Connecting with your client in 6 easy pieces
by Lorraine Behnan
Written for FORUM Magazine, published by the Advocis Publishing Group November 2003, "The Client Issue Number 2"
You successfully turn a referral into a client meeting. You execute your due diligence in researching their needs. Now you're ready to return with a financial plan that you are sure will make the clients feel secure about their future and their relationship with you as their new advisor. Mission complete. Or is it? How much time did you spend on how you will deliver your ideas to effectively communicate and connect with the clients? If you are confident that your products and services are so strong that they virtually sell themselves, this is risky business. Research has proven that content alone will not engage or persuade an individual to accept ideas and strategies. The key drivers of connectedness are vocal expression and body language.
It is widely known that communication excellence can render great benefits and, conversely, the consequences of weak skills can be highly detrimental, yet we still tend to dedicate minimal time preparing to truly engage and connect with our clients. In today's competitive environment, it is not only the knowledgeable advisor who will have the advantage, but the advisor who is knowledgeable and can expertly communicate concepts, connect with their client, and build loyal relationships. In the past, being an effective communicator was considered value-added; today, it is value-expected.
COMMUNICATION STARTS WITH TRUST
Psychological studies have determined that the number one quality we look for in a relationship is trust built on open and honest communication. The recently publicized unlawful and unethical activity of financial icons and the decline in markets have left investors skeptical and jittery. The fallout of this activity has affected others in the industry. The challenge of establishing trust between advisor and investor is notably greater. Trust is not a matter of blind faith or something to be taken for granted, even with those clients whom you have served for years. Trust has to be continually and consistently demonstrated in practical and tangible ways. The six elements that follow offer ways to communicate your commitment to create an enduring and trusting bond with your clients. Communicating your beliefs, principles, and professional standards encourage client confidence.
In order to really connect with a client or potential client, the essence of "you" has to come though your communications. You can ensure this happens by taking the following measures:
- be clear about your business process, vision, and values;
- always have the answer to the question, "Why should I do business with you?";
- invest in knowledge currency by continually upgrading your skills and resources;
- share your achievements and involvements within your profession or community;
- ask for client feedback on your service;
- schedule your own performance reviews; and
- create your own assessment measurements and tools.
CREATE A PERSONABLE AND CUSTOMIZED STYLE
This means taking the following actions:
- adapt your style to the client;
- listen more than lecture;
- ask questions before providing the answers;
- use simple, straightforward language;
- support your ideas with examples and anecdotes; and
- provide information that is relevant to the individual client, not your entire clientele.
USE BODY LANGUAGE CONSCIOUSLY
We express ourselves through body language in our posture, facial expression, gesture, emotional expression, and personal space. The connectors that build client confidence and trust include the following:
Below are some of the barriers that can impair the relationship:
- smiling and making eye contact;
- offering a firm handshake;
- standing and sitting tall;
- gesturing to support meaning;
- leaning slightly toward your client; and
- allowing facial expression to be the window to your feelings.
- easily distracted (lack of focus);
- cramping the client's personal space;
- tightly crossed arms and legs;
- tense posture; and
- gratuitous nodding.
BE AWARE OF YOUR VOCAL DYNAMICS
Remember the TAPP factor: Tone, Articulation, Pace, and Pitch. By implementing the TAPP factor, you can emphasize your message and ensure that it will be retained by the audience. These four elements improve your vocal dynamics by offering variety and colour to the content. It is welcomed music to the ears and will encourage your client to listen more intently.
Tone establishes the mood and intent, and the fullness of voice. Mood and intent is communicated through the emotional colouring of the delivery. Articulation is the appropriate mechanics of using your lips and tongue to clearly formulate words, it allows for clarity of speech and assist in projecting the voice.
Pace is the speed of delivery and requires a delicate balance of speed. You don't want to speak so quickly that the listener has to catch his breath to keep up with you, or so slowly that he is chomping at the bit for you to get on with it. Pitch is the rise and fall of the voice, which makes your speech more colourful and pleasing. Actors use the entire piano scale when they speak; the average person, only a few notes. As with pace, you want to strive for variety.
FINE-TUNE YOUR LISTENING SKILLS
We know that listening is extremely important, even more so than talking about a product or service. However, do we know how to listen? Listening is often perceived as a passive act. In fact, being an effective listener is an active role. Today's client is likely in the mood to vent her fears and frustrations. Allow her the time she needs to let off steam. If patience and empathy are not your usual strengths, now more than ever commit to developing these valuable traits.
- Look with interest
- Inquire for more detail
- Seek the subtext
- Translate to confirm information
- Encourage development of ideas
- Never interrupt prematurely
RESPOND TO CONCERNS AND OBJECTIONS
This can be done in five straightforward steps.
- Empathize with her fears and concerns.
- Address her fears and concerns.
- Echo her wants and needs.
- Offer to work with her to find solutions.
- Confirm her expectations.
The followup is quite often where we fall down. Having served our client, we may come away with complacency that we have successfully achieved our goals and satisfied the clients' needs. It is proven that many clients are reticent to express their dissatisfaction with your performance, even when asked directly. So how can you illicit their true feeling about your service?
Ask for feedback in person. This allows you to observe your client's or potential client's body language and listen to the subtext of his or her vocal delivery. Open up the dialogue with something like: "I want to make sure I continue to serve you in the best possible way. Each client has different needs or expectations. What can you suggest to help me best serve you?"
If they say they are happy, ask for the specific reasons. Listen carefully, take notes, and summarize their expectations. Implement their ideas for improvement immediately and follow up again after you have put the clients' suggestions into motion.
COMMUNICATE, CONNECT, COMMIT
The next time you follow through on a referral, invest quality time on your communication effectiveness to connect with your client. Make a commitment to consistently uphold the exceptional quality of your service.