My wife makes fun of me because I buy my clothes from the same salesman that I’ve used for the past 30 years. He’s changed jobs a few times, but I always follow him to his new gig. Same goes for my bicycle. I drive an hour out of my way to get my bike fixed at my longtime bike shop because I don’t feel like I can trust any place closer. Same with my cars.
I am a loyal customer. Loyal to a fault, in fact. Hopefully you have lots of clients like me.
There are reasons for this loyalty, of course. The salespeople and mechanics know me well at the retailers I just mentioned. I trust them. I trust their advice. And they’ve never steered my wrong. In return, they know I’ll keep sending plenty of referrals their way.
Of course, relationships like these take time to evolve. I stick with people I can depend on. I know I don’t have to look over their shoulder to check their work. I know they won’t cheat me or misinform me. And, occasionally when I need “above and beyond” service, it’s so much easier to ask a longtime merchant or service provider, than an outfit who doesn’t know me (especially if you’re dealing with a chatbot or call center overseas).
As an advisor, I know our profession is under pressure to automate processes, streamline operations and to let technology take over more and more routine of the work and client service functions that humans used to do. After a big investment of time and money, technology may boost your bottom line a little or increase your revenue per billable hour by a few bucks. But, think about how this increasingly impersonal relationship feels to your long-time clients. By the way, it’s not just an age thing. The Millennial children of your best clients want the human touch, too.
More on that in a minute.
Lessons from car dealerships
The three-year lease on my car recently ended. It’s nearly impossible to find a replacement car in this pandemic economy. So, I asked my longtime dealer if I could extend my lease and keep paying the monthly bills until I could find a new vehicle. They readily agreed.
Four months into the “extended” lease, however, I received a terse call from the leasing company. They reminded me (not too politely) that my lease was over and demanded that I turn in my vehicle immediately. After the shock wore off, I told the leasing company that my dealer had kindly extended my lease terms. Needless to say, the leasing company wasn’t thrilled about the arrangement. They told me the dealer shouldn’t have done that since I didn’t qualify to have my lease extended. They seemed pretty adamant about towing my car away if I didn’t turn it in ASAP.
Hmmm, I thought to myself. If that’s how they treat customers with excellent credit who have leased 17 vehicles from them in the past, imagine how they treat everyone else.
My wife and I only have one car. If we lost it, we’d have no transport. After my anger subsided, I reached out to my dealer and he assured me the leasing company wouldn’t tow my car. At this point, I wasn’t convinced. So, I checked in with the leasing company. After what seemed like hours on hold, I finally reached someone.
Me: “You know, I’ve leased a number of cars from you over the years. SEVENTEEN, in fact.”
Leasing company: “Thank you, Mr. Fox. We appreciate your loyalty as a customer. But you need to turn your car in or we will be forced to collect it.”
So., I called the toll-free “Help” number and was routed to four different people who passed me on to someone else. “Your call is important to us,” the voicemail kept reassuring me. “Due to unexpected call volume, wait times can be longer than expected.” Thirty minutes later, it was the same answer.
So, after 17 cars and many years, someone else will get my business. That part is obvious.
I know these are difficult times. It’ s not the leasing company’s fault that the factories have been shut down and there are no cars to be had. True. But a 30-year customer should be important to someone at the company. But I guess I wasn’t worth keeping as a client.
As the old saying goes: “It’s 10 times easier to keep an existing client happy than to go out and find a new one.” Most advisors know this. I thought car dealerships, did too. I think retailers are having the same trouble.
In my next article, I’ll talk about the dangers of taking long-term clients for granted.
Randy A. Fox, CFP, AEP the founder of Two Hawks Consulting, LLC. He is a nationally known wealth strategist, philanthropic estate planner, educator and speaker. He is currently the editor in chief of Planned Giving Design Center, a national newsletter and website for philanthropic advisors. He is a past winner of the Fithian Leadership Award by the International Association of Advisors in Philanthropy.