One day this past fall I was scheduled to speak at the University of Chicago and was picked up at the airport by a limousine. As we were pulling up to the U of C building, the driver pointed across the street to the NBC Tower and said, "You know, that's where Jerry Springer does his show."
"Really?" I said. "You must see some colorful types coming in and out of that door."
"That's for sure," he said. "I don't know what you think of the guy, but I gotta tell ya, he is by far, the kindest, most considerate celebrity I've ever met. And we meet plenty of them with this particular limo company."
Now he had my attention. "How did you come to like the guy so much?" I asked.
"Well, first of all," he replied, "when it says 2:45 pickup, he's there at 2:45 sharp, actually 2:40. Other celebs come whenever they feel like it as if the whole world works on their whimsical clock."
He paused and then continued, "But the thing that really sold me on Jerry was the ride I had with him a couple of months ago. I had given him a ride about ten months previous and was sure he wouldn't recognize me or remember our conversation. My daughter, Emily, was hoping to get into the Northwestern Law School and I had read that Jerry had graduated from that school, and so I brought it up to him. He asked about my daughter and what her ambitions were, and even asked about my wife, Catherine."
"So, here I am over a half year later picking him up again. Before I could even say, 'Mr. Springer, I don't know if you remember me ... ' he says, 'Hey Bill-it's Bill isn't it? How are you?'
"I was stunned! How could this guy remember me as often as he takes limos?"
"He gets in the car and the first thing he asks me is, 'Did Emily ever get into the Northwestern Law School?' Now I can hardly talk because I am so blown away that he remembered my daughter's name and many details of our conversation.
"'No,' I replied. 'She ended up being accepted at Boston College and she's really happy there.'
"Jerry says, 'That's funny, because BC was my second choice if I hadn't been accepted at Northwestern. So, how's Catherine doing these days?'"
"HE REMEMBERS MY WIFE'S NAME AS WELL! Can you believe this? That guy is something else. I know a lot of people don't like him and I know he got into some trouble years back [Springer was caught up in a prostitution scandal while mayor of Cincinnati], but you know, I guess that was Jerry being Jerry."
"Jerry being Jerry," I thought, as I left the car and driver. It seems people will forgive most errors of omission and commission if you show respect to them. Jerry has built himself quite a carnival franchise since those days-and I'm sure being kind and considerate has been a part of it.
It's not really rocket science, is it? If you want people to continue paying for your services, then you need to continue paying attention to them. How much attention do your clients need? If you talked to them enough you would already know the answer to that question; it varies from person to person.
But in times like these, everyone needs some attention.
It's very important in business to know what you're being paid for-especially when the world is in a panic. From a client's standpoint, I believe that now, more than ever, your primary obligation to me is to pay attention because I'm paying you to pay attention to me. How you demonstrate that I matter and that you want to guide me through the storm is the tacit idea coursing through my limbic cortex at this stage.
You are not being paid to be a weatherman or a miracle worker. You do not have to tell me what you think is going to happen next or to make it all go away. Just touch base with me and see how I'm managing through this and remind me how wise investors are behaving right now.
In fact, a bear market is always a bull market for strengthening relationships-if you are paying attention. Many advisors at this moment don't know what to say to their clients and have left them swaying in the wind ... wondering. There is opportunity in simply asking people how they feel right now and listening.
I have talked to scores of frustrated and exhausted advisors in the last few weeks about the market turmoil. I'm hearing statements like:
"I don't know what to tell my clients because I'm not getting the answers I need."
"What can I say that is going to matter when things look like they are falling apart at the seams?"
I think these advisors may be missing the central point: You don't have to have all the answers. There are people on Wall Street right now that are struggling to explain what's going on. You don't have to work a miracle and make everything right. You just need to be there for your clients. Ask them how they are doing and then bring some sanity and calm to the conversation.
You are sowing the seeds for a lasting relationship.
I recently received a statement from a firm that was managing some of my assets notifying me that one of the companies I was holding had filed for bankruptcy. I immediately thought of the representative of this firm who had called me to recommend this stock so highly and to tout his firm's research on their prospects two years before.
Where is he now?
Where was the phone call when the first signs of trouble started appearing? I would have understood that things can turn sour at a company and that I may have to sell at a loss. But I had no such opportunity because someone failed to pay attention ... to me.
I moved my accounts to my other advisor-the one who calls when things aren't going well and talks me through it.
True advisors pay attention most when times are rough. Salespeople pay attention most when times are good because they want to use market momentum to get more deals done.
Right now I'm long on advisors who pay attention and act as a calming influence in their clients' lives. I'm short on salespeople. I can't afford to work with people who don't pay attention.
If paying attention to people-really paying attention-was enough to help Jerry Springer build his kingdom through storms of his own making, it should be enough to guide us through the market storms we are experiencing.
Everyone matters ... especially in times like these.