Advisors Who Ignore Calls?

Many companies get away with poor customer service these days, thinking that it is more cost-effective to put the customer off than to hire a person to help serve their needs. But now, some advisors believe they don’t have to returning clients’ phone calls in a timely fashion. What a mistake.

I read a recent article with this headline: “Want to Boost Business? Stop Answering the Phone.” Alliance Bernstein, the asset management company, was quoted as suggesting that financial advisors should immediately quit answering the phone and train their clients to wait.

Their reasoning is that answering calls immediately is more “reactive” than “responsive” and picking up the phone gets in the way of more important business.

I was appalled when I read this. Here are their reasons and why I think they are completely wrong.

1)    “It will establish reasonable expectations — that is, clients may expect a response within, say, 24 hours but not instantly. A client for whom nothing short of instant gratification will suffice is far more likely to be disappointed than one who is accustomed to a brief wait.”

I don’t even know how to respond to this first one. It’s just good customer service to answer the phone. Clients call because they need advice. I am really tired of voice mail and automated voice response systems. Customers crave human contact, so at least answer the phone with a live voice whenever possible. In fact, live human service is exactly what separates a financial advisor from an automated investing program. Answering my clients concerns is my core function.

2)    “It will free up time for other activities critical to running a practice. Surveys show that advisors spend a disproportionate amount of time answering client calls, rather than exploring more productive and innovative ways of keeping and winning business.”

If you are that busy, you should be able to afford to hire an assistant. There are other more efficient ways to increase productivity. Sometimes you can’t answer the phone right away, but intentionally not answering the phone doesn’t benefit the advisor or the client. If you are too busy to speak, the least you can do is take a message or schedule a call for later.

3)    “It will allow the advisor to give a thoughtful response to questions, rather than a spur-of-the-moment reaction.”

This seems to make sense on the surface but doesn’t bear up under scrutiny. If advisors know what they are doing, and we hope they do, they should be able to provide the necessary answers and advice in most cases without a delay. If the answer is not readily available, it’s not hard to tell the client that you need to do some research and get back later.

For these reasons I strive to answer and respond to your phone calls and emails as quickly as possible. If you hire an advisor who doesn’t deign to even answer your call promptly, you can certainly find one that does.

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Russell Francis, CFP, CPA, is owner of Portland Fixed Income Specialists in Beaverton, Ore. His website is
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