Differentiating Yourself by Being Candid

Ask more. Assume less.

“How many of you have had a client leave, and you were surprised; gave a great presentation, but received no call back; can’t get along with an intermediary you deal with or have a low-performing employee and don’t know why?” Shari Harley asked attendees of the National Tax-Deferred Savings Association (NTSA) 403(b) Summit in Nashville.

Harley, founder of Candid Culture and author of the book “How to Say Anything to Anyone,” contends every frustration such as these that advisers have is predictable. “Ask more. Assume less,” is one of Harley’s mantras.

“To strengthen business relationships, request candor,” Harley said. She suggested approaching new and existing clients with, “Your business is important to me, and I want a good relationship with you. If we work together long enough, I will do something that violates your expectations. When I do, I hope you will tell me. I promise I will say ‘thank you.’”

Harley said advisers should also turn it around and ask permission to give feedback. Say something like, “I’d like to be able to do the same with you. If something is preventing us from doing the best work for you or providing you with the best service, is it ok if I tell you?”

Finally, Harley told attendees not to guess. Ask about a client’s working style preferences, how they like to receive information, what they are satisfied with and what would make them more satisfied.

NEXT: Clients may lie to you.

“Clients have no incentive to tell you the truth when they are not happy,” Harley said. She noted that our mothers taught us that if we don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. Also, people naturally respond to criticism with anger and defensiveness. Likely a client has experienced this reaction with someone, so they think it is easier to fire an adviser than confront him or her.

“People may lie to you, but ask anyway,” said Harley. “No one else is asking. It is a simple, cost-free differentiator.”

Harley said even if you have worked with a client for 20 years, it is not too late to ask these questions, and if a client makes a request you cannot or will not honor, it’s ok to not accommodate them, but tell them why.

She suggested that advisers not send questions via email as part of a survey. “Surveys may be a good way to get data, but they are not a good way to build relationships.” However, she said advisers may want to tell clients what questions they want to discuss before a meeting, so clients may prepare.

“People have expectations of us, and they think we know what they are, but we need to ask,” she concluded.