Shrugging, Ignorance, Confusion.

Wait, What?

To go along with this month’s theme of client service, here is a story I shared several years ago.

After John & Betty finished meeting with their estate planning attorney, they were relieved that there was so little they needed to do.  The attorney’s office had already prepared the necessary documents prior to their arrival.  After a few rounds of signatures, the only thing left was to update the beneficiary information on their IRAs.

Little did they know that a seemingly simple task was about to cause them months of aggravation.

Upon returning home, John called Dave, his advisor, and told him they needed to update their beneficiary information.  Dave promised to have new beneficiary forms mailed out right away.

Two weeks later, John was disappointed to see an empty mailbox and called Dave’s office again.  This time, he spoke to Cheri, John’s assistant.  Cheri apologized but admitted that she didn’t know that he needed to update his information.  She promised to send out the forms right away.

A few days later, John was pleased to receive 2 forms – one for each account.  He promptly filled them out and was ready to send them back.  However, first, he had to make one more call to Dave’s office to get the mailing address.  After dropping the envelope in the mailbox, he was glad that the matter was finally resolved.

One month later, Dave asked his assistant, “Cheri, did we ever take care of that beneficiary information for John and Betty?”

“Yes, it’s all taken care of,” replied Cheri, remembering that she sent out the forms just like John had asked.

Unfortunately, all was not well.  John’s handwriting on the envelope wasn’t quite legible enough for the post office to handle properly, and the forms were lost in the mail.  As far as he knew, the beneficiary information had been updated.  But no one ever followed up with John to ask why the form never came back.

Has this situation ever happened to you?  There are any number of variations to this story where things could go wrong:

  • The form was filled out incorrectly.
  • Only one form was sent.
  • The client lost the form.
  • The form was rejected by the home office.

The breakdown most often occurs because there is a fundamental misunderstanding between the client and the advisor team.  John was not looking for a new beneficiary form; he wanted to get his beneficiary information updated.  But what the advisor team heard was, “John and Betty need to receive new beneficiary forms.”

This advisor team needed to change their perspective on who is responsible for what when a client makes a request.  In the example above, both Dave and Cheri acted as though it was John who was ultimately responsible for getting the change implemented. They didn’t stop to ask the right questions, learn what John and Betty really wanted and then make it their responsibility to get it done.

Next week, we’ll explore ways to clarify client service requests and then set up a system to make sure that what the client wanted is what gets done quickly and accurately.

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