Not Everyone is Reluctant to Change Accountantsby
Most people like continuity. They probably take the same route to work every day. They have favorite restaurants. They don’t want to disrupt their routine. They are likely loyal to several professionals. They stick with the same attorney. They rarely change accountants.
But not everyone is a rational client. Some make the change. Unlike performance reviews in the office, clients don’t put financial professionals on probation or give advance warning that they are unhappy. They just leave.
Early Warning Signs
OK, maybe they don’t vanish in a puff of smoke, but their behavior often changes in noticeable ways. These rules apply across many professions and also apply to accounting, especially when you are working with individuals.
Here are four early warning signs that you have an unhappy client:
1. Does not return calls. Sometimes they don’t keep appointments. Maybe they are unprepared. They are creating distance in the relationship. They have probably progressed beyond upset. Most people don’t leave a relationship unless they have somewhere to go.
2. Ignores advice. No one is likely to commit financial suicide by not making tax payments or leaving documents unsigned or unmailed. However, you may be trying to explain there are steps they should be taking now to protect their assets down the road. You might be suggesting they set up an additional retirement account because they are also earning income from consulting. But they ignore your advice.
3. Complains about everything. You are used to people who complain. If someone defined your job as telling a person that he needed to write a check to the government immediately and then charged him for the advice, most people would understand why clients complain. It’s different when they complain about every little thing, blame you if they can’t find forms you sent, and get fussy about fees. That’s a bad sign.
4. Gets an intermediary involved. You are a trusted advisor. If a client, especially an older person, suddenly inserts a third party and lets you know all suggestions need to be run by them first, that’s another red flag. Someone else is influencing him. This would be more of an issue on the investment side of a relationship.
So, What Can You Do?
Here are three strategies you could pursue:
1. Educate them. Clients may associate speaking with you and being charged fees afterward to a taximeter switching on. This is an ideal opportunity to expand the relationship by educating them.
Put them on your monthly newsletter list. Send write-ups about new rules written in layman’s terms. Introduce some information concerning financial planning. They benefit by reading, which costs little or nothing. Also, try utilizing multiple communication channels. They may not have time to talk, but they can read a white paper or an email at their leisure.
The result? You are providing more than a tax-filing service. You are educating them about the process.
2. Meet all the actors. We are busy people. Often, we designate a primary contact person within a relationship as the decision-maker. We don’t waste time explaining what we need to others. How many times in your own life have you brushed off a secretary who said, “She’s not here, but can I help you with something?”
Now, imagine that person is a spouse. They are not being treated as an equal. They can easily take a dislike to you and make life unbearable for their spouse.
You get a good idea of the problem if you call and one party is often frosty or clipped in their conversation. A financial advisor in Texas has a great strategy. He would call when the primary contact wasn’t around. When their spouse answered, he would say, “We’ve never met. We need to meet. Perhaps I’m not the right advisor for you.”
After scheduling a meeting with both parties, he would present to both of them, but give the majority of the attention to the spouse. He would have the answer to almost any question at his fingertips. He would talk in simple terms while avoiding jargon, yet not talking down to anyone. At the conclusion of the meeting, he would say, “Decisions should be made based on knowledge, not emotion. I’ll give you enough information to make knowledgeable decisions.”
3. The showdown. Have you ever had a client relationship where suddenly everything goes wrong? If 100 phone messages came in that week, only theirs would be lost – twice. If you mailed out 10 envelopes, only theirs wouldn’t arrive. But they don’t get upset! They talk in a very calm voice. They are creating distance.
Here’s another financial advisor story that’s applicable: He would invite the client out to a meal in a pleasant, neutral location. After food has been ordered, he would say, “Things haven’t been good lately.” He then stopped talking.
A torrent of complaints and possibly verbal abuse would follow. He would acknowledge their points without letting the blame pile up on him. Eventually, the storm would subside. He would make a few points himself, recognizing their concerns and giving his point of view.
He would then say, “What can we do to move forward?” When you initiate a meeting and let the client vent, it becomes very difficult for the client to say, “We can’t move forward.” It’s an unpleasant situation to put yourself in, but it has saved the relationship.
Is It Ever Too Late?
A New York advisor has a strategy for lost relationships. She would call a few months after they departed. After acknowledging they had their own reasons for making the change, she would explain, “You were a very important client. I just wanted to check that you were OK and everything worked out to your satisfaction.”
Often, clients who leave discover the grass isn’t greener elsewhere. They realize they made a mistake, but pride keeps them from admitting it. When she takes the first step, it’s easy for them to say, “I’ve been meaning to call you. Perhaps I was hasty …”
Sometimes clients do leave. If you are lucky, they will exhibit some early warning signs.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, Captivating the Wealthy Investor, can be found on Amazon.com.