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What to do when clients aren't tech savvy

Plenty is written about using technology to engage clients, but what about when the client doesn't want to engage?

Dec 13, 2013 @ 8:52 am

By Dave O'Brien

Plenty is written about using technology to engage clients, but what about when the client doesn't want to engage? You have three choices to make: become your client's help desk, facilitate their nontechnical lifestyle or gently bring them into the 21st century.

IT Support

"Click OK. now what's on your computer screen?" This is a terrible spot for a financial adviser to find themselves: We've all been there. On the other end of the phone, your frustrated client is trying to log into their account. You want to help them, but they will associate all the frustration with with online security with you.

ENABLING

Some people still record television shows on a VCR and prefer to get everything in hard copy. Reluctant to be associated with the frustrating experience of getting the client online, some advisers are happy to give the client what they want, lots of paper in their mailbox.

EDUCATE, SUPPORT, ENCOURAGE

My experience has shown a third path is most successful. Helping clients understand that getting paper statements in the mail increases their risk for identity fraud, costs money and is bad for the environment can work. Getting them to think about the frustrations created by all the envelopes and paper they shuffle every month can be better. Developing a really intuitive online user guide with pictures of screens has also been received well by my clients. And appealing to their wallet is a great technique, too. Some custodians and RIA firms will pass on their cost savings from going paperless to the client. Combining lowered costs, lower risk of identity fraud and a simple step-by-step guide can ease most clients into using the great technology tools you offer.

But what about the client who really doesn't use a computer? I recently had a teachable moment with implications for many of us. A client wanted to send documents across the country, and I offered to take care of the shipment. Since we are not in the same place, I sent my client a prepaid FedEx shipping label to make things easy for them. Easy, except my client told me that I had the wrong shipping address.

If my client used e-mail, I would have sent them a new PDF shipping label. Easy. But he needed hard copy, so I called FedEx to see if I could have a label ready at the client's local FedEx office. Sounds simple, right? Long story short, after I spent one hour on the phone with five FedEx employees, I was assured a label would be ready for my client. But when my client arrived at the FedEx store, there was no label and they had to create one by hand. My client was gracious, but I was mortified about the hassle he went through.

The moral of the story: technology brings speed and responsiveness to client service. Without it, our reliance on our suppliers' technology and processes increases, and the chances of error increase. We may never get all of our clients online, and that means some clients may still associate frustrating experiences with us.

Dave O'Brien is a NAPFA-registered financial adviser in Richmond, Va., and owner of O'Brien Financial Planning, Inc., a fee-only registered investment adviser.

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