The Lessons for both Advisors and Investors
Ric Edelman: Today is Monday, January 9th. Welcome to The Truth About Your Future. I'm going to share with you a couple of very personal stories today. One of them horribly serious, the other one a little bit lighter, although still highly annoying, but with importance - both of these messages and lessons for all of us. You know, it's so often people, when they go through a personal medical experience, they share that story with an admonition: Don't let this happen to you... Be forewarned… Here's how you can avoid it…Here's what I wish I knew… that kind of thing… and those kinds of stories always kind of annoyed me because I'm like, yeah, yeah, yeah, sure.
Well, I'm about to share a couple of those stories with you and with the hope that there will be a lesson learned for you. It certainly has been lessons learned for Jean and me for the past several days. Jean has been in the hospital. We had to call 911 last Thursday because Jean couldn't breathe. She's had bronchitis for a month and it got so bad, her coughing has so damaged her lungs and her bronchial airways, that she found herself Thursday morning unable to breathe. Had to call 911, get her to the hospital. She's good, improving. We're relieved. And the incredible level of care that she received throughout the hospital system at INOVA Fairfax.
We're just so grateful and thrilled. And so Jean's recovery will be full. It will be slow.
It's going to take a good couple of months for her to be 100% back to where she was because she had done so much damage to her lungs just from inadvertent coughing over such a long period of time. That's just a long, difficult struggle.
But here's the real reason I'm talking about this with you and mentioning it. (And oh, by the way, Jean loves texts and emails. We're asking our friends not to send flowers. The hospital wouldn't allow flowers in her room because she couldn't handle the scent. And we can't have them at home either because her lungs just need clean air and flowers are anything but.) But the fascinating thing is that this is the first time in nearly 50 years that either of us has had a hospital experience, certainly an overnight stay. Jean had surgery back in her 20s, but we've had no incidents since then. And we are anchored in our 20s. I think we all regard ourselves as being teenagers or in our 20s, the vitality of youthfulness and health.
Well, now we're in our 60s and our bodies don't recover spontaneously the way we used to. We don't bounce back. We aren't as flexible, as resilient, as malleable as we used to be. Our bodies, we've now discovered, need help that we've never needed before. And so the reason I'm mentioning this to you is that most of my listeners are boomers like us. We've grown up together over the 32 years of this broadcast and podcast, and we don't really recognize until sometimes it's too late that we need help, medicine, pharmaceuticals, treatments and certainly the advice and skill of trained medical professionals.
And that's really the lesson that Jean and I learned in this one, is that the last time she had a bronchial attack, she was asthmatic as a kid. She was able to fight it off on her own. Well, not this time, not so easily. It took intravenous steroids, nebulizers, inhalers, blood thinners. I mean, it's just the incredible amount of medical intervention that her body required to bring the bronchitis to an arrest and begin to move it toward recovery.
And so that's my simple message for you. We need to do one thing and one thing only. We need to pay attention to our bodies. Our bodies are talking to us on a regular, constant basis when we're not feeling well. If our stomach feels bloated, if our arm hurts a little bit, if we see redness, if we aren't sleeping, if there's a rash, if there's anything out of sorts or unusual, it's our body's way of saying there's something going on here and I need you to pay attention to me. And we didn't pay enough attention to what Jean's body was telling her, and we were just dismissive about it. And ultimately, until it was too late, when her body finally screamed, I'm going to force you to listen to me because I'm going to stop breathing. Lungs are no longer going to work. You will therefore pay attention to me.
And boy, we sure did. And so I'm thankful. Praise the Lord that we're able to laugh about it right now because she is recovering so well and so quickly. And that's just the message I wanted to convey to you. And thanks to so many of our friends and family who have been so attentive and dutiful and loving and caring.
Advisors: Time to Up Your Customer Service Game?
Lessons Learned from My Recent Trip to a Dentist
The other story I want to share with you is a bit more lighthearted, but this one is really aimed at financial advisors, also all investors, consumers, because it's a story for all of us. And it really is, I think, a reflection of the state of the art of customer service today. Jean and I have been going to the same dentist's office for probably 20 years, and I'm a significant patient. What I mean by that is I've done enough dental work to put several dentists through dental school. I mean, the amount of money we have spent on my teeth, Jean walks in and they call her Miss Perfect Mouth.
Oh, but when I walk in, they say, And so I go in four times a year for cleanings. It's not enough for me to go twice. So I go every three months and I booked my three-month appointment as usual, no big deal. And this is a big operation. They've got dozens of dentists and it's a massive facility. And it's kind of a machine that they've built with the latest tech and operational efficiencies and so on. I'm sure your dentist has a very similar practice.
And so when I booked my appointment with them, they sent me an email confirmation, not a surprise. I'll bet your dentist does the same. And this email confirmation had a button on it that said, 'confirm appointment'. I press the button and I got another email. A 'thank you, your appointment is confirmed'. I then got several follow up emails every couple of weeks prior to the appointment and then the week of the appointment, I got another email reminding me of my upcoming appointment.
And then the morning of, I got another email reminding me that I have an appointment in a few hours. And I know why they do this: doctors and dentists - they're in the trading hours for dollars business. If you miss an appointment, they're missing out on revenue that they can't ever replace. And the last thing a doctor or dentist ever wants to do is have nothing to do twiddling their thumbs. They're not earning any money by doing that. So they are very, very careful to make sure we're going to remember our appointments and we're going to show up so that they can serve us and bill us.
So I show up at the appointment and unusually for me, I got there 15 minutes early and I walk up to the receptionist, I go to check in and she says absolutely nothing. She turns to a colleague sitting next to her and asks him if he has me on his screen. And that guy looks at his screen for several minutes, and after several minutes, he looks at me and he says, did you get an email from us? And I said, yes. I've had several emails, including this morning, and he said, they don't show an appointment for me today.
I said, “That's impossible. I've had a gazillion emails from you folks confirming this appointment.” And he said, "I know we're having a problem with our system. It sends you confirmations, but it doesn't actually input the appointment into our system. We don't show you coming in today and there's no one here able to see you". I said, “That's impossible. That's crazy.” And he says, "I know this happens a lot." I said, “What do you mean it happens a lot? How long has this been going on? And he said, "Since last May when we converted to this new system. But we don't have anyone in the office in IT and so there's no one to fix it.”
I was flabbergasted that they've had this situation in place for more than six months and they're aware of the problem and they haven't dealt with it. And his only response was, we can reschedule you. As if their time is more valuable than my time. Isn't that an amazing. Commentary on the state of the art of customer service today.
And so the message for you, financial advisors, is to recognize that it is service that your client is counting on most. We expect you to be competent. I know my dentist is competent and I know my dental hygienist is competent, but if they're not going to see me and serve me, then their competency is of no value to me.
As a financial advisor, your clients know that you're smart about the markets, that you can give effective financial advice. The question is, will you return their phone call? Will you even answer the phone when they call? How long does it take for them to be able to book an appointment with you? And how responsive is your team and your staff?
At the dental office, this guy and the woman sitting next to him were so unconcerned, unperturbed. They had no interest in solving my problem, of having somebody fulfill their obligation and take care of me. At that moment, they were instead merely offering to book an appointment several weeks from now. It was ridiculous. There was no real concern. There was no interest. There was no effort to solve the problem. It was completely dismissive. They had basically come to the attitude of, yeah, our email system stinks or it isn't working. That's all there is to it.
I'm thinking to myself, if you knew this, you should have sent an additional email warning people about this problem to confirm the appointment over the phone and in fact, eliminate this email system since it's not functioning correctly.
We also know that dentists always pad their schedules because there are emergencies that come up. And if somebody has an emergency, the dentist somehow fits them in. And this is why doctors and dentists are often running late because the appointments they've got are running longer than they expected due to emergencies. Why didn't they offer to slot me into one of those? Why weren't they willing to have somebody see me right there and simply delay everybody else an extra 15 or 20 minutes or reschedule someone else who hasn't even yet shown up into the office later that day, maybe even offer me a free appointment in compensation for my inconvenience? There was none of the above. It was simply a dismissive, 'you're on it in the system. All we can do is offer you to reschedule'.
So I did reschedule... With a different dentist. Jean and I have both dropped our relationship with that dental practice of the past 25 years. And we immediately, within an hour, found a new dentist on the recommendation of a good friend of ours. And we're starting anew with somebody fresh.
So my message to financial advisers is: service counts. We are in the end in the service industry, and if you don't maintain your level of service, you're going to lose clients, even if you're good at what you do. If you're not good at doing it, you're going to lose clients and business. And for those of us who are now on the client side of this, we need to vote with our feet.
We need to put ourselves in a position of not tolerating incompetence, not tolerating indifference, and make it aware we don't have to make a stink. I didn't start yelling and screaming in the lobby and I wasn't making a big ruckus. I was simply acknowledging, If you don't seem to care about your practice very much, then there's not a whole lot of reason for me to care about your practice either. There are others out there who are happy to pick up the slack.
And that's what you need to do. You need to raise the level of your demand and seek service from those who are going to deliver to your expectations and requirements. Too often we're seeing horrific business practices, most recently with Southwest Airlines and the debacle during the holiday season when they had to cancel so many tens of thousands of flights - far more than any other airline. If the airline can't function in a manner that meets the needs of consumers, we don't need regulation to solve the problem. The consumers are going to solve the problem by choosing different airlines. Same thing in medicine, same thing in air transportation, same thing in investment management and financial planning.
So those are the two medical experiences Jean and I have had in the past week, and we look forward to having none of the above going forward in 2023. Jean and I wish you a healthy and prosperous New Year. See you tomorrow.