The importance of empathy in your client experience

May 4, 2017 by Tyler McNaughton

A female financial advisor meeting with her client at a coffee shop to discuss his financial plan as part of her client experience

About the author:

Tyler McNaughton

Strategic account manager

Tyler is a strategic account manager in the Canadian market. A graduate of McMaster University, Tyler has spent his 17 years helping businesses find the best technology solutions for their workflows, employees, and clients.

I was reminded this past weekend of the importance of empathy and emotion in the broad milieu that is client experience. My son’s hockey team had their final game recently, and the parents decided to go out to dinner afterwards for a final time with the kids. It was a casual restaurant chain that would certainly have a great deal of experience in hosting large groups. No reservation had been made, but there was plenty of room for the team when we arrived. Although the group had a good time, the service was terrible by any standard — extremely slow service, wrong orders, cold food, and bills that took far too long to arrive.

I am not one to complain at restaurants because I know it is a difficult job. Additionally, there are many factors that go into a good food service some of which that cannot be controlled by the wait staff. This night, however, I made a subtle exasperated facial expression and comment after the server finally brought our bill, and he did not take kindly to my small act of protest. In fact, he made a rude comment that should not have been made to a customer.

On the way home in the car, my wife and I talked about the situation. We discussed howeven after all that had gone wrongthe staff or management simply offering some empathy could have salvaged the experience. Had the servers admitted that the service was not up to their standard, apologized to the group, and possibly offered a small “olive branch” such as a dessert, no reasonable person would have left the restaurant upset. We all would have appreciated the gesture and put any negativity behind us. Instead, we had a number of parents vow never to come back to the restaurant.

What does this client experience lesson mean for financial professionals?

We operate in a world where client experience is paramount to success and remaining competitive. Yet, it is often perceived as risky to admit fault when that client experience does not meet expectations. Public relations firms exist to help spin bad company news and help craft qualified non-apologies for public consumption, but they can be costly. Any empathy or admission of guilt is buried within the non-apologetic message, and the apology is often seen as disingenuous. After its recent release of the now notorious protester commercial, Pepsi even went so far as to make a heartfelt apology to the commercial’s star more empathetic than to the general public.

How does this relate in the advisor world? I would argue that the role of empathy in the client-advisor relationship becomes even more important. After all, you and your firm are trusted with the savings, investments, and overall finances of your clients. These are part of your clients’ life goals and include difficult, emotional decisions that can have an impact on the rest of their lives.

As many financial professionals have seen in their role, people are emotionally involved in their children’s education funding, the success of their business, their retirement goals, and other financial life goals. While taking a levelheaded and unbiased approach to these investment discussions with your clients is important, it is also important to recognize that your clients may not be as calm about a large financial decision. When there is a dip in the performance of a fund, if there has been a change in your client’s job situation, or if you have taken too long in their mind to respond back on their inquiry, the client may become sensitive or emotional. If you take a moment to put yourself in their shoeswithout expertise and knowledge that you haveyou will better understand their emotional reaction. If you or your firm made a mistake, admit fault and offer a plan to “make it right.”

The empathy you show when dealing with a challenge will shape how your clients view you, your firm, and your client experience. Your words and actions can have both a positive or negative impact on clients and their likelihood to refer others to you. As for the restaurant, I have decided to offer some empathy of my own. Maybe that young server was having a tough night personally or maybe they were short-staffed in the kitchen because of illness. I will go back again in the near future, and I hope that the experience will be much better.

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