If you have ever experienced serious difficulties in life, you constantly hear a particular phrase from everyone. They sincerely want to help, but they don’t know how. So after expressing condolences, they say: “If you need anything at all, just call me. I’m only a phone call away.”
I’ve done it myself. I said it to the mother of a young girl who had just died. I said it to a woman who was in the rehab unit after a serious car accident. I said it to a man whose wife was told she had less than six months to live. As inadequate as it felt, it seemed right at the time.
In the days and weeks afterward when they didn’t call, it was easy to assume they didn’t need me. After all, I sincerely asked them to call anytime if they did. Therefore, I did nothing.
It wasn’t until I was widowed myself that I realized the hollowness of that phrase. I can’t count the number of people who told me to call anytime. But I didn’t. A few of the reasons:
- I honestly couldn’t remember who said it and who didn’t (or my impression of who meant it and who didn’t).
- I felt silly calling for little things, like being unable to open a peanut butter jar or just needing to hear that I’d be OK. It seemed the need must be substantial to justify a phone call.
- I didn’t have the energy or strength to reach out. All I could do at first was put one foot in front of the other. I could barely formulate my needs, much less ask someone else to fill them.
- I was acutely aware that everyone else’s life was proceeding as usual, and I didn’t want to be a burden. One time when I did manage to pick up the phone, the person I called was busy with something else and never called back. I didn’t try again.
So what does this have to do with your business as a financial advisor?
Think about all the times you have told a client to call you any time they have questions. For the most part, this is a good thing. If you say it with sincerity, and especially if they have the experience of calling you and getting a response, then you are building good client relationships that sustain your business.
However, when you are dealing with a grieving client—a widow or widower or a boomer whose parent has just died—no matter how sincerely you say those words, they feel empty. A grieving person has simply heard the phrase too many times for it to be meaningful. Besides, just as in their personal life, bereaved people rarely take the initiative to make a call themselves. It takes too much energy and too much courage.
So instead of telling them to call anytime, try this. Give the grieving client a short list of the topics and outcomes you covered in your meeting. Highlight and underline anything the person needs to do. Give them a time (usually two or three days), at which time you will call to see whether they have any questions. Then follow through and make sure you call.
Each time you talk to that client, whether in the office or on the phone, repeat the procedure by giving them another time at which you will call. The interval between calls will depend on the complexity of the account and the issues you are facing. Yet the client will never have to pick up the phone to ask you something, will never have to wonder whether the question is big enough to justify a call, and will never have to work up courage or feel like a burden. Instead, you'll be there without the client having to give it another thought. You can’t imagine what a relief that can be!
This is just one illustration of how advisors who deal with grieving clients can tailor their usual methods to the needs of this most important clientele. After all, every advisor knows how to invest the inheritance money. The advisor who attracts and retains the business is the one who implements emotionally supportive practices that make a difference.
Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professionals in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life.