How to lose clients without even trying

By Guy Rigby, partner and head of entrepreneurial services, Smith & Williamson

Before I tell you my seven deadly sins, here’s a golden rule: Who Cares Wins. Those three words are my personal motto. Caring means taking the time and effort to positively develop a relationship with a client. If clients think you don’t care, they will leave you. Simple. Price is secondary – the really important stuff is whether you are enthusiastic, whether you get on well with them and whether you authentically want to help them, not just professionally but in ways outside the industry too.

OK, so here are my seven deadly sins…

1) Being too busy to respond to client enquiries.

You can’t have a metaphorical pile of documents on your desk and simply deal with them one at a time with no imagination or prioritisation. You need antennae that can identify what needs dealing with immediately because failing to do so will hold up or upset someone. I find that advisers either ‘get’ this concept or they don’t. A professional adviser exists to provide a service, so “I’m too busy” isn’t good enough. It’s very difficult to motivate or work with advisers who don’t have a good set of antennae.

2) Treating clients like your personal wallet.

This is when the fee rather than the relationship matters. Lots of professional services firms are divided between client service and making money. There has to be a happy balance. And to be a good professional it has to be the relationship first and the fee second. You can’t be driven by finance rather than what’s best for the client.

3) Taking on work outside your or your company’s skill set (ie. guessing).

Nobody can be an expert on everything and you need to know when you can do a job and when you can’t. Never take on work outside your skill set as a lot will turn on bad advice, including the potential for damaging and expensive negligence claims. If necessary, use external experts to support your advice. As the saying goes, if you think professional advice is expensive then try the amateur variety.

4) Failing to listen to, agree or abide by the terms of the client’s brief.

This happens a lot. Sometimes it’s because the client hasn’t understood what they were asking for and the professional has reinterpreted it correctly. Sometimes the client knew exactly what they were asking for and the professional has misinterpreted it. You must take the correct instructions, be totally clear on what the client wants and deliver it in the agreed manner.

5) Failing to deliver or breaking promised delivery timetables.

If I were a client, I’d want to know why this had happened and unless there was a very good reason, I’d probably get a new professional adviser. Client timetables are important and breaking promises is unacceptable.

6) Springing unexpected or last-minute surprises on clients.

You know the sort of thing: “Oh, by the way, you’ve got to pay £230k in tax tomorrow.” Last-minute surprises should be avoided at all costs because they can permanently damage the relationship. And if you do have to deliver challenging news, pick up the phone, don’t email.

7) Failing to stick to agreed quotes or sending unexpected bills.

This last one speaks for itself. Nothing upsets clients more, so don’t go there.