Henry Ford debuted his Model T car in 1908, which was revolutionary for many reasons — including that Ford offered a windshield as an option. At about the same time, department store pioneers like John Wanamaker, Marshall Field and Harry Gordon Selfridge began using what would become the universal customer service phrase: “The customer is always right.”
Times have changed. Cars come standard with not only windshields but also onboard computers and state-of-the-art entertainment. One thing that has not changed, however, is that the customer is always right. But what happens when the customer isn’t right?
Let’s look at how financial professionals can use their expertise and the latest tools to best respond to, maintain and further develop client relationships.
Industry knowledge is one of the most significant value components financial professionals provide to their clients. They have access to industry-leading resources — from a broad portfolio of carriers to the latest technology tools, as well as their own deep knowledge and the experience of colleagues. While clients come to financial professionals for that expertise, sometimes a client’s expectations might not align with what may be best for the client.
For example, while more and more carriers are offering simplified — and often quickly available — options for the client, our industry still struggles with long issue times compared to today’s Amazon Prime-style consumer expectations. It’s up to financial professionals and their teams to educate clients on the typical case life cycle and set expectations about requirements and processes. Clients will appreciate the time taken to explain the process and the personal touch provided by proactive follow-up.
This is one of the situations where the customer might not always be correct in their expectations for the speed of transactions, and so they may voice some frustration. In a case like this, setting expectations in advance and staying in close communication with the client can help avoid that frustration or disappointment.
Education: They don’t know what they don’t know
When clients meet with their financial professional, they often come to the meeting with an idea of what they’re looking for when it comes to their financial needs. There can be a disconnect, however, between what clients think is the best solution for them and what their financial professional recommends for their specific circumstances.
Today’s financial professionals have access to a variety of educational opportunities. Financial professionals can leverage webinars and video tutorials to learn about tools, capabilities and processes from many reputable companies and industry sources. Consumers have access to a lot of information too — but it’s not always current, accurate, from the most knowledgeable sources, or tailored to the client’s specific situation. Additionally, financial professionals have access to brokerage general agencies and carriers with specialists who can provide one-to-one connections, allowing for the necessary time to understand advisors’ and clients’ needs and provide expertise to set expectations appropriately.
This is truly a situation where client education can be most effective. A great example is the value-add of cross-selling or advanced sales opportunities. Customers may come asking for one thing (a life insurance policy) and end up walking away with much more in order to meet all their needs.
It’s not always easy: Suck it up or speak up?
What happens when the customer isn’t right and is verbally abusive toward the financial professional trying to help them? What if they say something counter to a personal philosophy of diversity, equity and inclusion, such as a racial and ethnic slur, or use highly discriminatory, derogatory or abusively foul language?
How do we find the balance between giving people the benefit of the doubt that their intentions were good and having empathy for someone who is lashing out because they are having a bad day? How do we determine when we should “suck it up” and take inappropriate comments in stride versus when we should speak up for the values we stand for? This dilemma does not always have a clear-cut answer, but years of customer service experience lead to consistent guidance.
Handling difficult situations
Most companies have a vision statement that references empowered and engaged professionals. It’s critical that teammates feel empowered to professionally handle situations that are not in line with their and the company’s values.
Employees are the key to success, and abuse from clients should not be tolerated. Here are some keys to address difficult situations.
1] Leadership support. You are not the first to encounter a difficult or awkward situation. Be assured that guidance and support from managers or peers are readily available. One aspect of good customer service is learning how to turn negative conversations around. Role-play with a colleague and discuss best practice approaches. Escalate difficult situations if you are uncomfortable, or enlist another colleague to help defuse tension. Share your experiences so your teammates can learn from one another. Make notes in client files to professionally document for future reference and give others a heads up about potentially delicate situations.
2] Educate yourself. Take advantage of the learning opportunities offered by our industry associations and credible sources, such as LinkedIn Learning, for topics like managing demanding customers, navigating challenging situations with diplomacy, and facing confrontation in sales or customer service.
3] Examine your sensitivity and accountability meters. Make sure that your bad day, bad mood or other personal frustrations are not interfering with a productive client conversation. Ensure that you are delivering at the expected service levels or raising issues to your business resources (brokerage general agencies, employees or carriers) to address so that you are providing the service you want to deliver.
4] Practice prepared responses. Rehearsing language in advance will keep you from being caught off-guard and give you tools to disarm tension and attempt to move forward. For example:
a. “We strive to create a culture within our company and our community built on diversity, equity and inclusion. While I’m going to assume your intentions were from a good place, your comments came across as hurtful/insensitive/hostile. Would you like to start the conversation again from a more professional place?”
b. “I appreciate that you are frustrated/angry/disappointed; however, speaking to me (or my teammates) disrespectfully isn’t going to solve this situation. Would you like to work together to get on the same page?”
c. “As I previously shared with you, we have a company culture built on diversity, equity and inclusion. If you continue to treat me (or my employees) disrespectfully, I will have to end this call — even if it means ending our business relationship. I want to provide you with exceptional service, but being unprofessional is not positioning us for a successful conversation.”
Providing an exceptional customer experience is a goal beginning at the start of a sales opportunity through policy delivery and annual reviews. Delivering customer-focused education, setting realistic expectations and encouraging respectful conversations offer an opportunity to build positive relationships.
Financial professionals take pride in providing all customers with quality, productive and rewarding interactions. It’s not always easy. However, taking the extra steps to ensure a positive customer experience can lead to more coverage for more clients and their families.