The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
— George Bernard Shaw
Most of us know what message we're trying to communicate to our clients, but do we take into account what they want and what they hear when they talk to us?
Often, we think of the client experience as what we provide to our clients in services, touchpoints and products. This understanding fails to account for the client perspective: what the client actually hears, feels and believes they get from their advisor.
- Communicating with clients and keeping them informed is a key role of any successful financial advisor.
- However. clients may interpret what they are being told differently from what the advisor intends, leading advisors to think they've been addressing client concerns when they have not.
- More than communicating with clients, you need to be sure that they fully comprehend your advice and understand their financial situation and how to stay on track to reach their goals.
Sending Mixed Signals
A 2019 War on Stress study conducted by Janus Henderson Investors, the Financial Planning Association and Investopedia, showed that there is a 64% gap in what advisors believed they were addressing as top concerns with their clients and what the clients perceived.
Providing support starts with a clear understanding of investor concerns but also involves taking the lead in addressing those concerns.
We work in an industry that is loaded with terminology, language and jargon that makes it more difficult to convey our message to clients. Using those terms serves no purpose other than to obfuscate our meaning and push the client further away.
Consider the reason that most clients seek out an advisor: they themselves don’t understand the investment business. We understand from our study that 77% of investors who are clear on their financial goals experience lower stress. Having greater clarity about their goals, feeling knowledgeable about investments and a clear plan are also part of that equation.
Directly Addressing Client Concerns
So how can the modern advisor ensure that they're taking the lead in addressing the key concerns of their clients and that this is being understood?
- How You Say It Matters: Use language that is plain, simple to understand and has a “so what” component to it. The “so what” is a clarifying statement that punctuates why something is important to the client; for example, “Estate planning is important because it’s going to ensure that when one of you dies, your spouse isn’t going to have to worry about having the resources they need to live their best life.”
- Set the Stage with Structure: Using agendas or checklists to frame your discussions can help ensure your audience knows what you are talking about. Send these in advance and be sure to reference them during your interactions. In doing so, you’re able to build clients’ trust and confidence with a well-executed meeting. While also allowing the client to review in advance so they can share their own thoughts or questions for clarity.
- It’s Not About You and the Platinum Rule: Yes, you have an agenda and an objective in meeting with your clients. Your clients do, too—and their needs trump your own. Always include time for them to ask questions, add to the agenda and most of all, let them be vulnerable. Remember that what is clear to you may be opaque to them. The platinum rule is treating others as THEY want to be treated—which means becoming a student of personality, behavior and unspoken needs.
The Bottom Line
Above all, strive to ensure that your clients walk away from your meetings with the understanding that you intended. To assess if your message got through, try asking questions like, “Now that I’ve described our (investment model, client service approach, estate planning, etc.), what do you want out of that process?” Or ask a closed-ended but multi choice question to help focus the discussion: “So the investments we choose will have three phases: A, B, C—which of those are the ones you want to be most involved in?” When it comes to understanding what your client has said, try paraphrasing and asking “Did I hear that right?” or “What I heard you say was this… what I am missing?”
When you follow these steps, you increase your chances of ensuring your message gets through and that you don’t miss some obvious signs from your clients about what is important to them.