June 28, 2011

Making Your Clients Feel Understood

Mitch Anthony on the lost art of conversation

There’s a time for texting and a time for conversing. To build rapport with clients, advisors need to know the difference.

That’s the take-away from a new book, Defining Conversations (Insights Press) by Scott West, who heads consulting at Invesco Van Kampen Consulting, and Mitch Anthony, founder of the Financial Life Planning Institute.

The authors hold that e-mailing and texting offer no chance to create the vital connection that real conversation promotes.

AdvisorOne recently had two conversations with Anthony and West. Here are excerpts from our chat with Anthony. (In our next installment, look for West's revelations about the worst conversation saboteurs.)

AdvisorOne: You say that nowadays, though people are in contact, they’re not necessarily in touch. Please explain.

Anthony: Messaging should not be confused with conversing. The new technologies are designed for you to tell me something and me to tell you something back. We’re losing the human nuances of communication. I have to guess what you really think. Conversing is: your idea and my idea meet; we find out what we have in common and what we can count on.

What are the overall goals of conversation?

Mutuality and significance: you are an important person, and your situation matters to me.

Why is face-to-face conversation critical?

Financial services is centered around numbers — progress reports, quarterly statements. But clients want to be understood. The greatest thing that can happen is for the client to walk away and say, “That was a great conversation. I feel that they ‘get’ me.”

You write that we’ve become a society of presenters instead of conversers.

Exactly. We train financial advisors to present, not to listen and converse.

When are FAs destructive to conversation?

The big issue in this industry is that advisors aren’t trained to converse; they’ve been trained to tell and sell. Telling and selling are monolog — not dialogues. Those techniques control the flow of communication leading to the close. Until you let go of that control mechanism, a conversation cannot take place.

What’s the first step to becoming a master conversationalist?

Enter as a student, not as a teacher. That is, I’m not here to tell you and instruct you; I’m here to understand something about you.

Why is empathy important to conversing?

If I ask you a question and you tell me a meaningful story, and then, based on that, I say, “I think we should try the following with your financial situation,” I’m anchoring your life experience to my advice and service. That’s powerful.

What do you consider to be the vital question advisors must ask at the end of each client conversation?

“Did you get everything you needed or that you hoped for from our conversation today?” Because you know that you’ll ask that question, you’ll be disciplined within the conversation to make sure you’re serving the client’s needs. The magic is that by asking it at the end, it shapes your behavior during the conversation.    

How does that ultimately help the FA?

If your client walks away feeling they got what they needed, it’s tremendous. They’ll come back, and they’ll tell other people about you.

Why is credibility heightened when you’re a productive conversationalist?

When a client walks away feeling, “That [advisor] gets me,” your credibility rises as a human being. It’s the first place to establish credibility, not just as a financial professional but as a person. Show me two advisors equal in ability, and I’ll choose what I sense to be the better human being. Where do we demonstrate that humanity? The greatest opportunity is in a conversation.

So a conversation is another form of opportunity knocking?

Absolutely. It’s a chance for me to show who I am.

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