Your personal likeability and trustworthiness are more important than your professional knowledge when it comes to winning and building enduring client relationships. Professional credentials, while important, are only a backstop to the forging of strong personal connections. Focus on developing your soft skills.
Here are five traits you need if you want to create long-lasting relationships with clients and become more referable.
#1. Effective listening skills
At first glance it may seem as though listening is an easy skill, but in fact ‘active listening’ is quite difficult to master and that’s why many advisors are such poor listeners.
Active listening is tricky because, when someone is talking to us, we have a lot of free time to think – usually about what we’re going to say next. When this happens, it’s easy to become demonstrably distracted.
However, if you give even a hint of being uninterested in what clients are saying – for example by losing eye contact – clients will be offended, and they will shut down. So, make sure you focus entirely on the person speaking. Not only does it show respect and demonstrate that you care, it’s the only way you’ll learn about your clients’ goals, fears and motivations.
When you’re listening, look attentive, smile, nod and engage with your clients. Listen with the ‘intent to understand‘ rather than the ‘intent to respond’.
#2. Personalized service
If you want to instigate loyalty, make clients the focus of your attention at all times. Be courteous and considerate and be concerned about their personal lives. Do and say things that are important to them and, most of all, treat clients as individuals. If clients feel that their service is no longer personalized, they won’t feel special and they may decide to take their business elsewhere.
Nothing is more compelling that a personal touch. Call clients when you have nothing to sell – just for a catch up. This will reinforce your image as a caring advisor.
Ask your clients regularly for feedback – and whether there’s anything you could do to provide better service. This will illustrate that you value their opinion and want to offer them the best service possible.
#3. Ability to connect with clients on an emotional level
Clients are subjective thinkers and make decisions based on their emotions. Remember that emotional decisions are made in the right side of the brain. To connect with clients, ask emotionally based questions.
Don’t focus on numbers. Instead ask clients where do they ‘see’ themselves in 20 years’ time. Help them create pictures in their mind to envisage completing their financial goals. What will they do, where will they be and how will they ‘feel’ when they have successfully saved for their dream retirement?
Forget about percentages and probabilities when you’re dealing with the right side of the brain. Draw out clients’ aspirations, fears and motivations instead of presenting them with a risk-tolerance questionnaire.
#4. Leadership skills
If you are to enter into a long-term relationship with clients, you need to demonstrate that you can lead them safely through volatility.
When the markets are down clients will take their cue from you. If you panic and appear concerned, they will start to feel even more anxious about their investments. Clients have hired you to take care of their money, so you need to retain total composure in difficult times and assure them that you are taking care of things. When passengers on an airplane experience turbulence they watch the flight attendant for their reaction. Your clients crave the same reassurance from you during market volatility.
When there’s market unrest, call your clients before they call you. You can develop poise under pressure if you practice enough. Be prepared in advance for a bear market so that you know how to act and what to say. Speak decisively, maintain a confident stance and clients will follow your lead.
#5. Storytelling skills
Research shows that skilled storytellers have tended to fare the best in evolutionary terms, being more likely to have partners, more offspring and be allocated more resources. In hunter-gatherer communities, storytellers were often prized above good fishermen and foragers – humans appear to prize a good story even over a good meal.
As human beings we are hard-wired to enjoy stories and like the people who tell them. So, no surprise that the most successful advisors are those who can tell good stories. Use stories and analogies to make the unfamiliar familiar, to paint inspiring word pictures and create a strong connection with clients.
If you want to develop strong relationships with clients, make sure your soft skills are superb. Put your clients center-stage with a level of service that goes above and beyond, and you have every chance of establishing a relationship that will last the distance.
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