Do Your Clients Need a Dose of Verbal Ipecac?

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Have you ever dreaded calling a client, even though you knew you should? A lot of advisers felt like that last year when the market tanked. Yet, contacting clients at difficult times can go a long way toward developing positive, long-term relationships. Reaching out to clients stresses that you’re there for the long haul, not hiding when returns fade.

A Remedy for Daunting Client Calls

Instead of shying away from difficult calls or cutting them short, try giving unhappy clients a dose of “verbal ipecac.” Long used in cough medicines, ipecac is an expectorant, a substance that causes vomiting. Pediatricians used to recommend that parents keep ipecac on hand in case a child ingested something poisonous.

Just as a parent wants a child to expel poison, you want clients to force out any nasty feelings they’re holding inside. If clients are second-guessing you or are unhappy with the service they’ve received, the idea is to get them to “cough it up” so that you can confront the issues together. Otherwise, clients may continue to harbor bad feelings—or even disappear altogether.

Phrases that encourage clients to vent—like “Let’s discuss that” or “Tell me more”—are the verbal equivalent of ipecac. “Anything else?” can also be a very helpful question, even when it seems like the client has already spent too much time complaining. Allowing them to release all the worries they’ve bottled up will help put clients at ease—and allow you to make things right. Remember, retaining an existing client is a lot cheaper than finding a new one.

Careful Dosing Recommended

These days, ipecac is no longer recommended by pediatricians, as it isn’t effective with some poisons. It has also been misused by bulimics and abused as a joke among teenagers.

Verbal ipecac can be abused, too. If you have a client who isn’t a good fit for your firm, it may be better to discontinue the relationship. Attempting to trick a perpetually unhappy client into satisfaction is a waste of time. To cure your clients of what ails them, your words must be backed by integrity and sincerity.

Joni Youngwirth
Managing Principle of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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