order taking [awr-der tey-king]: to take an order; to do whatever the client tells you to do.
How can order taking possibly be wrong? It seems so right doesn’t it? I mean, what’s wrong with being super friendly and just doing what the client asked you to do? Just do it really well, do it efficiently, and then when they have another need they’ll come back to you. Many financial institutions have a “soft sell” approach to sales which I’ve come to learn is essentially the same as order taking. They are so afraid of coming across as pushy sales people that they end up doing very little to truly help clients that need it the most. The theory is that if you have a great relationship with your client you don’t have to be proactive. Sales will increase because when they have a need they will come see you. It seems so right, so simple, so natural, and yet at so many levels it is not only wrong, but it runs contrary to the stated goals of providing exceptional client service. Why is that?
Don’t confuse friendly with effective.
The challenge with order taking is that it assumes that the client is always right; that they are asking for the correct product, at the most opportune time for their situation. Unfortunately, that is not true most of the time. Take for example saving for retirement. People that work in financial institutions know that they typically get someone asking for retirement planning when they are around 50 years old. It might be a little bit younger, maybe a little bit older, but it’s usually late. Most clients know they should get started earlier (i.e. they know they have a need) but they don’t act on it. There’s lots of reasons for this – some legitimate, some not so much, but nevertheless, the reality is that there is a gap between when the need originates and when the client actually decides on their own accord to take action. So if we know the client probably has the need, we know they’re not acting on it as soon as they should be, and we know that it is going to cause that client financial grief by not acting on it early, can we really say we are providing exceptional service if we choose to ignore the situation and wait for them to come see us?
Of course we can’t. And that is what makes order taking so bad.
In order to provide exceptional service you must do more than order take. You have to be proactive. You have to be comfortable leading your clients into discussions about known financial issues. Are they on track to retire when they want to do what they want? Are they getting great advice from whomever they are using as a financial advisor? Do they have confidence in the returns they are getting? How do they feel about the mortgage they are in? Are they stressed about the amount of debt they have? Are they worried about being able to pay it off? You should know the answers to these questions because once the client acknowledges they are experiencing a dissatisfaction you can confidently start talking to them about solutions knowing that they will be interested in hearing what you have to say. Problem first, solution second. Do that and you sound like you’re helping. Reverse the order and sound like a typical sales person.
So then, what are the unintended consequences associated with order taking?
1. Clients may have the need for a product or service that goes unmet and results in financial problems for them down the road. Think about the person struggling with credit card debt. It may take them years to finally admit they need help and ask for a consolidation loan. Maybe they leave it so late that you can’t actually help them any longer.
2. If all we do is give the client whatever product they asked for there is a very real risk they may get the wrong product. By default you are making the client the product expert when you take an order and most don’t have the knowledge you have to make the best decision.
3. When someone comes to the conclusion that they have a need, they may not come see you. It’s naive to think that 100% of your clients are blindly just going to come to you when they have a need and won’t end up being lured away by one of your competitors.
4. We appear disinterested or indifferent to their business. When we sit back and wait for the client to figure it out it looks like we don’t care about their overall financial well-being. A study by Harvard Business Review stated that “68% of the reason people don’t do repeat business with an organization is because of perceived employee indifference”. It’s not that the employee was rude, or made a mistake, it’s just that we got the feeling like they didn’t care whether we did business with them or not. Being proactive let’s them know you care.
So, as good as it might feel to order take; as easy as it may be, know that it’s a substandard level of service you are providing your client. Be interested in their financial well-being. Care about whether they are doing as well as they can financially. Ask lots of questions around potential challenges you know are common to most people and watch what a great response you get when you help someone who didn’t think they needed the help.
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