Not returning phone calls in a timely manner topped the list of reasons for client’s changing their advisor according to a recent survey by Lake Forest, Ill.-based consulting firm Spectrem Group. As uncertainties like elections and the fiscal cliff draw closer, a high level of responsiveness will be paramount to clients.
“For a lot of people, phone calls are by far the most important thing,” said Katherine Dordick, who runs business strategy and development at Spectrem. “They’re expecting a pretty efficient response time in terms of how quickly they expect an advisor to get back to them.”
Fifty eight percent of clients surveyed said that they would leave their advisor if that advisor did not get back to them in a timely manner. According to the survey, timely manner means calling back within five hours of that first ring. Twelve percent expect the call back within the hour, an additional quarter of respondents could wait one to two hours, and 21% say three to five hours is O.K.
For Mark Augusta, senior vice president, investments at Wedbush’s Solana Beach, Calif., office and a top five producer at the firm, that statistic is “not at all” surprising. Augusta said he spends three to four hours a day on the phone and when he can’t return a call soon (usually when he is traveling) his assistant of 20 years is in touch with the client.
“I try to return calls as soon as possible,” he added. “I know my high net worth clients are highly sought after by everybody, so I’m very sensitive to that.”
That’s become even more important lately as uncertainty from elections and fears of the potential impact of the fiscal cliff permeate the market.
“I’m definitely getting a lot more of the, ‘Hey, I don’t know what’s going to happen here. Let’s hold off until this election,” Augusta said. “But also getting some [clients saying,] ‘Hey I want to hear from you more, what are your thoughts on this?”
That can be difficult, August explained, because it’s hard for advisors to always have the answers to these questions. However, “burying your head in the sand and going somewhere else” is the worst thing an advisor can do, he said, even if the advisor does not have the answers. He had a client who called him recently about a question that came up in one of the presidential debates.
“I said, ‘Let’s think this through,’” Augusta said. “And we spent a good 10 minutes discussing that, and at the end of the conversation he was still comfortable buying bonds.”
Even if there are losses to report, it’s best to be proactive rather than avoid the conversation. According to the Spectrem survey, year over year losses was ranked fifth by clients as a reason to leave their advisor while 49% they would drop an advisor for not being proactive in contacting them.
“I haven’t had a lot of losses,” Augusta said. “When there have been losses, I try to stay on it and keep them informed of everything more than the next guy.”
Likewise, advisors should be proactive about calling for good news, Augusta said. “That’s the part of the business that makes you feel really good, when you can hear somebody happy on the other line.”
Just be careful not to overdo it. There is a line where your message can become diluted if you call too often, Augusta noted.
“My clients are typically municipal bond buyers looking for a specific type of bond. If I do not have that type of bond, I will not call them,” he explained. “And they respect that because they understand that I’m not calling just to try to sell something to them.”
He will often stay proactive by reaching out at opportune moments, such as Christmas, when he sends a box of See’s chocolates to his clients.
“I’ve had people call up in tears thanking me for a $4 box of See’s candy,” he said. “They remember that. The [goodwill] I get with that is huge.”