Building strong relationships by managing expectations and choosing the right communication approach
by Kevin G. Hill, ChFC®, CLTC, AIF®Mr. Hill is an Investment Adviser Representative with Centinel Financial Group, LLC in Needham Heights, Massachusetts. He can be reached at 781.446.5045 or by email at [email protected] Registered Representative/ Securities and Investment Advisory Services offered through Signator Investors, Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC, a Registered Investment Advisor. 160 Gould Street, Needham Heights, MA 02494. 781.446.5000. Centinel Financial Group, LLC is not affiliated with Signator Investors, Inc.
We have all been taught that communication is fundamental for a strong, successful relationship. As simple as this concept may initially seem, relationships can quickly become tested due to differing expectations and communication styles.
In my practice I have found that managing expectations is just as important during the initial phase of a relationship as it is throughout the entire process. In addition, strong communication is especially vital during challenging and emotional times for the client such as during market volatility.
Moreover, since there are many different styles and approaches when it comes to communication, it is important to determine the preferences of each client in order to be able to tailor your communication. By focusing on managing expectations and strong communication, financial advisors are able to better provide exceptional client experiences and build long lasting relationships.
Client meetings – processes for new and existing clients
There are various stages that are explored when establishing a new relationship or evaluating changes in a current relationship. All of these stages carry with them various levels of expectations. I find it very helpful to go through what the expectations are on the client’s end as well as my end during each step. This includes details such as what will be discussed at each meeting and the levels of progress we hope to achieve along the way.
For new clients, the process starts with an introductory meeting involving a high level explanation of the overall process, the timeline involved, how I may be compensated, and the deliverables that the client can expect to receive.
This meeting involves gathering both quantitative and qualitative information which will be instrumental in creating recommendations for the client and will ultimately help me guide them on the right path. After going through a fact finding process, we then discuss and start to prioritize an implementation strategy to address the most significant areas first.
Most clients do not have the capacity to address everything at once; therefore it is important to have a conversation to determine what takes priority and then focus on tackling those items first. At this point it is important to communicate and reinforce the timeline for each step of the process to ensure that everyone is on the same page. I feel this level of detail accomplishes a variety of things. Not only does it let the client know you are addressing what is most important to them, but it can also help lessen the angst that a client may experience when working with a new advisor by providing a future roadmap outlining what will be discussed and accomplished.
For existing clients, the review process and monitoring of the client’s situation is a key area of managing the client experience. Each situation is going to be different in terms of what the client’s priorities are and what their style or desirable approach is.
Due to this fact, I have made it a process to take detailed notes after each meeting and make sure to review those notes prior to the next meeting – whether that is 12 days or 12 months down the road. If during the last meeting the client was considering scaling back their risk level as they grow older, I will make sure to bring this back up at the next meeting as a discussion point. If they were questioning the amount they were saving per month, the age they could retire, or the asset management strategy chosen, detailed notes allow me to prepare to address this before I step into a meeting.
Preparing an agenda based on the talking points I gather from my previous conversations with the client allows me to better manage expectations throughout the process.
Being proactive during volatile markets
Dealing with volatile markets and being proactive fall hand in hand. Nothing frustrates a client more than having their advisor out of sight or hard to reach when things are not going as planned.
What I have learned over the last 13 years in the business is that communication can make or break you. I make every effort to reach out proactively to my clients when the markets are changing. If a client is the one initiating the conversation, it is a signal to me that something has been bothering them enough that they felt the need to take the first step to contact me themselves. In the busy world we live in, I find it important to be the one initiating that call to reassure my clients that I am aware of everything that is going on and have their best interests in mind.
Another aspect of managing expectations in anticipation of volatile markets is making it part of the process to have discussions in advance to explain that market fluctuations throughout the year are normal and usually do not result in the need to make any changes.
With my clients, I spend time going through a thorough process prior to implementing any strategies. That is not to say that the strategy is going to unfold exactly as it was laid out, but my communication to clients in volatile markets is that they are in a well managed and diversified portfolio. This is a portfolio that is designed to fit into their risk strategy, time frame and investment philosophy in both good markets and bad. When I do feel it is appropriate to reach out to clients during volatility, it is usually to reaffirm their long term goals and why we chose the particular strategy that was implemented. We can certainly all relate to how it feels when you get caught up in the details of the short term and start to worry about the future. I feel it is important to be that person in my client’s life to alleviate the stress by reminding them of the big picture and reinforce that they are on track to achieve their goals.
When it comes to communication, whether it is with a co-worker, a significant other, a friend or family member, there are endless ways to get a message across. Therefore, it can be risky to attempt to guess or assume what someone’s communication preferences are. Instead, why not simply ask?
For example, one client may prefer to schedule meetings by email, while another may want to confirm the meeting over the phone. Some clients enjoy taking advantage of the efficiencies that technology has made available and enjoy virtual meetings using WebEx or Skype. Others find it valuable to sit in the same room and have their meetings the same way they always have. In addition to determining preferences regarding meetings, it is important to decide how best to communicate valuable financial information in order to continuously educate clients. In my practice I have incorporated an email tool to provide information to my clients regarding economic updates, industry news and financial strategies.
Lastly, it is important to understand the level of communication that the client desires. Are they interested in annual review meetings, bi-annual, or quarterly? How often do they want to receive educational information, whether it is through mailings, emails or phone calls? There are many components that contribute to successful communication and it is vital to find the best way to communicate with each client so that they are receiving information that can help them advance their financial education and ultimately reach their goals and objectives.
Individuals have many different styles and approaches when it comes to relationships and communication. What is ideal for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it is essential to have an open dialogue with clients regarding review meetings, volatile markets and communication preferences in order to set clear expectations early on in a relationship. Making it a point to allow this conversation to unfold is paramount. Rather than trying to guess what the client wants or expects from you, let them tell you exactly what they need. With this information, you will be able to more successfully manage the client experience and build long lasting relationships.