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Taxes are Due! Customers are Crabby! Words of Wisdom

Dog with ear raised

Taxes are due, our investments have taken a beating, plus we’re sick of bad news from Europe … what to do?  Why not call our financial planner and complain?

In preparing for an upcoming keynote for a group of financial planners, I interviewed a number of very talented people − people who really understand the challenge of providing great service in a very emotional setting.  After all, emotions are at their highest when dealing with fiscal and physical issues, right?

So, take a look at the following interactions (a composite of many of the interviews I conducted) and assess your ability to deal with an upset client, colleague or employee.

Scenario #1 (The Bad Example)

After discovering his stock portfolio was performing poorly, Crabby Client called Poor Planner, his personal financial planner, to complain.  Unfortunately, after listening to Crabby Client’s concerns, Poor Planner reacted defensively, instead of actively listening to the complaints and trying to empathize.   The exchange went something like this.

Crabby Client(angry and upset): “I am so frustrated I could scream.  The stocks you put me in have performed terribly in recent months.  And to top it off, you haven’t kept in touch with me to let me know how they were doing.”

Poor Planner (defensively): “You know I don’t control the market.  I never promised you double-digit returns, and I think things will turn around soon.  Also, I haven’t been able to call you since I have been going in circles trying to keep on top of this ridiculous stock market.  I’ve been spending my time looking for good deals for my clients and not on calling all of them. I really am actively looking for good investment opportunities for you, and I’ll make sure and keep you better informed in the future”.

You can see why this approach wouldn’t work very well.  Most likely, Crabby Client would feel Poor Planner was merely giving excuses for the poor performance of the stocks chosen. Poor Planner completely ignored Crabby Client’s need for reassurance and support,  and missing out on a great opportunity to connect at a personal level.

Here’s an example of a more effective response, using active and empathetic listening.

Scenario #2 (The Good Example)

As before, Crabby Client calls his Planner, (known as Perfect Planner this time) to complain about his stock portfolio’s poor performance and his lack of follow-up.

Crabby Client: (angry and upset): “I am so frustrated I could scream.  The stocks you put me in have performed terribly in recent months.  And to top it off, you haven’t kept in touch with me to let me know how they were doing, so we could discuss any changes in my portfolio.”

Now Perfect Planner could use any number of responses, but here’s one that captures the essence of active listening:

Perfect Planner: (with genuine concern): “You’re absolutely right.  Your investments haven’t done as well as either of us anticipated, and I know you invested with my firm to avoid this type of volatility. To make matters worse, I have been so involved in following the roller-coaster events of the market that I haven’t kept you informed, and I know how much you want to know what’s happening.  So if you have a moment now, I can tell you what I’ve been doing in the last few weeks to try to assess where the market will be going, so I can better advise you.  Then, we can look at what a good strategy might be for you”.

Just like Perfect Planner can’t control the stock market, there are things in your line of business that are beyond your control.  So, instead of focusing on − and complaining about – things you can’t control, put your energy into the things you can … such as your responses to Crabby Clients.