Are You Positive?
You get home after a long day. You open the mail. You see that a letter has come from your financial services provider—ah, it must be a confirmation of transferring funds to your niece’s educational savings account. You open the letter and it starts with:
“Unfortunately, we can’t initiate the transfer of funds. It is against our policy to accept transfer instructions without a letter of authorization. You must provide a letter of authorization at your branch.”
Just what you need—to be told what can’t be done and that you have to do something else. What if instead of that letter, you received a phone call from a service representative or even a different letter saying:
“We’ll be happy to help with your funds transfer request. All we need is the completed letter of authorization. We’ve enclosed the form, and a postage paid envelope.”
Totally different feeling, right?
A simple change to a positive tone and the rearrangement of a few words can make a significant impact on how a client feels in that exact moment when they are directly experiencing your brand. Indeed, you’re making a statement about how you relate to your clients at every single client touch point—including account service letters.
Many companies put all of their voice and tone emphasis on their marketing communications, leaving operational or account servicing communications out in the cold (no wonder those letters might be so negative!). Consider for a moment that a client may receive far more operational communications than marketing pieces, and you can see where there becomes a disconnect between what the marketing team thinks the client is getting, and what the client actually experiences.
The opportunity and solution lies in customer experience, marketing, and operations teams working together to create a set of easy to follow communications guidelines that capture brand principles, writing styles, and writing strategies. When developing communications guidelines, we always recommend to that our clients look at how their voice and tone come across in operational or account servicing communications—especially whether the voice is negative or positive. There are often a lot of quick fixes (i.e. really negative letters) that can be made to create a positive change in the client experience.
There are many wonderful experts in the field of using positive language, particularly in training programs for staff who are on the front lines, interacting with clients every day. Google “positive language in customer service” and you will discover a great list of resources.
Many of the tools used in shifting customer service interactions to positive language can also be used in written communications. One of the most used negative words in operational communications is “unfortunately,” as we demonstrated at the beginning of this post. There may well be cases when you can’t get away from using the word “unfortunately,” but we’re willing to bet that you could reorder a few words and shift the tone to positive language for most communications.
Here’s another example of negative versus positive language from Robert Bacal at Bacal & Associates:
Negative: "We regret to inform you that we cannot process your application to register your business name, since you have neglected to provide sufficient information. Please complete ALL sections of the attached form and return it to us."
Positive: "Congratulations on your new business. To register your business name, we need some additional information. If you return the attached form, with highlighted areas filled in, we will be able to send you your business registration certificate within two weeks. We wish you success in your new endeavor."
The contrast is night and day.
The good news is that once you start using positive language, it becomes habit. And you can be positive that your clients will appreciate it.
Retirement Planning Has Its Limits: How to Prepare
Retirement planning is one of the issues that commonly leads clients to consult financial advisers. One of its essential aspects is creating a plan to save and invest in order to provide a comfortable retirement income. Ideally, this starts many years ahead of retirement, even as early as your first paycheck.
As retirement comes closer, planning for it expands to take in a host of other considerations, such as deciding when to retire, where to live, and what kind of lifestyle you hope to have. When retirement becomes a reality, the focus shifts to carrying out the plan.
All of this planning is crucial. Yet, for both financial advisers and clients, it's good to keep in mind that planning has its limits. In the post-retirement years, it may be helpful to think in terms of preparing for old age rather than planning for it.
The older we get, the more important this distinction between planning and preparing becomes. Too many life-changing things can happen without regard to our best-laid plans. Often they occur unexpectedly, resulting in emergency situations where urgent decisions have to be made. A stroke or a fall, a diagnosis of terminal illness, a broken hip that leaves someone unable to go back to independent living—and suddenly, right now, the family needs to find an assisted living facility, arrange for live-in help, or sell a home.
What are some of the ways to prepare for these contingencies?
- Explore housing options well ahead of time. Find out what assisted living, home care, and nursing home services and facilities are available where you live and whether they have waiting lists. Have family conversations about possibilities like relocating or sharing households.
- Research the financial side of these options. Investigate the cost of hiring help at home, assisted living facilities, and nursing care centers. Find out what is and is not covered by Medicare and long-term care insurance. For example, people are sometimes surprised to learn that Medicare does not pay for nursing home care other than short-term medical stays.
- Designate someone to take over decision-making, and do the paperwork. Execute documents like a living will, medical power of attorney, and contingent power of attorney. Update them as necessary, and give copies to your doctors, your financial planner, and appropriate family members.
- Start relatively early to downsize. Well before you're ready to let go of possessions or move into smaller housing, start considering what to do with your "stuff." Focus on the decisions rather than the distribution. There's no need to get rid of possessions prematurely, but decide what you want to do with them—and put in writing. Do this while it's still your choice, rather than something your family members do while you're in the hospital or nursing home
- Do your best to practice flexibility and acceptance. No matter how strongly you want to live in your own home until the end of your life, for example, it may not be possible. The physical limitations of aging can limit our choices, and even the best options available may not be what we would like them to be. It is a profound gift to yourself and your family members to accept these realities with as much grace as you can muster.
Finally, please don't underestimate the importance of planning financially for retirement. Because the bottom line is that you can't plan for all the things that might happen as you age, but you can prepare to deal with them. One of the most useful tools to cope with those contingencies is having enough money.
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