Clarity Is Key to Client Conversations

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Why is clear communication so crucial to effective conversations between advisers and clients?

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” said 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 adviser.

A joint study by Janus Henderson, FPA and Investopedia, “War on Stress,” found a 64 percent gap in what advisers believe they are addressing as top concerns with clients and what clients perceive to be top concerns. Providing support starts with a clear understanding of investor concerns but also involves taking the lead in addressing those concerns.

Empowering Clients through Clear Communication

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 adviser: They themselves don’t understand the investment business. From our research, we understand that 77 percent of investors who are clear on their financial goals experience lower stress. Having greater clarity about their goals, feeling knowledgeable about investments and having a clear plan are also part of that equation. So how can the modern adviser ensure they’re taking the lead in addressing the key concerns of their clients and that this is being understood?

Consider the following:

  • How you say it matters: Use language that is plain and 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 ensures that when you or your spouse dies, neither of you will need to worry about having the resources to live your best ”
  • 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 clients to review in advance so they can share their own thoughts or questions for
  • It’s not about you, and the platinum rule: Yes, you have an agenda and an objective in meeting with your 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, 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.

Above all, strive to ensure that your clients walk away understanding what you intended for the meeting. 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 the 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 do you want to be most involved in?” When it comes to understanding what your client says, try paraphrasing and asking, “Did I hear that right?” or “What I heard you say was this… What am I 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.

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Michael Futterman

Michael Futterman is an assistant vice president, Knowledge Labs™ Professional Development at Janus Henderson Investors. In this role, Futterman works with the Professional Development team on research and curriculum development for the professional development programs. He is a frequent speaker and coach to adviser and client audiences. Futterman leverages his experience with Outward Bound, management consulting firms and the financial services industry to bring innovative, engaging and thought-provoking content to his clients.

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