As clients grapple with fear and uncertainty, financial advisors have an opportunity to provide meaningful support and guidance. John L. Evans Jr., Head Strategist of Knowledge Labs™, provides ideas for how advisors can communicate effectively with clients during this difficult time by considering their unique personalities and emotional dynamics.
“Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth,” said legendary boxer Mike Tyson. We have all been hit in the mouth by this black swan event. And we all recognize that the potential ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic are almost too extensive to grasp.
So rather than fixate on all the things that are completely out of our control, let’s focus on one area where we, as advisors, can make an impact. In fact, we have an opportunity: meaning-making with our top clients.
Steve Jobs said it best: “The prime aspiration of business should be to anticipate and satisfy the client’s unstated need.”
When you are able to achieve this aspiration, something significant happens to your clients’ mindset. They will see you differently. They will remember you with greater frequency. And importantly, they will very likely retell their story to friends and neighbors. Remember, we are wired to hear and tell stories (sorry, but there is nothing more reliably disappointing than PowerPoint). Stories are the lifeblood of human commerce, and in challenging times, they are a powerful source of hope and restoration. And that’s precisely the point: Anticipating and satisfying clients’ unstated needs is a manufacturing center for story formation.
A simple anecdote will help illustrate. Staying at a Courtyard Marriott recently, I returned from a jog. I was doubled over, about to die. Along comes the desk clerk and hands me a bottle of water, without me asking for it. A simple gesture, to be sure, but unexpected enough that I chose to write about it in this post, thereby burnishing Marriott’s brand.
What to Discuss with Clients Now
First, draw out a list of your top clients (you pick the number: 10, 20, 30 … whatever feels right and manageable for your practice). Next, find someone with high emotional intelligence – this could be your spouse, adult child, employee, partner, etc. The key is to find someone with demonstrable creative abilities, or a right-brain orientation, with whom to have a conversation about this treasured group of individuals. Find a relaxed atmosphere that allows for the discovery of creative ideas. (Creativity and imagination are more important than intellect, said a former president of Harvard.)
Following are the topics that I’ve found can spawn great ideas for how to communicate with clients:
- Passions, interests and pain points. Think about what truly matters in a client’s life. I know of one advisor’s client who just had her first book published. The advisor purchased 10 copies of the book and dropped it on the doorstep of his best clients. Now that’s satisfying an unstated need!
- Also consider your clients’ pain points. Clearly, we all have some degree of anxiety when it comes to this mess we’re in. To help ease that fear and stress, how about a book on yoga, dropped on clients’ doorsteps, with a handwritten note (e.g., “This too shall pass.”) At the bottom of this post, you will find a list of other suggestions in this vein to consider for your high-value clients.
- Personality types and emotional dynamics. Be mindful of your clients’ personalities and disposition and try to formulate your approach around their unique traits and preferences. For example, for your more analytical clients, make sure you have accurate information around the current state of the pandemic, the latest market moves and – importantly – historical data that can help put things in perspective. Clients who are inclined to more abstract thinking may respond well to illustrations that can help them visualize past trends and make sense of the current situation.
- Communications preferences. It’s important to consider and respect how your clients want to hear from you in any environment, but it’s even more critical now. Remember, many, many people are now working remotely – often while simultaneously caring for small children – and their new arrangement may have changed when and how they are accessible. Try to take this into consideration when you are doing your outreach.
- Furthermore, with social distancing in full swing, clients may want to avoid face-to-face meetings. Fortunately, there are many technology solutions you can use to make communication with clients personal and reasonably intimate.
Remember, we can either be victims or victors through this storm. Take this moment to make a plan for supporting your top clients. Yes, we have all been punched in the mouth, but I firmly believe we are going to come out stronger on the other side. We just need two things to help us through: grit and creative minds.
And on that note, here are a few creative ideas to help promote your clients’ physical and emotional wellness:
- For older clients: Offer to make grocery trips for them. Set up a call to walk them through technology they may want to use as they practice social distancing (e.g., using Facetime, creating a Netflix account, etc.). Send suggestions for crossword puzzle apps or order hard copy puzzles from Amazon.
- For clients with kids at home: Share this link to free online curriculums from Scholastic or these DIY kids' cooking classes from Peanut Blossom.
- To help clients keep busy, entertained and upbeat while they’re practicing social distancing, send books that connect to their interests (e.g., home improvement, gardening, cooking) or flowers to cheer up their home and brighten their mood. Or, get extra creative and personalized: Compile favorite recipes from your team members into a cookbook to provide clients with family meal ideas.
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