A colleague of mine, Stan Good, is a fabulous service provider in the financial services sector. He has had a long-standing relationship with a successful real estate client, Max Abrams, for over 20 years. In fact, Max’s success is due in great part to the guidance and advice provided by very savvy Stan.

There’s no doubt that Stan has gone above and beyond the norm in servicing Max over the years. Max relied on Stan for advice in many areas of his life and his business. He advised him over a year ago that in order to accomplish a goal of having less pressure and more time off, he should hire a CFO. Stan helped Max find just the right person for the position. Enter Andrew Salinas.

Then, about 3 weeks ago, Stan received an email message from Max. In this email, Max expressed his concern about the high fees Stan had been charging over the last year, and he questioned the promptness of service.

Stan was stunned.

The tone of the email was courteous but stiff. It certainly didn’t reflect the flavor and warmth of their 2-decade relationship. And Max had sent him this email right before he left on holiday. Stan certainly couldn’t call Max or dash an email off to him to find out what prompted the message and disturbing Max’s vacation. And why would Max want the THREE of them to meet? Max had always met with Stan solo; he was Max’s most trusted adviser. Wasn’t he?

Stan came to me asking for some feedback about how to address the situation.

Here are my recommendations should a key client start to question your service and relationship or if you think a key client is shopping around:

  • Never send an email. Emails can be misinterpreted. Be patient and call your client directly.
  • Always request a personal and private meeting FIRST. Do not cut the third person out of the conversation. Simply ask for a private meeting as a prelude to the meeting with the third party.
  • Hear the client out fully. Just listen. Don’t defend (even slightly) Most importantly, acknowledge and respect your client for asking these questions. You want to make your client feel “right” about his exploration. Making your client feel “wrong” will set off alarm bells within your client and support a lack of trust.
  • Ask lots of probing questions. Ask your client what it would take to have him or her feel totally supported and serviced.
  • Give your client the understanding that you are completely on the same page with what he or she needs to feel serviced properly, and that it is your intention that everyone on their team experience that from you as well.

Once your client is assuaged, make sure your third party relationship feels included and supported. His or her agenda might be looking like a hero/heroine, or ensuring his or her value to the company, at your expense.

The key is not to bad-mouth the third party. The key is to be an asset to everyone on the team. Third parties who have personal Hero/Heroine or Lone Ranger agendas usually give themselves away.

Be attentive, responsive, and supportive.

Your commitment to doing the right thing at the right time in the right way will win back any client’s allegiance. People hate to change Trusted Advisors. They worked very hard to cultivate trust. Once won, it’s only ours to lose.

And Stan? He did in fact have an early morning one on one with Max. Stan REALLY listened to Max and all his concerns. The relationship is protected for the moment. But Stan is on his toes. He is not taking anything for granted- especially his relationship with Max.