By Gerri Leder
When clients trust you enough to open up about their joys, worries and deepest concerns, it exposes a sacred trust forged over conversation and revelation. Clients will reveal personal details when they feel acknowledged, validated and understood — something that takes time.
Advisors who have fostered such close relationships with clients know everything about their clients’ lives. Their conversations transcend financial topics. These clients discuss their medical challenges, their grandchild’s college major decision and even concerns over how they would entertain their family for the holidays if they were to downsize. That level of connection is enviable; deep bonds of that quality are priceless and are unlikely to be severed over price competition or a robo solution.
In any relationship – friend, lover, client, and daughter – deep bonds are formed through active listening, showing interest and demonstrating compassion without judgment and by asking the right questions.
An advisor who has gathered a full understanding of what each client truly values forms the ties that bind. And when you can recall and reference what was said in previous conversations, you provide continuity and understanding. That is how you can delight a client with your profound interest in her life and what matters to her.
How can advisors get to the heart of a client’s life in every call?
Where Firms Go Wrong
In a recent exchange with an investment firm – the type of firm where business is completed mostly by phone or desktop – my husband and I expressed our immediate goal: to check in on our progress toward retirement. After a call back from a knowledgeable professional, we received a Fed Ex delivery with a data collection form. Completing the form was a precursor to a meeting – nothing wrong so far – but the questions appeared as if they were formed in 1990s. No questions about the type of retirement we envision, what we value in life, the plans we may have, what contingencies kept us up at night, etc. The investment-only approach promised only asset allocation and good investments, leaving out any way for us to differentiate that firm from a robo advisor. There must be a better way.
Coaching Through Discovery
Professional coaches – including executive, life, transition and career coaches – get to a deep level of discovery and uncover their clients’ deepest desires. Principles of professional coaching offer a set of skills advisors can draw from to establish more connection and build on the relationship.
- Listen intently and at a deeper level than you would in a typical conversation. Shut out distractions and focus only on the conversation, not your screen or what’s on your desk or the staff person standing in your doorway.
- To get to know the full measure of a client’s life, you must know about areas that include work, family, faith, home, health, personal growth and personal relationships. “What is your satisfaction level on a scale of 1-10?” Consider using a “life wheel” in your conversation with a client to outline these topics.
- Be open-minded and try not to judge. Don’t agree or disagree with what the client tells you. Try to withhold information about your own life in engaging the client about his own.
- Ask powerful questions that honor the client’s own judgment. “How are you able to do that?” “What is really bothering you about that?” To probe deeper: “Tell me more about that…”
- When a client volunteers personal information, she is inviting you in to what matters in her life. Follow the cues. Use every opportunity to follow-up on a worrying concern a client volunteers. Questions allow you to learn and follow your client’s agenda, which leads to connection. It’s easy to miss a cue, like “Jed moved out after a fight with his father.” “How has that affected you?”
- Preserve those insights to seek greater understanding in future conversations. Retain client answers in your contact management system so that each conversation builds on the last one.
When you use the principles of coaching in discovering a client’s values, interests and priorities, you deepen your relationship. Stay curious by asking the right questions. We’ll be writing more about coaching and financial advising in future blogs.
Gerri Leder is president of LederMark Communications, a communications firm engaged in branding, practice management, thought leadership and communications. She is pursuing a course of study leading to certification as a professional coach in mid-2017.