If Only Clients Came With Instruction Manuals

If you never have had a client relationship start off strong and then fizzle out, congratulations.

For those of you who have, read on. I am going to help you put together a client instruction manual.

As with any relationship, good communication is the key to success. Many advisors, especially those who are more analytic, may focus solely on the financial situation of their client or prospect, forgetting their human nature.

It’s human nature – a client’s or prospect’s complex behavior patterns – that challenge the relationship.

When a prospect meets with you for the first time, you are both there to determine if it is a good match. No doubt you are sizing the prospect up to determine if he or she is a qualified candidate that meets your ideal client requirements.

The prospect is deciding if you are knowledgeable, trustworthy and likeable enough to hire as an advisor.

What gets overlooked is the discussion about expectations: what the client can reasonably expect from you, and what you should reasonably expect from them as a client.

Discussing expectations early on will make the relationship run much more smoothly down the road.

If your prospect does not take the lead and bring up expectations, it is your job to do so prior to his or her signing on as a client. You don’t want the prospect to become a client first, and then learn what to do or how to behave.

A virtual instruction manual

In the absence of having an instruction manual to hand out to new clients, the discussion of expectations fills this gap.

Don’t put yourself in a position of over-promising and under-delivering. Be careful about what it you promise. On the other hand, don’t expect so much from prospects that they are afraid to become clients because they don’t think they can live up to your expectations.

Here is a list of expectations you may want to consider.

I will:

  • Focus on helping you achieve your financial objectives
  • Meet with you at least once per year (with additional meetings as needed)
  • Seek out ways to help you improve your financial circumstances
  • Ensure that you understand planning concepts and ideas
  • Be available as a resource on financial planning issues
  • Resolve issues regarding your accounts under my management
  • Return your phone calls within one business day
  • Respect your confidential information
  • Set meeting times and locations that are convenient for you
  • Provide a comfortable atmosphere in which to meet and do business
  • Provide appropriate investment options, explain the risks of those options and make recommendations
  • Handle your requests in a reasonable amount of time and let you know how long it will take to get back to you with an update, answer or solution
  • Know and understand your investment attitude and personality
  • Maintain and improve my industry and product knowledge
  • Build partnerships with affiliates that meet expectations similar to these
  • Be prompt and prepared for our meetings

You will:

  • Meet with me at least once per year
  • Conduct a formal comprehensive review of your goals, objectives and progress on an annual basis
  • Call me regarding any major changes in your life
  • Tell me how I can improve and provide better service if, for any reason, you are not satisfied
  • Treat me and my team members in a courteous manner
  • Maintain an open line of communication, which is the key element in an effective partnership
  • Be prompt and prepared for our meetings
  • Return phone calls, emails and paperwork promptly

These are suggestions. I recommend that you create your own list of expectations based on what you want to deliver and how you want your clients to behave.

Having an open and honest dialogue at the beginning of the relationship allows you to revisit expectations if a client fails to meet them. If one of your expectations for clients is to be prompt and prepared for your meetings , and a prospect has rescheduled a meeting several times and then arrived late, make sure you clarify that this behavior is unacceptable except in the case of an emergency.

Another way to use this tool is to pull out the list of expectations during annual review meetings to discuss how the relationship is going. Wouldn’t you rather find out that a client is unhappy with something when you can discuss it and rectify the situation instead of having the client leave your firm without telling you why?

If all your clients acted in accordance with what is in their best interests and the interest of your business, an instruction manual wouldn’t be necessary. Since an instruction manual for clients isn’t politically correct, utilize expectations.

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