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3 Habits to help financial advisors connect more effectively with their clients

MAR. 04, 2020

Recently, I attended a leaders’ development event for financial services directors focused on how to best meet a client’s needs. This all-day event, with nearly 250 attendees, was devoted to allowing leaders time to disconnect from work and “sharpen their saw.”1 One of the general session speakers began her presentation by asking the question: “are you speaking the same language as your clients?” The question was asked to encourage leaders in attendance to think about if they really understand what their client’s needs are, and in turn, are meeting their needs. This question not only applies to financial services leaders but also financial advisors. Speaking the same language as your clients is important because it helps build strong relationships and paves the way for an exceptional client experience. Another reason why speaking the same language as your clients is important is because it shows you value and care about them.

Now more than ever, it’s important than ever for advisors to speak the same language as their clients to understand their needs. So, what does speaking the same language mean and how does one make sure to do it? The good news is, it isn’t difficult to do and there are three easy habits to build into your practice to make sure it happens.

Habit #1: Listen, listen, listen

The first habit to adopt is listening. Goldsmith (2007) states: “80% of our success in learning from others is based upon how well we listen. In other words, success or failure is determined before we do anything.”2 At any point in time, we employ one of three levels of listening: “me, focused, and global.”3

The first level is referred to as “me” listening. Simply put, this type of listening is where awareness is on ourselves and you, as the listener, are listening to respond.4 Listening for flight instructions in an airport would be an example of when “me” listening is useful. However, when it comes to speaking the same language as your clients, “me” listening does not move the relationship beyond a casual or surface level. The second level is “focused” listening where the focus is on the other person and you become aware of the speaker’s voice tone, expressions and emotions attached to their words.5 The third – and deepest – level of listening is “global” listening where you listen as if you and the client are the only people in the world. Global listening allows you to bring in past knowledge, experiences and intuition (i.e. sixth sense).6 It is also listening with your whole being to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues, as well as emotions. It’s using all your senses to really listen to your client’s life goals: is the client on track with his retirement? What is their overall vision for retirement?

Consider the following scenario: a recent widow and her daughter want to discuss her financial portfolio with the family’s financial advisor. The advisor met only with the husband on a biannual basis. During the meeting, the widow asks few questions because she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. An example of global listening would be the advisor’s ability to pick up on the widow’s fears on whether her savings will last her throughout retirement. It’s being aware that her doubts and lack of confidence with financial matters may keep her from asking the right questions or asking any questions at all. The advisor is also aware that a lack of a relationship is the biggest obstacle to retaining assets passed to heirs.7 As a result of this knowledge, the advisor actively engages the daughter in the conversation. Speaking the same language depends heavily on utilizing these listening skills effectively.

Habit #2: Practice empathy

Speaking the same language as your clients requires the adoption of the second habit – empathy.8 Empathy is defined as the act of understanding, being aware of – and being sensitive to – the thoughts and experiences of another person.9 We’ve often heard empathy defined as the act of “putting yourself in another person’s shoes” – if you can’t put yourself in another’s shoes, you can’t speak their language. Stallard, et. al. (2015) states empathy is a key element that promotes not only a sense of shared connection and understanding, but helps people and organizations thrive.10 Showing empathy is also a key competency for exercising emotional intelligence.

Habit #3: Ask questions

Questions are the key to building relationships, unlocking insights about your clients, and speaking the same language as them. That is why this third – and final – habit is an important one to build into your practice. There is a causal relationship between asking questions and listening. Asking the right questions will increase your listening because they allow you to sit back, focus and reflect on the person’s response. A good example of a visionary question is: what are your goals for living in retirement?

Integrating listening, empathy and questions into your practice are three effortless ways to ensure you are speaking the same language as your clients. Which ones do you need to work on?