How Responding to Client Requests is Like Returning a Sweater to Sears

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.Dan Richards

A source of frustration for many advisors is the amount of time that’s consumed by mundane administrative requests – things that clients don’t value and chew up a ton of time.

But there is a way to take the time spent on routine matters and turn it into something that clients see as delivering quantifiable value. A veteran advisor told me how he did exactly that – and enhanced relationships with the accountants for key clients in the process.

The frustration of tax season

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Here’s how our conversation started:

“I have two assistants. Every year, during the first half of April their time is consumed responding to requests from clients and their accountants for information on cost bases for sales the previous year. And then of course there are all the tax slips that clients have misplaced and that need to be reissued. Complicating this process is the fact that where we deal with a client we have to talk on the client on the phone to record their verbal authorization.

I wouldn’t mind this so much if clients and their accountants didn’t take for granted all of our efforts to respond to their requests. In fact, I had to deal with an accountant for one of my top clients, who was irritated because it was going to take two days to answer one of his questions.”

While requests during tax season are an extreme example of administrative tasks against which clients place little or no value, this situation is typical – and it’s not just limited to clients. We all take basic service levels as our due; if we return a sweater to Sears that we got as a gift, we don’t give Sears any credit for accepting our return; we take it for granted that they’ll accommodate our request. Indeed, we get impatient if it takes an undue length of time to process the return.

Would it help if Sears gave us a brochure explaining all the steps they have to go through and the annual cost to them of processing returns? Unlikely – instead, we’d likely get irritated because our perception would be that Sears is making a big deal of something that we’ve come to expect as routine.

To get clients to see value in what we do, we have to go beyond what clients expect.