From now until normal:
7 ways to reframe and elevate the client experience

Rob Richardson

Rob Richardson, CIMA®
Senior Vice President
Practice Management Spokesperson

LOCATION: San Mateo, California, USA
TENURE: 1995

What happens now?

That’s the main question on the mind of many people. For financial advisors, the future success of their business and client relationships will be determined by how they navigate the uncertainty. If normalcy is many months away, what can advisors do for clients in the interim?

Advisors need to work harder than ever to elevate the client experience. The worst thing you can do would be to hit “pause” on your client experience. Now is your time to shine and to prove your value beyond a shadow of a doubt. And, it might not require major changes to your client experience but a simple shift in mindset or execution. We have no playbook for emerging from a pandemic. But it does give us the ability to think differently, try new things and prove our worth.

As always, the first step is to sit in the (virtual) seat of the client. By understanding the client perspective—their worries, questions, needs and perceptions—you can start to identify the elements of your client experience that will have the biggest impact. In this article, we discuss tips to reframe aspects of your client experience, as well as offer new ideas that are unique to the current circumstances.

Remember, be sure to follow any local laws or government direction regarding business operations and please consult your home office policies before acting on any of the ideas suggested in this article.

EXPANDING CLIENT MEETING CHOICES

For many people, pandemic life stripped away our sense of control in the world around us. Suddenly, the places, people and activities we were used to—the things that gave our lives reliability and routine—were off the table. Psychologists believe that a lack of control can increase feelings of anxiety and depression and even influence how we view risk. As we’ve learned, those feelings can hinder productive conversations and color decision-making that might not be in our best interests.

You can give clients control by allowing them to curate their individual client meeting experience, tailoring the details and dictating the terms from a set of choices you provide. Inform clients that you will be pressing forward with client meetings and you will be offering them options to create a personal experience based on their needs. Each client could then select from a “menu” of choices such as how you’ll have the conversation (via phone, video call, conference call or—once businesses are cleared for reopening—in person), options to reschedule the date or time if they wish and preferences for receiving materials that show you’ve thought about their needs to support a remote client meeting. For example, you might offer to print and send hard copy materials to clients who don’t have access to a printer. To elevate their experience, you might even offer a selection of beverages or snacks that you could have delivered to their home to be enjoyed during the meeting. For clients with children or pets, you might even send over a small age-appropriate toy or treat that can keep them entertained during your meeting.

IMPECCABLE VISIBILITY

It is imperative for advisors to be exceptionally visible. Your client communications should be concise, thoughtfully informative and well-timed. We don’t sugarcoat facts or avoid difficult conversations; we welcome them with tact and empathy. To strike that balance, both your written communications and virtual presence should be polished beyond reproach.

I’ve been hosting a number of video webinars and noticed a trend with advisors dressing quite casually. Yes, you may be working from home, but you may not realize how your attire speaks to your character—in a way you may dislike. Casual dress indicates “I am home, I am relaxed and I’m casual” even if that is not the case. Dressing professionally has been shown to make you feel and act differently, and it increases perceptions of competence by others. Even if you are not on video calls, test it out and try a day or two dressing more professionally and see how you feel. I think you’ll notice the difference.

LEADING BY LISTENING

How are you?

Responding to that small-talk staple has changed, perhaps because the automatic response (“I’m good! You?”) rings a bit false given the current environment. People seem to be more willing to be honest with their answer, often sharing details they may normally gloss over. What follows that question can provide a powerful glimpse into the present life of your clients and draw you closer together, bridging the gap that may arise when technology takes the place of in-person interactions.

In each meeting, earmark more time to connect with clients to allow them to share the truth of their experience. Deploy your well-honed active listening skills to uncover more of what is on their mind, what has been challenging and what has been positive through it all. Active listening tools can help even when on a phone call, you can use short phrases, rephrasing or paraphrasing tactics to convey your understanding and empathy. Uncover the emotions that are true in the present. Are they feeling lonely and missing their grandkids? Do they feel stressed about coronavirus and their own health risks? Have they learned anything new about themselves, their partners or their community? Supporting a space for clients to be authentic and feel heard makes them appreciate you even more and can also set the stage for you to shift to a productive financial conversation.

CELEBRATING THE MOMENTS THAT MATTER

The coronavirus has halted a lot of things but celebrations are not one of them—they just look different. It didn’t take long for pictures of birthday parades to appear on social media feeds, complete with decorated cars, bright signs and smiling faces driving through quiet street to wish friends and family members well. The captions often describe an unforgettable birthday and gratitude for the people who participated. It’s a great reminder that this time will remembered and it’s up to you to decide how you want to be remembered as part of it.

At minimum, continue to send birthday cards to your clients, writing a personal note that lets them know you are thinking of them. For milestone celebrations that have been postponed or considerably downsized, brainstorm ways to make them memorable and special. Send a retirement party in a box to convey your congratulations to a client until a formal event can take place. Order wedding gifts and send heartfelt cards to newlyweds who’ve had to cancel carefully planned ceremonies for one that is officiated virtually. Your acknowledgement and sensitivity will remind clients that you are thinking of them and making an effort to ensure their special moment, albeit one that is happening amid a challenging backdrop, is one to remember.

HOSTING UNPARALLELED CLIENT EVENTS

Right now, your clients need support and understanding, not marketing or a sales pitch. You can still host engaging client events that are well-attended and create connections with clients and prospects.

Orchestrate events that can help clients solve “real-life” problems without expectation of an immediate return. If the topic matters to your clients, it should matter to you. If many of your clients have school-age children, they’re likely adjusting to new challenges of distance learning and balancing their own workloads. I recently saw an event invitation from a bank, hosted by a child development expert, to share ideas for keeping kids entertained, learning and engaged before school resumes. There’s no obvious sell, but it shows they are dialed in to the daily experience of their customers.

There are also opportunities for events that have the dual benefit of supporting your community and entertaining clients. Hire the chef of your favorite local restaurant to demonstrate cooking their signature appetizer or simple dish and raffle gift cards to the restaurant for attendees to use when it reopens. Showcase sommeliers to teach wine tasting basics or easy pairings. Kid-friendly events featuring storytellers or magicians can take place during the day to allow parents to get an hour of work done with fewer interruptions. There are so many talented people in your community who are waiting for their businesses to reopen—give them the opportunity to share their expertise with your clients.

SERVING OVER SELLING

The topic I have been getting the most traction with lately is the psychology of referrals. Advisors are always looking for new ideas to expand their business and remove the awkwardness from asking for a referral. The truth is, success with referrals is directly tied to your client experience and your true belief that offering your time, even just as a second opinion, to help out the friends or family members of your clients is one of the best service amenities.

Millions of people have been financially shaken and deserve to have someone in their corner, helping them make sense of their financial house. Your expertise can help make sense of the emotional roller coaster we’ve been on in the last few months. When you genuinely believe in the power of planning and intelligent advice, and stand confident in your capability, it’s no longer uncomfortable to position a referral.

FORGING THE PATH IN PARTNERSHIP

There are so many questions advisors and their teams will need to answer in the months ahead. What will you need to do or have prepared before clients would feel comfortable meeting in person? Should you have non-medical grade masks on hand and offer them as optional, or require them for in-person meetings? Many of the answers will in-part be informed by home office guidance, local government direction and your client base.

You can increase your confidence in the decisions ahead when you have a direct line to honest client feedback. There is no playbook for how you re-engage with clients following a pandemic, making their input critical to a successful outcome. Consider deploying very short surveys to get a temperature check on how clients are perceiving current reopening efforts in your local area, ideas for improving virtual meetings, etc. For a deeper dive, create a short-term advisory council to help you navigate the coming months and give you a forum for asking follow-up questions, sharing ideas and collecting feedback from your best clients.

Be sure to regularly meet with your team to discuss ideas about the future of your business, hashing out the precautions you need to all take before returning to the office and listing out all the questions you should be thinking about along the way. The open dialogue and collectively prepared answers will help ensure you, your team and your clients feel their physical safety is paramount. The months ahead will be challenging and full of questions that cannot be easily answered, leaning on your team and client feedback can help you navigate it confidently.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Five years ago, I began writing articles on LinkedIn to expand on a theory I’d developed and observed in the course of thousands of meetings with financial advisors. That is, financial advisors who continually return to the client’s perspective to humbly assess and boldly improve themselves and their business practices will in-turn enjoy more successful relationships and greater trust with clients. Every decision should be made with the knowledge of how it could be perceived and interpreted by our clients. I’ve delved into first impressions (even the ones you don’t know are happening), communication strategies and many avenues elevating client experience with the single goal of convincing advisors that this is the key to more satisfying client relationships, greater trust and business growth.

In the coming months, we’re going to be shifting our focus and working on something that we think will help financial advisors find more of our thought leadership, big ideas and actionable tips for developing your practice in one place. Although I won’t be posting new articles for a bit, you can always reach out to me with your ideas or questions and I’ll be sure to keep this community updated when the time comes.

Financial advisors sign up for a career measured by markets designed to fluctuate, to tackle the toughest client conversations and hold space for them to process the difficult emotions associated with money. The unique blend of analytical skills and emotional intelligence makes the job both exciting and exhausting—often in the same day. There’s a formidable challenge at present, but I’ve witnessed great fortitude among thousands who’ve chosen this profession, reminding me of the inspirational words of Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

I look forward to what the future will bring and, until next time, let’s Press On!

The views expressed in this article are only those of Rob Richardson and are not necessarily the views of Franklin Templeton and should not be considered investment advice or recommendations to invest in any security or adopt any investment strategy.

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What Are the Risks?

All investments involve risks, including possible loss of principal. Stock prices fluctuate, sometimes rapidly and dramatically, due to factors affecting individual companies, particular industries or sectors, or general market conditions. Special risks are associated with foreign investing, including currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments. Investments in emerging markets involve heightened risks related to the same factors, in addition to those associated with these markets’ smaller size and lesser liquidity. Investments in fast-growing industries like the technology sector (which historically has been volatile) could result in increased price fluctuation, especially over the short term, due to the rapid pace of product change and development and changes in government regulation of companies emphasizing scientific or technological advancement or regulatory approval for new drugs and medical instruments.

Important Legal Information

The companies and case studies shown herein are used solely for illustrative purposes; any investment may or may not be currently held by any portfolio advised by Franklin Templeton Investments. The opinions are intended solely to provide insight into how securities are analyzed. The information provided is not a recommendation or individual investment advice for any particular security, strategy, or investment product and is not an indication of the trading intent of any Franklin Templeton managed portfolio. This is not a complete analysis of every material fact regarding any industry, security or investment and should not be viewed as an investment recommendation. This is intended to provide insight into the portfolio selection and research process. Factual statements are taken from sources considered reliable, but have not been independently verified for completeness or accuracy. These opinions may not be relied upon as investment advice or as an offer for any particular security. Past performance does not guarantee future results.