Soft Skills – Client Management

 

These two articles from Knowledgemaster’s Jim Prigg explore what to do and equally importantly – what not to do – when it comes to managing your clients and the quality of your businesses’ client database…

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Say ‘Goodbye’ to Troublesome Clients

 

Good clients are essential to building and maintaining a financial advice practice, but some clients can make an adviser’s life difficult. As Jim Prigg writes, advisers should be willing to disengage with people who may be better served by another adviser.

On the other side of the coin, Prigg outlines some of the reasons why clients might opt to use another adviser and ways you can prevent this happening…

 

In the “sale of advice” profession, the commentators, critics and media seem to think that you – the provider of advice – should operate at a high standard of professionalism, even if it doesn’t make any money, but they don’t hold clients and consumers of financial services and advice to the same standard.

In most cases this is not a problem. But sadly, not all clients make the advice process easy or profitable, despite your best efforts. Instead they cost time, energy and resources to be kept on the books.

And while you need clients, you do not need headaches. You do have the right to choose who you want to deal with and what you want from your clients.

Honestly, some clients are so bad for your profitability, not to mention your mental health, that you really have to be able to identify them and disengage with them as quickly as you can. You don’t have to put up with or placate people who give you a case of colonic irrigation in your business. Learn how to fire them.

First, learn to identify the types of clients from hell. Then establish a simple strategy of letting them go. Yes, that means saying “no, I don’t want to deal with you any more or if you want to deal with me these are the ground rules”.

Give them a ‘no’ with a reason that backs up your decision and releases you from these clients from hell.

Here are some examples of difficult clients and ways to free yourself of them:

1. The non-respecter of deadlines

This client wants a platinum service but fails to meet your deadlines to install that type of service. They fail to respond to your requests. They go incommunicado. Agreed dates arrive and pass. At the risk of appearing “pushy”, you begin to demand action. This is still met with a lack of response or at best minimal activity on their behalf. Suddenly the client blames you for not meeting the agreed deadlines.

Solution: Confirm with the client that you are not able to meet deadlines because they were unable to meet theirs. Instead of setting a concrete date, make your efforts contingent upon receipt of information within a very specific time frame. Don’t accept any future work from this type of client. Tell them you have been swamped by a large amount of work that has high priority deadlines that will see you very busy for some time.

2. The “give me everything first and then I will tell you whether I want to engage you” client

This type of client demands everything up front without any guarantee of engagement and hence payment to you. They demand advice or a plan with implementation information and outcomes. There is no certainty that you will get the job. They may be “shopping” you. It could be they are sucking your brains and using your information to help a lower costing competitor. This is like going to tender without any deadlines, costings or agreement to proceed.

Solution: Be absolutely certain of what you want to deliver for the client. Determine the time frames and life of the advice or plan and costing arrangements with a sunset clause. Request the client to tell you their time frames for implementation. Is it by next month, the end of the tax year or before the New Year?

If they cannot resolve the time-frame issue request, they can come back to you (if they want to) when they have definite deadlines they can meet, according to your workload.

3. The client with champagne tastes, but a beer budget

It seems those who invest the least will expect the most generous terms. Be wary of the request to do “cheap” work. It may well end up costing you more than you expect in extra time, administrative effort and the time lag it takes for you to get paid.

Will your profit margins be reduced? Do you want to take on the work that is low yield but high touch? What extra work, consultative time and effort will you be expected to provide that was not in the initial quote? Low cost work generally takes up more time and earns you less money.

Solution: Whether by gut feeling or through industry intelligence… raise your rates. Pro bono work is OK for good causes. Either they will accept your offer or move on to another supplier. You are not in business to subsidise other people’s lifestyles.

4. The perennial whinger

In business the ideal scenario is to under-promise and over-deliver. You can come in under budget within the requested deadline, yet this client is still not satisfied. Perhaps they have not been able to adequately describe what they want or just didn’t know what they specifically required.

When the aim doesn’t align with the outcome there is always going to be conflict or misunderstanding. Why should you be the scapegoat?

Solution: Consider having a sign-on payment. No sign-on payment, no work. Create a special checklist that outlines what you agreed to do. Then tick off each item so there can be no doubt you have fulfilled your part of the agreement in the timeframes and budgetary requirements outlined. Politely tell them you have taken on a substantial amount of new work that will be consuming the majority of your time. Mention others (your competition) who may be able to help them out.

5. The loose outline theorist, who keep changing their mind

The project begins without a concrete outcome. The client keeps changing the guidelines. You do work that loses relevance because the goal posts have been moved. The client doesn’t seem to be focused on a result.

Solution: Can the client clearly articulate what they want? Can they show you an example or a case study of what they want? Is it a tangible or an intangible outcome they are trying to describe? Try and get the client to bring clarity to the project. Instead of saying “to sort out my finances” get them to define it further such as: “Examine my life insurance needs to ensure I am protected and I am getting the right cover for the right price”.

Develop a scoping document that clearly defines outcomes. Suspend any work until this document is properly understood and adhered to.

6. The arrogant, argumentative authoritarian

This client makes a habit of threatening you or being unreasonable. They are abusive. Nothing is ever their fault. They can be micro-managers that thrive on nit picking inanities. They threaten you with breach of contract, or making a complaint, or want you to charge less or provide free service to placate their inadequacies.

Solution: The last thing you need is an expansive time-consuming court action. Don’t try to test them to see if they will go legal. Bail out now. Don’t argue. Never argue with idiots. They will bring you down to their level and then they beat you with experience.

You need not tell them your real reason for terminating your services. Tell them your business has taken a different turn and you can no longer provide the type of services they require. Get whatever money is owed to you and disengage.

Twelve Ways to Put Clients Offside

 

Being aware of how to win and keep clients is important, but having an awareness of your own behaviours that put clients off, or even drives them away, is also vital, writes Jim Prigg

 

There are many ways to win clients and many ways to keep and retain them. But have you thought about the things that drive potential and existing clients away from you?

This aspect of your client relationship skills is just as important as finding and retaining those who want to engage with you.

By simple, offensive and thoughtless practices and habits, you may be driving potential business away without even realising it.

Here is a range of things to be aware of that may drive clients away or repel them from wanting to do business with you.

1. Dominating the Conversation

As an adviser you are there to listen, gather facts, encourage your client to talk, facilitate dialogue, make helpful suggestions and provide a solution once the customer understands the problem they have.

Dominating or overwhelming the conversation about what you know can put people off very quickly. Allow people to have dialogue with you. They enjoy, and require, to put their point of view to you. Listening rather than talking will reveal much more information that can be used in the initial and ongoing advice process.

2. Finishing Your Client’s Sentences

Let your clients complete their own thoughts and opinions in their own words. If you know what they are going to say, why are you there in the first place? By all means clarify their queries by feeding them back to the client with expressions such as: “What you are telling me is …”.

But let them complete their verbal thought expressions. When they say it, they believe it and it will allow them to validate their own thoughts.

3. Interrupting the Train of Thought

When clients are speaking and expressing an opinion or idea, then you listen. Let them talk. Don’t interrupt them until they are finished. Hear them all the way out. Even question them to further tease out what they are trying to find out. While they talk you can think and plan the route you wish to take in the advice process.

4. Talk Too Much About Cost Instead of the Value of Your Advice

Your time has no value to clients, but the results you may produce for them does have value, regardless of how long it took to produce it. Yet, that value is only realised if they implement the advice you have provided.

People pay for your capability to do the following:

  • Add value
  • Relieve complexity
  • Solve problems
  • Save money and time
  • Deliver pleasant outcomes or experiences

Consider developing a one-page benefits sheet for your clients built around these points that show the value of your advice.

5. Avoiding Eye Contact

Good eye contact is an integral part of good communicating. If we fail to adequately use effective eye contact, doubts can arise in your client’s mind about you or your message. Lack of effective eye contact can give rise to poor rapport that may leave some people feeling uncomfortable.

6. Not Smiling

A genuine smile is a fantastic ally when dealing with people face to face. It is very hard to convey a positive impression if you are a grump or sour faced presenter. An occasional smile is worth its weight in gold. Happiness is transmittable and can effectively help bond customers to you.

7. Fidgeting, Sighing, Yawning or Showing Signs of Boredom or Impatience

People notice these rude or dismissive actions and can be offended by them. If they are not made welcome, then they will vote with their feet and leave or devise an excuse to do so. Customers’ radar picks up on the offensive, disinterested and rude attitudes of those who act in that way.

8. Constantly Glancing at Your Watch

This conveys to your client that you have somewhere else more important to go. They may think they don’t count and feel uncomfortable staying. If you are expecting an important call at a particular time let the customer know.

9. Forgetting to Thank Clients for Their Time at The Start of a Meeting

Courtesy is catching. Saying ‘thank you’ up front to people for their valuable time can carry right through the advice process. Simply say “Thank you for being on time” or “I really appreciate you giving up your valuable time to see me today” or “Thank you for accepting my invitation to attend our information session”.

10. Poor Time Management Skills

Be ready for clients. Don’t keep them waiting as a previous appointment drags on or you are taking other calls. Treat every prospect as if they are the most important person in your life at that point in time.

Leave plenty of time to arrive at appointments if you are seeing prospects at their offices or a neutral venue. Take into account parking arrangements. Factor in transport arrangements for air travel, taxis, bus or train timetables. Allow plenty of face time with prospects if discussions run over the time frame for what you had budgeted for.

11. Not Dressing Appropriately

Dress is important in conveying a professional image. The manner in which you dress can give a very strong message about how you feel about yourself, your job and in some cases your services when you are meeting people face to face.

Your dress can help or hinder your cause depending on what is expected of you. The “I’m cool look” in jeans and a T-shirt might be okay for computer nerds, advertising gurus or repair men, but professionals need to impart professionalism, so dress accordingly.

12. Personal Hygiene

Take care with things like overpowering after shaves and perfumes, strong body odour, breath freshness, hair care, excessive make up, cigarette or alcohol breath and general cleanliness. It may seem of little importance to you, but these things can put people offside very quickly.

Actions and Activities

1. Which of these attributes can you eliminate from your behaviour and presentation skills?
2. Before you undertake your next few client meetings run through this list to make sure you are not repeating these mistakes.

 

These articles have been reprinted with permission from Jim Prigg CEO and founder of Knowledgemaster Pty Ltd. Knowledgemaster is an online resources company that delivers practical communications, interaction, sales and soft skills tips, tactics, techniques. Learn more about winning business programs and courses by contacting Jim.

 

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