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My clients won’t return their expenditure questionnaire!

A conversation with an adviser recently about how to help clients see the value of Cashflow Modelling software prompted me to ask Mark Ferris, one of our Associate Consultants and himself a user of this software in his own advisory business, to explain how he gets clients to buy in to the (seemingly laborious) process of analysing their income and expenditure. Here’s what he had to say…

“When I talk to advisers about the benefits of using cash flow forecasting software, the most common objection they have is ‘my clients will never take the time to complete and return the expenditure questionnaire’ or I have the software but don’t use it very often because the clients won’t complete one.

My first response is normally how many clients haven’t returned a questionnaire, to which the answer is often, ‘I haven’t sent any out yet, I just know that they won’t complete it’. Therefore, the problem is often with the adviser’s mind-set, not the clients.

I also ask them how do you currently get the information, because after all, detailed knowledge of their expenditure is vital to making appropriate recommendations for a client?

If you’ve done a great fact find and shown the client what you are going to do for them and demonstrated how powerful the software is they will understand why it is important that this information is completed and returned.  

What works for me is to emphasise why this information is so important. I tell them once I have the completed questionnaire I’m going to accurately forecast the future cost of their ideal lifestyle and be able to tell them if they have enough money or if they will run out. Secondly, I give them a date to return the questionnaire by (usually about 7-10 days), as this will focus their minds. This can then be followed up by a quick telephone call after a few days to remind them you are expecting it. This works in 90% of cases for me. 

One possible barrier to getting the questionnaire returned may be the charge you are making for the financial plan. If it’s too big you may put the client off before they have experienced the benefits of the process. You need to be paid well and be profitable, but the client needs to see how you can help them before making a big commitment. This is an area we regularly help advisers to overcome.

Another reason you might not receive the questionnaire back is that the client isn’t committed to the process. It’s better to find out now before you’ve wasted any more of your valuable time. As Paul Etheridge would say, ‘once a messer, always a messer!’

You have to think, do I really want this client in my life? If the answer to that question is yes, because they look like your ideal kind of client that you can deal with very profitably, but they’re just very busy, then you have two options…..

1.     Offer to send out one of your admin staff to help your client get the information together (if you’re a single person business then you will have to do it). Clients will appreciate the extra mile you are prepared to go to help them and if you send one of your staff, your time isn’t affected and you are on your way to a good relationship with a new ideal client.

2.     Estimate the figures for them (initially at least to help them see the benefit of doing it more accurately) – after doing the fact find/discovery meeting, you already know a lot about them. You’ll know where they live, what their mortgage is, how may children they have, where and how often they go on holiday, what their interests and hobbies are etc.

You can estimate their expenditure numbers for each item based upon what you already know about them and your experience of other similar clients.

When using the software at the next meeting, upon reaching the expenditure section, you can tell the client that because they didn’t return the questionnaire, you have had to estimate the numbers.  Then simply ask them to go through each item and amend those that they don’t think are accurate. This will enable you to have a good discussion about what they spend their money on and the clients will become even more engaged in the process, because you are spending even more time talking about them and what’s important to them.

The expenditure questionnaire is crucial because it is the foundation to building a comprehensive financial plan for the client that enables them to see the consequences of their current and future lifestyle.”

What are your tips for getting clients to return their expenditure questionnaire?

Quote of the week

Someone is sitting in the shade today, because someone planted a tree a long time ago.

Warren Buffet

Quote of the week

The Hideous Truth: It is easy to stand out in this industry if you love the customer. What’s to fear about that?

David Ferguson, CEO, Nucleus

How’s this for customer service… not!

As you know, I can get a bit obsessive about “client experience. This week’s blog comes courtesy of my eldest daughter, Natalie who had a bit of a rant over the phone this week about the “experience” she was having from one of the big 4 grocery retailers. I’ll let her explain in her own words…

I’m generally quite a loyal shopper. Don’t get me wrong… I shop around to make sure I am getting a good deal but I tend to use the same retailers where possible and appreciate the benefits loyalty can generate (like frequent flyer miles or loyalty coupons). However, I was recently tempted away from my usual online groceries retailer as they didn’t stock an item I was after, so I looked elsewhere. The new supplier had also been performing much better on price comparison of my shopping.

It actually felt quite good to try something new at first. There were new products that are not usually available to me and the prices did seem significantly cheaper! It had its drawbacks though. When I normally order my groceries I know the website like most shoppers know their local supermarket aisles. I know the key search words and my favourites are all saved for ease, so I can complete my order in a few minutes.

After battling for some time I finally submitted my order and thought I might regularly do a monthly shop with this new retailer.

I received a two hour delivery slot (7pm-9pm). This was longer than my usual one hour slot but I knew I would be available so this wasn’t an issue for me. I was also very pleasantly surprised to receive an email on the delivery day with an updated one hour slot (7.30pm-8.30pm).

You can imagine my frustration then when at 9pm there was no sign of my shopping. What is the point in providing a one hour slot if you can’t actually guarantee that…never mind the two hour slot.

I called customer service (who were based abroad, some 6,000 miles away!) in order to get an ETA for the delivery. I was promptly advised, with no apology, that “as per T&Cs” I needed to wait another hour. So apparently my one hour slot had actually become a 3 hour slot?? Not ideal. I was also offered a voucher for a future free delivery – “very kind” I said- “but all I want is my shopping”.

I waited until 10pm – thinking it was unrealistic that my shopping would arrive as surely I would have heard something. On the rare occasion that my usual supplier has been late, I promptly receive a call advising me of the delay, reason for it and estimated time of arrival. I don’t think that is too much to ask.

With no sign of my shopping, I called again and was told that they would call the store to find out what was happening and I would get a call back shortly. At 10.20, knowing the call centre was closing at 10.30 I called again and asked to speak to a supervisor. I was told that they were busy and would call me back tomorrow. All I wanted was a new slot for tomorrow morning and to find out where my shopping was. The advisor attempted to book a new slot but I was told all he could offer me was click and collect. Living over 30 miles from the store and with plans the next day this was unacceptable to me.

I said I was happy to hold for the supervisor paying the extortionate telephone charges but was told he refused to speak to me! I was promised a call back from both the store and a supervisor the next morning and after more than 20 requests to hold, the call centre attempted to end the call. I asked for the name of the manager and was told he wasn’t allowed to give me that information. So I gave up.

The next morning, still not having received either of the two calls I was promised – I called again. I asked yet again to speak to a supervisor and was told they don’t take calls, only escalations. I advised that my concerns had already been escalated and I was due a call back. The advisor promised to chase up the call back and I could expect a call in 2-4 hours. This wasn’t satisfactory to me having already waited over 12 hours for a call back. So I asked to hold. I was then asked… “but what about all the other calls I should be taking?” I reminded the advisor that this was her supervisors problem – not mine.

After repeated requests I was put on hold without notification. A few minutes later I was told there was nothing she could do but I could call the shop myself and she gave me the number – why had no one offered me this option before now.

On calling the store I immediately got through to the groceries manager, who apologised and told me my shopping had been returned to the store but he didn’t know why and he would send it out again that evening. I received the shopping on time that day… but they had been unable to fulfil the items that had lead to me using the new supplier in the first place. Oh… And I’m still waiting for the call back from a supervisor…..!

It’s fair to say I will never be using that retailer again. What did I take away from the experience

1) don’t make promises you can’t keep
2) if you are going to have a customer service team – allow them to actually provide a service and equip them with tools, training and empowerment to be able to contribute positively to the customer experience
3) listen to consumer needs and concerns
4) be proactive. Why could none of the people I spoke to just called the store on my behalf?

What an example of how not to treat the customer. We can only hope that said retailer uses the recording of the call for training purposes, as a case study of how not to do things.

I doubt they will somehow!

So what lessons can we learn from Natalie’s experience? Look at each and every client interaction and ask yourself… is this how I would want to be treated? If not, change things!


Quote of the week

Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther

Thomas Carlyle

Quote of the week

A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.

Mary Kay Ash

Do you actually want my business?

I am currently in the process of buying a new car and having narrowed it down to 2 different models I decided to visit the local dealers in the hope of making a decision. I have to say the service received has been less than impressive from both dealerships, though one has been particularly outstanding in their ability to disappoint to such a consistently high standard.

It all started with the test drives, for which I had booked a specific appointment. At the first dealership my arrival caused something of a panic as no-one was available to take me out! Their “IT guy” volunteered to do it so at least I got to try it out!  He couldn’t answer most of the questions I had (not his fault I guess, but the IT guy… seriously?)

Maybe the second dealership would be a bit more interested.

Big assumption. The guy I had booked the appointment with was unavailable as he was with another customer! Would I mind taking a seat? 5 minutes became 10 and then 15. This was my one chance to test drive the cars. I’d specifically booked the time in my diary to do this. I couldn’t afford to abandon and re-arrange, so against my better judgement I sat tight. He did eventually show up and apologised, but I was miffed to say the least.

Since then I have had to put up with…

  • Unreturned phone calls
  • Promises to ring me back which never happen
  • Promises of written quotes by email which never materialise
  • A promise to provide a trade in value on the old car… still waiting (and they’ve inspected it carefully)
  • Promises to provide a quote for both an outright purchase and a leasing option… only the lease option was provided
  • Having to nag, prod, chase and call them every time I wanted an update
  • And finally a promise to call me back before 9 this morning with a comprehensive “best proposal”… you guessed it, still waiting

Now, I don’t believe that any of the things I’ve asked for have been unreasonable. After all, I’m the customer and I’m here to spend a significant sum of money. I actually WANT to spend the money and I’m giving you the chance to make sure I spend it with YOU. If you don’t want my business, just say so. Or maybe it’s just easier to treat me with such disrespect that it becomes obvious that you don’t really value my custom.

You won’t be surprised to hear that, having used the local dealers to test drive the cars and finalise exactly what “extras” I want, I have gone to dealers further afield to supply the car. They’ve managed to turn the transaction into a commodity purchase. They’ve blown their chance win my business. I now know what I want and frankly I can get that from any dealer in the UK prepared to match the price, something I wouldn’t have done if they had shown me that they cared.

Make sure you don’t treat your clients with the same level of disrespect. Making a promise is one thing… keeping it is what makes the difference and builds trust.

Quote of the week

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Ferris Bueller (from the film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

How to make the critical 20% work for your business

The Pareto Principle, that 80% of the wealth of any country is enjoyed by just 20% of the population, is a widely used business yardstick and with good reason. In our dealings with advisory business, we see so many examples of the 80/20 rule in evidence. Most common of those is that 80% of a typical advisers revenues come from just 20% of their clients.

Even if you use a different measure such as profitability, expected lifetime value, or even how fulfilling they are to deal with, the same principle tends to apply.

Often when we help clients to segment their client list, the first light bulb that goes on is the fact that they aren’t spending 80% of their time with the 20% of clients who are generating 80% of their revenue. This in itself then opens up the wider debate about how they spend their time each day. Is it spent on the crucial 20% of the activities that generate 80% of their results, or on the 80% “low value/return” activities that generate the square root of diddly squat!

Have you ever done that analysis?

In a small business, I accept that many of the low value/return activities need to be done just to keep the business going, but my argument is that they shouldn’t be done by you. I’d suggest you have 4 options for dealing with these low value activities;

  1. Just stop doing them (if they aren’t critical)
  2. Defer them till later (and maybe then you’ll see just how unimportant they are)
  3. Delegate them to someone else in the business (even if that means hiring additional people)
  4. Outsource them

Using the time freed up to focus on the critical 20% high value activities has the potential to transform your results. And it is a choice. You can take control of the success of your business by being ruthless about managing the low value activities such as

  • managing your emails (particularly dealing with spam/irrelevant emails)
  • writing standard letters and reports
  • signing for deliveries
  • ordering stationery
  • answering the phone (without it being screened first)
  • seeing provider representatives!
  • uploading/entering data onto back office or cash-flow modelling software

and spending the time freed up to focus on the critical 20% activities such as

  • client meetings and contact
  • seeking more client referrals from delighted top end clients
  • marketing your business more effectively
  • networking with other professionals and centres of influence
  • turning client complaints into an opportunity to delight them
  • strategic planning
  • improving operational performance (such as client on-boarding and regular reviews)

Take a long hard look at the way you spend your time and try to identify the low value activities that you need to avoid/defer/delegate and refocus that time on the critical 20% activities. Then watch your results take off.


Quote of the week

People begin to become successful the minute they decide to be.

Harvey Mackay