The lost art of communication

Communicating effectively with clients and peers is an essential component for successful financial planning firms. But are you using it to best effect? Tracey Underwood of PACE Solutions looks at how and why giving extra thought to the way you communicate can bring powerful benefits for your client relationships and business success.

Over the past few decades, the nature of the financial advice service provided for clients has changed significantly – and for the better in my view. Historically, the role of a financial adviser would often be about seeing as many clients as possible, selling them a product and then never seeing them again. That’s not a particularly compelling business model.

So, let’s fast forward to today’s world of professional financial planning service and let’s be grateful for the many changes and developments which have taken place over the years.

Nowadays, professional financial planning is all about delivering a high quality, client- centric service. It is designed to ensure that the client’s financial affairs are appropriately organised so they are on track to meet their goals and objectives. This means a lifelong commitment between client and adviser and, as such, requires a high quality service proposition to back it up. Effective communication is central to all of this.

Back to basics

An important part of the work I often do with financial planning firms is to ensure that their team is properly trained on how to communicate effectively with clients and potential clients and in a way which is in line with the company brand. Teaching communication skills may sound like a back to school approach but can anyone ever recall how they were taught to answer the phone, write an email or construct a report?

I often find that there is a reluctance to pick up the phone and actually call the client. Email tends to be the preferred communication method; it avoids potentially awkward conversations and pressurised moments. However, have we ever thought about how receiving an email may be perceived by a client? What do you lose in the simple decision to email rather than call a client? A colleague I once worked with always wrote his emails WITH HIS CAPS LOCK ON. It always seemed to me that he was shouting or annoyed, however the opposite was true, he was just unaware that this was how it was perceived.

For the support team, most outgoing correspondence can be templated so that it conforms appropriately into the house style. But does your team know what the house style is? Have you thought about it? Do you care?

How you correspond with a client directly affects that clients’ perception of quality and the attention to detail you are giving to their situation. If you can’t get your communications right, what confidence does the client
have with you managing their money? Everything you say or do has to feel right and hit the right note. Get it wrong, and client trust and relationship-building suffers.

It is very important that you ensure your report templates are all set to the same high standard and that checks and controls are in place. Instances where the start of a client’s report is in one font and then changes to another partway through or, even worse, the report is addressed to Helen but finishes with a thanks to Sarah – an example of cutting and pasting at its worst – are to be avoided at all costs.

One of the bad communication examples I have seen was from a firm that previously dealt with my own investments (note I say previously). The firm sold their client base to another IFA and I received a ‘welcome’ letter from said new IFA. What the letter said to me was that they didn’t really care about my business. Why? For starters, my name was spelt incorrectly. There were also several typos in the letter and it was printed on what I could only describe as close to low brand toilet paper. Maybe it was intentional, they didn’t want my business and their quality clients received quality paper? My instincts tell me that wasn’t the case. What it did tell me was that this was not the firm that I wanted to work with thereafter. They simply didn’t meet the right standards.

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