Almost every conversation I have with colleagues, advisors and my family or friends feels “different” today.
Perhaps that’s because even as we move through the crisis, our lives are fundamentally different (think home schooling, working from home and social lives via video). And when we’re on the other side looking back, I suspect our lives will still be different… and so will our conversations.
I imagine your conversations with clients are changing as well. That means that we need to get intentional about how we approach those client conversations.
To help me tackle this topic, I knew I needed to bring in an expert. So, I’ve invited Lisa Bean to answer questions on how clients conversations are changing and how you can ensure you are giving clients the space to share what they need to say, rather than focusing on what you need to say.
Lisa is Absolute Engagement’s senior coach and consultant and has clear superpowers when it comes to supporting advisors in affecting real change. In addition to the work she has been doing with advisors to define and deliver a differentiated client experience, she has been spending more time helping advisors, in her words “ Work less, Achieve more, and Get Stuff Done in 2020”. She says that that focus is, in part, a response to helping advisors move through the crisis, but equally to support those who are seeing the opportunity that has been created to stand out.
Now to the interview!
Julie: When the crisis hit, advisors hit the phones and reached out to as many clients as possible to reassure them. But what’s the next conversation, and the conversation after that?
Lisa: Clients are either in two camps right now, and this is very dependent on who your target client is:
- One group of clients has more time on their hands then they ever have had before. This is especially true of those who are in retirement and have experienced the loss of their hobbies. That additional time to think or consume information can be detrimental to the level of stress.
- The second group of clients, particularly those with young-ish children and full-time jobs, are struggling to find balance and are busier than they’ve ever been.
Understanding this is important because the way you approach the next communication has to take into account which situation your client finds themselves in.
You need to start from where the client is today.
The first client is going to appreciate the opportunity to connect with you, to sort through the information they are hearing and receiving, and to help them assimilate what it means for them in their life. You may be able to help these clients figure out how to navigate life in this new world, whether that means finding a purposeful hobby, taking good care of themselves, or finding alternative ways to connect with their community.
The second type of client is trickier, because you have to convince them to make time in their already busy schedule for you. The only way you can do that with integrity, is to offer a high-degree of value in the conversation. They don’t have time for mundane small talk. While you want all your conversations to be meaningful, regardless of the type of client, it’s going to be particularly important to listen for and respect what this client needs. They may need a strategy session that helps them prioritize or determine what the most important next steps are to take their business and career successfully to the other side of this, or they may simply need to know that you have their back when it comes to their investments and that you can be trusted to take care of ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ while they pour their energy into other priorities.
In both cases, a critical skill is to be an exceptional listener. I always recommend that you start the conversation with a fair degree of depth to your questions, that those questions are open ended, and that you then stop talking and leave space for the client to tell you the answer. Almost always if you provide the powerful question, and the space for the client to give it some thought and answer, they will tell you what they need.
From there you can provide it. If you have enough time set aside and you’re comfortable diving in right then and there, you can do so. If not, offer to schedule a separate time to help them, e.g., if they would like to brainstorm around how to ensure their business survives this challenging time, or if they are not feeling confident in their retirement plan you may offer to schedule some time to walk them through a few different scenarios.
You may also choose to follow up on what you heard by forwarding some resources, or by introducing them to someone else who can help them – for example, a business coach.
If you hear the same concern coming up two or three times with different clients then that’s a good indication that others are thinking the same thing. In that case, offer to run a facilitated discussion with a handful of clients on the topic, or to do a virtual workshop or seminar. You may even ask a guest speaker to join you.
Overall, what is most important is that you stay present in the conversation with clients, sharpen your listening skills and stay attuned to both what you are hearing and what you are sensing – some concerns may go unsaid or require a little extra and gentle probing.
Julie: What are some of the mistakes we can make when talking to clients during a period such as this?
Lisa: It’s a big mistake right now to assume you know what is on the mind of your client. That’s why I suggest starting with some open-ended questions, and let your clients do the talking instead of you.
It’s very rare in today’s age to really feel like someone is listening well to you, and that you are understood. Truly seeing and understanding the person in front of you is quite a large gift that you can give to clients.
Along that same grain I also think it’s a big mistake to act as if everything is normal right now. It’s not. As a society we’ve gone through a big change, and as individuals we are all feeling that to some degree even if it doesn’t seem so on the surface. If you try to jump into a typical client review, where perhaps you are reviewing reports and providing facts and information, you will most likely lose their engagement.
I think of it as a hierarchy of needs, as such.
- First, you need to deal with any sort of safety issue. Is your client worried for their health or the health of those close to them?
- Next, financial security. What is going on with their business, career, or financial plan? Are there concerns and emotions related to that?
- Then, stress management and the fallout of change. Sometimes this is linked to the above, and other times not. How is your client feeling? Overwhelmed, lonely, lacking purpose? What self-care practices are in place?
Only after all three of these things are considered to be “dealt with” will a client be able to engage in a so-called ‘normal’ conversation or review meeting.
The third big mistake is to assume that if a client tells you they’re doing well, that they actually are. I would encourage you to ask the question a few different ways to give your client time to reflect beyond the typical hard-shell we show the world. The automatic response is “I’m good.”, but we want to push past that if possible.
Also, recognize that emotions are riding a roller-coaster these days so what feels ‘ok’ one day, may change another day. Keep asking. The greatest gift we can give clients is to see them and listen to them; to give them an opportunity to vent, to worry, to reflect and – when they are ready – to create a plan for the future that works for them.
Julie: We calculate a client self-confidence index as part of our Client Leadership Program. If an advisor had this kind of insight before a meeting, how might they structure the conversation to be truly meaningful?
Lisa: This information is going to be extremely helpful to give you a sense of where each client is on the hierarchy of needs. With that information you can prioritize whom you need to speak to first AND whom you need to speak to more often. You can also spend more time on the relevant concern. You will be able to tailor your questions to what the client has already, quite safely, told you they are feeling.
The second even more important way to use this information, is to use it as a springboard for the real conversation. Having insights from the survey will help you cut through any self-protective shell, otherwise known as the very typical “I’m good” auto-response.
People tend to reflect and be quite honest when answering survey questions. With this information you can use it to open the door to a deeper conversation. For example, following with a question such as: “I see you answered the survey saying that you’re not feeling too confident about your financial security right now. Can you tell me more about that?”
So this is why I bring in the experts! Understanding how to have a great conversation is a real skill and I thought Lisa provided some incredible insights.