Clients Driving You Crazy? 10 Ways to Respond
Everyone has clients who takes up more than their share of time. A recent email from an advisor at a large bank-owned firm raised the question of how to manage this when it becomes more than a minor irritant.
Below is the email that I received, followed by my response:
First, here’s the email:
How to deal with clients who take a lot of time?
I am curious if you have any advice about how to deal with clients who take a lot of time?
Generally, I'd say 95%-plus of our clients are great. We have a few that do start to drive me and or my team a little nuts… some examples of irritants include:
- Going over the same stuff over and over… e.g. "we have this money here…this real estate...outside money" I love disclosure but I don't need to hear the story five to six times a year
- Repeatedly asking for reports… generally performance or cash-flow analysis
- Wanting to go their portfolio line by line …over and over…
- Dropping in or phoning, trying to come in the same day or the next… now let me say that we pride ourselves on service but I believe there need to be some boundaries, otherwise it creates the expectation or encourages the habit
You can sense my frustration… and I know that one simple answer is to let the client go…or say that our service model includes xyz…. NOT abc
In the past, I have been successful in modifying or guiding clients to a better place but I have a few that seem to be consuming a disproportionate amount of our time. It bugs me that our easy to manage clients sometimes pay slightly more and take less time and energy. All these accounts are fee based and honestly do generate a lot of revenue… however on a $$/hour basis, some would probably look rather weak.
Lastly, part of my bonus at my firm is based on retention…so if I part company with these clients I take even more of a hit financially … although I do realize the cost if clients bring down the quality of life in my office.
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Any thoughts would be welcome.
Putting issues in perspective
If some of these comments strike a chord, below is my response to this email, outlining 10 quick thoughts.
Thanks for sharing the challenge you’re facing with some of your clients. I don’t think there is any one solution to what you’re describing – but here are a few ideas that I’ve seen work:
- Assuming that meetings take place roughly once a quarter, ensure that clients know when their next meeting is scheduled and defer questions and issues that come in over the phone to that meeting.
From your clients’ point of view, knowing that their issues will be dealt with reduces some of the stress and uncertainty that leads to wanting to talk about them immediately. And for you and your team, bundling these questions into one meaning may reduce the stress of responding to frequent calls on an ad hoc basis.
- For older clients, designate one member of your team who works well with seniors as their point of contact.
In talking to advisors, often the repetitive questions (which can be incredibly frustrating) come from older clients. It can take real patience to deal with those clients, going at their pace rather than yours. One advisor identified a team member in her 50s as someone who was particularly good with those clients, didn’t mind the time it took and in fact got satisfaction from helping older clients. He made her the principal point of contact for older clients, also reducing her servicing load since some of the larger clients she drove out to meet at their homes or their children’s homes.
- Have performance and cash-flow reports close at hand.
It is frustrating to get repeated requests for the same info … but if that info is in a form that a team member can send in 30 seconds, it becomes less of an issue. You could also have one of your team ask clients who call in frequently to ask if there is anything that they can help the client with before passing the call on to you. One advisor has the team member responsible for ongoing service requests for each client sit in on meetings and join him and the client for lunch after meetings, to help build a bond between the service associate and the client so that on minor issues clients are comfortable dealing with the more junior team member.
- Deal with soft issues over lunch
On the subject of lunch, one advisor I talked to schedules meetings for 11 am with lunch at a mid-priced restaurant nearby to follow. For softer issues that come up in meetings, he suggests that they talk about them over lunch.
- Be alert for cognitive decline
For clients who ask to go over the same things time and again, you should be conscious of concerns around cognitive decline, which raises a whole bunch of other issues with regard to competence. Note that this doesn’t only affect clients in their 70s and 80s, you can see some cases of cognitive decline as early as the 50s and in the extreme cases in the 40s. What Boomer Clients Fear Most provides some context on the “Alzheimer’s epidemic.”
- Consider repricing
For high maintenance clients, take a hard look at their pricing to ensure that in addition to the additional time you’re investing, you aren’t also discounting their fee. For clients where that is happening, have a conversation in which you tell them that they have been enjoying a discount in their fee but out of fairness to your other clients you need to take their fee up closer to the norm for clients in their situation.
- Dealing with impromptu drop-ins
For clients who drop in unannounced or call wanting to make a same day appointment, take the time to understand the issue to ensure it is not urgent. Assuming it can wait, tell them that you are tied up with other clients coming in. If you have a meeting coming up soon, see if you can get the client’s agreement to talk about it then – or otherwise to schedule an appointment for a few days out.
- Rethink your mindset
There’s a growing body of work on how we deal with stress in our lives. Look at some of the articles on mindfulness and meditation as a way to reduce your stress level in dealing with those clients. You may also want to think about the top five clients that cause you stress to see if they have any triggers in common – and think about what strategies you and your team will use in dealing with those clients.
It sounds like one trigger for you is clients who go on at length, repeating things you have covered in the past. One challenge when you sit down with clients who fall into that category is that your stress response kicks in before you even walk into the boardroom with that client, no different than dealing with people in our lives who have explosive tempers – our stress level kicks in before they even walk in the door. One simple strategy is 30 seconds of deep breathing before sitting down with those clients, read more about this at The Benefits of Controlled Breathing
- Put the problem into perspective
If you haven’t already done so, it might be worth sitting down with your team and talking about the individual clients who pose particular problems along the lines you’ve discussed.
By doing this, you might find that the absolute number of clients who pose these problems is fairly small. You might also consider putting together a list of the clients who are challenges and for each identify what specific behavior creates that challenge – and then brainstorm how you can respond as a team to minimize the disruption that they cause.
- Part company
Ultimately, if you find a client becomes too difficult to deal with, you may have to part company. One way is to tell them that you need to increase their fees to a level that they will likely leave, but if they choose to stay, you at least feel you are being fairly compensated for the aggravation.
You have described clients whose behavior is annoying but who are not abusive to you or your team. For clients who fall into the abusive category, you need to remove them from your practice.
So that’s how I answered this advisor’s question. If you’ve had experience dealing with these kinds of situations or have any suggestions to add, I’d love to hear your thoughts – go to APViewpoint to share your thoughts.
And if you have any questions similar to the one from this advisor, drop me an email – you can reach me at email@example.com. I can’t promise that every answer will be as in depth as my response to this advisor’s question, but I will read and reply to every question.
Dan Richards conducts programs to help advisors gain and retain clients, and is an award winning faculty member in the MBA program at the University of Toronto. To see more of his written commentaries, go to www.danrichards.com.