A few weeks ago, I shared an article about building long-term client relationships versus transactional ones. It was about becoming a trusted advisor.
That long-term approach is my default now – I take on clients for life. It comes with many pluses including the joy and fulfillment of working with people I call friends. But like most good things in life, it comes with its challenges, too.
One of these challenges is establishing and maintaining life-long trust.
I’ve got two rather personal stories for you today. They both stem from the same set of circumstances but have completely different outcomes.
In one case, I lost my client’s trust and over time, regained it. In the other, I lost it and never got it back. Both stories are emotionally laden for me. They take me back to one of the hardest points in my career so far. But here goes.
Case Study #1: A Second Chance
I share a 20-year-long friendship and relationship with my client, Samir. We started off as basketball buddies. Over the years, we discovered we had a lot in common off the basketball court, and a friendship blossomed.
We soon became entrepreneur buddies, accountability partners for each other, and confidantes when it came to life’s wins and challenges.
To add another layer to an already rich friendship, we both caught the ‘Fitness Bug’ at the same time and set a big goal: To get picked to be on the cover of a men’s fitness magazine before we hit 40. (We got pretty fit, but neither of us made it to cover model status…)
Samir then became a client. We started to handle his Life Insurance requirements and some of his savings and investment plans. When we started to work together, I was a young Advisor in my late 20s.
Shortly after, I went through a transformation as a professional. Over the years, I was starting to discover that I wasn’t doing my clients justice by simply pitching every product the Insurance companies put in front of me.
I started to listen more closely to my clients’ needs and question product propositions, financial service providers, and insurance companies. I got more careful about what products I pitched to my clients and why.
At the time, I handled 150 clients or so. Today, I take on six new clients a year. I helped my clients to invest, save, and insure only to come back to them four years later and say, ‘We didn’t pick the right plans, I have something better for you.’
As you can imagine, this didn’t go down well. It was perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve done in my career so far. It made my clients (and me) question my advice over the last few years. It broke trust, in some cases, irrevocably.
One such tough conversation was with my dear friend and client, Samir. I told Samir we had messed up and explained how I planned to fix it. The fix involved canceling some of his existing products and buying new ones – a cash-out-of-pocket fix for the client.
Like any client would be, Samir was unhappy with the proposal. The whole thing looked like a second chance for me to re-earn commissions, although that was not my intention. I intended to fix my mistake and take the short-term hit it came with, to ensure my clients were in a stronger position in the long run.
I told Samir and his wife as much. I had to show them what needed to be fixed regardless of what they thought of me. I could only hope that they would give me a second chance to regain their trust.
Samir gave me that chance. He did, however, sit down with me and identify which products he wanted to keep with me (things I was the undisputed expert at) and which products he wanted to move away from me.
There’s something Samir used to say back then and still says that has become a mantra for how I live my life now. He had a childhood friend who was also a Life Insurance advisor. This friend asked Samir why he had chosen to work with me, Rickson, when they had known each other a lot longer.
Samir said: Because Rickson will screw up like you and me and everyone else. But when he does, he’ll stick around and fix it.
Case Study #2: No Turning Back
Now let me tell you about another client whose story ends quite differently.
As a result of the same series of events, another friend and client of mine, Marcus, lost faith in me and never came back.
Marcus had never really been a right-fit client who checked all the boxes, but I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. He became a good friend and a strong advocate of my services. He became one of my top introducers to new clients and business opportunities.
But when, around the same time as Samir, I had to have that same tough conversation with Marcus, things took a turn for the ugly.
To Marcus, all trust was lost. He saw it as a total ploy for us to re-earn commissions. I lost not just Marcus as a client, but a lot of his introduced connections also moved their business elsewhere.
It was a difficult loss for me to deal with at many levels – financially, emotionally, professionally, and personally.
All Over Again
Here’s the thing though – if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d still choose to respond to and rectify my mistakes as soon as I became aware of them and their repercussions for my clients.
Today, I’m older, wiser, and a much stronger Advisor than I was two decades ago. But even today, if I made a mistake, I’d risk it all to own up and propose a fix, regardless of what that means for my future with a client.
Our line of work is one where you can perhaps get away with a wrong decision or mistake for years because of the nature of the products we sell.
But trust is a delicate and imperative balance to keep. Without trust, you cannot possibly hope for a second chance. And when your client relationships last a lifetime, you’re probably going to need a second chance at some point.
Your turn: How big a role does TRUST play in your line of work? Any stories to share with me?