Professionals in any industry have to make a concerted effort to see things from their clients’ perspective. No matter how well-intentioned your efforts, it’s difficult to leave behind your expertise and day-to-day knowledge to communicate from the same vantage point as your clients.
Achieving this common ground is incredibly important for service providers who want to truly understand their clients in an open and judgment-free way. Further, it’s crucial because it is the only way you can be assured of total communication and guarantee that your clients are fully understanding the message you are relaying. This is especially important for financial advisors who, in certain cases, have been perceived as withholding information, or failing to fully communicate their ideas to clients. Here are some things to consider when you sit down with clients in the client acquisition process, the client onboarding process, and throughout your relationship with them:
Understand that what might seem obvious to you might not be for your client: Accept this from the beginning and be overly explicit in your explanation regarding financial planning and investments. If you fear coming across as too simplistic, then preface it by saying something like: “Please let me know if I’m over or under explaining anything. I want to be sure to be thorough but I’m also conscious of your time and the knowledge you may already have.” Giving them the option of either more or less information will put them at ease no matter what their previous understanding. Continue to look for signs that your client isn’t tracking what you’re saying. Absent-minded nodding or hesitation to participate in the conversation might be some signs that your client isn’t fully engaged.
Listen without judgment: Active listening is something ClientWise has been teaching in The Certified Financial Services Coaching Training Program™. As a current student of the course, I can attest that it is an extremely difficult technique to master, but even more rewarding than it is challenging. The idea is to stop your own thoughts and reactions in the moment of hearing what your clients are saying, so that you have a clear understanding of what they are going through as it relates to them not you. This requires that you refrain from judging the person, and it also gives you the focus and concentration to really hear how their situation impacts their life without your own experience of something similar getting in the way. By listening in this way, you’ll increase your opportunity to hear facts that will help you help them.
Ask questions: As a financial advisor you should be incredibly curious about your clients’ finances, and not just in terms of their balance sheets. Your clients finances relate to everything from their spending behavior down to the number of grandchildren they have and whether they live in close proximity to them or not. In this case, your role as a financial advisor is to no longer be just an expert in your industry, but to be an expert on each and every one of your clients. I know advisors who have become so expert in certain clients that they could practically predict what they’d do when faced with any financial decision. The best way to get to this point is to ask questions and listen without judgment.
Frame your examples in terms of their experience and situation: No one wants to be compared to anyone else, especially when it comes to their finances. While two clients might present what, to the advisor, could be classified as an identical scenarios, their reactions and the behavioral finance surrounding these scenarios is likely to be very different. This is why it helps to provide examples your clients can understand—preferably ones that relate directly to their lives—and where really knowing them and understanding how they’ll react is incredibly helpful.
Clearly articulate what you will provide them: After 2008 there is a real fear out there that empty promises are being made by advisors, and this is in part because they are all saying the same thing. According to a white paper recently published by Pershing called What Do Top Advisors Say and What Do Investors Really Think?: “60% of investors say all advisors make the same promises.” It’s important that the promises you make distinguish you as a person and don’t come across as a list of services. First and foremost you are providing your clients with a partnership that is unique to you as a person or your team, and this should come through in every meeting you have with your clients.
Even more clearly articulate their role in the relationship: Understanding what you provide as the advisor is secondary in importance to the client understanding what they have to do to get the most out of their relationship with you. Comfort in knowing their own role will stick with them a lot longer than the comfort of knowing your role. Perhaps surprisingly, simplicity isn’t an issue that many investors care about according to Pershing research, it turns out they are far more concerned with conservative investment approaches and knowing they can trust the promises made to them by their advisors. Having a clear role in their financial success will give them a stake in the game and maintain their dedication to the partnership.
Coaching Questions from this Article:
When was the last time you asked your clients about their perception of their experiences with you?
How often has your firm run into issues because of a lack of communication that could have been avoided by better conversation?
Are meetings with your clients drastically different from one another based on the personal situation of your clients and the stage they’re at in the process of working with you?