According to George Bernard Shaw “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” So often, we believe effective client communications have taken place but, in reality, it may not have been as good as it could have been, leading to minor irritants in our daily lives or very significant implications. Knowing how to improve client communications is an essential step.
Poor or ineffectual communication between a planner and their client can have disastrous implications for both parties because the stakes are so high.
Communication is the act of transferring relevant information from one place to another and in the case of advice, assumes you have a clear understanding of the financial situation, needs, and objectives of the client. In fact, FASEA’s Code of Ethics predicates that compliance with many, if not all Standards, requires an effective communication strategy between you and your clients. It’s hard to see how you could possibly demonstrate compliance with the Code in the absence of great communication.
Categories of client communications
Sounds simple, but when you think about how you can communicate, the subject becomes a lot more complex. There are various categories of communication and more than one may occur at any time. The different categories of client communications include:
- Verbal (e.g. face to face, telephone)
- Non-Verbal (e.g. gestures, how you dress, body language)
- Written (e.g. emails, letters, social media)
- Visual (e.g. graphics, PowerPoint, images, logos)
Communication has a huge impact on whether your clients trust you and trust is a fundamental requirement to convert leads to clients, retain existing clients and generate referrals. So great client communications is a non-negotiable. Based on the survey data we’ve collected from clients in recent months, the mean score advisers achieved for communication was 87.03%. This is a good result but could get a lot better given how central great communications are in client relationships.
Ideas for better client communications
Here are some ideas you should consider implementing to improve your client communications performance.
- Ask your clients what their communication preferences are e.g. do they prefer face to face, email, newsletters, social, etc. and ensure everyone on your team understands so they can comply with the client’s preferences. You should also ask your clients to tell you how often they would like communications from you. Automatic monthly or quarterly newsletters that go to every client simply won’t cut it any more.
2. Establish a human connection with your client. You can be informal and still be professional – reminding your client that they’re dealing with another human helps break down barriers and makes communication more effective.
3. Leverage your practice’s brand. The practice you represent has its own style and brand ethos. Use it to your advantage. If your practice is about trust and dependability, use language that reflects this, such as “consistent” and “reliable”.
4. Clearly understand communication channels and when to use them. Technology unlocks new ways of communicating, but traditional avenues are still good options. Below is a list of ways to contact clients, with benefits and recommended use of each:
- Email (eDM) – cost-effective, scalable and targeted, but it’s important to achieve the right tone in the message and include a clear “call to action”.
- Direct Mail (‘Snail Mail’) – more expensive than email, but has the advantage of deeper penetration and greater uptake than eDM. Ideal for educational information.
- SMS – save these for times when a simple response is required e.g. appointment confirmation/reminders.
- Presentations – for face-to-face interaction. Your slides should be visually interesting and reinforce the words spoken by the adviser, not repeat them.
- Landing pages – when a client or potential client has clicked through to your website via eDM, banner ad, promotion button or DM, make sure you keep their attention with a clear purpose and “call to action”.
- Video – these can be used effectively to provide short updates on market conditions or specific areas of advice, where the adviser simply records a 2-3-minute video. Animated video is ideal for demonstrating how to use a new service or explaining the revised steps in a practice process, for example. In addition to this, video case studies using testimonials can add credibility to the benefits of a product or service. These options can be easily executed these days through a range of cloud-based software products.
- Statements – these are usually reviewed thoroughly by clients and present an opportunity to include a personal or campaign specific message.
5. Always prioritise quality over quantity. Ask plenty of questions when you meet a client, to gain a clear understanding of their goals. Armed with this knowledge, you can provide targeted communications that address their specific concerns and requirements.
6. If you have access to a marketing team, use it whenever possible. Marketing staff are trained to deliver practice communications that are on message. Run your intended communications by them to ensure it’s compliant and includes the most up-to-date information.
7. Consider adding a personal touch because, when a client feels understood by their adviser, the relationship can flourish. Send them a report with a handwritten note and strengthen your relationship. Likewise, knowing a client’s interest in a certain area and sending them relevant information will reinforce that you’re invested in them.
8. An adviser is in the unique position to judge how best to engage with clients. Only the adviser knows which client will be receptive to highly technical, data-driven analysis and who would prefer their communication in layman’s terms. Use your knowledge to everyone’s advantage.
9. It’s vital to close the loop on communication with clients. A considered follow-up email, written in thoughtful sentences, is likely to be better received than a list of bullet points. Likewise, a short, handwritten note on top of printed material will land better than a volley of non-relevant information communicated via email.
10. Avoid technical terms/jargon when canvassing or presenting solutions to prospects/clients. It’s been said that people won’t buy what they don’t understand. Most confused clients won’t admit that they’re befuddled. Why? Because they don’t want to look foolish. Planners who like to dazzle their clients using industry specific terminology may be creating a real disconnect with them. It’s about simplifying the message rather than dumbing-down the advice.
Great client communications is the glue that holds your relationships together, so the more adept you become at this essential skill, the better you will perform and the more successful you will become in your practice.