselves within clearly defined boundaries. “I’m here to help when you need the products and services I provide.” Sometimes those boundaries need to go out the window.

Bryce SandersBryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” can be found on Amazon.