The Financial Services Institute kicked off its Financial Advisor Summit 2015 conference this week with a motivational talk on how advisors can up their game in the face of growing competition from robo-advisors and other threats. The event has attracted some 300 guests, most of whom are independent advisors from a variety of broker-dealers.

“Over the next few days, we will discuss the expanding challenges and opportunities of the industry,” said Rick Wagener, chair of the Financial Advisor Summit Task Force and an indie advisor affiliated with Raymond James (RJF). “This conference was put together by and for independent advisors … with the well-being of your practices in mind.”

There are, of course, many issues to consider as advisors look out at the future and a growing number of both regulatory and business issues, Wagener says. “We want you to take advantage of this program” in order to find the next steps for “your business success. We hope you enjoy the conference and leave it with lots of ideas and connections … which we expect our first speaker will give you.”

Sunday’s keynote speaker, Seth Mattison, leads Future-Sight Labs, which does workplace and leadership consulting. “I know you are the best of the best, because you are looking to get an edge and get better, even on a Sunday night!” Mattison said.

Still, there are trends in the world of work that advisor need to fully grasp in order to grow their practices and make a greater impact. The first trend he drew the audience’s attention to concerned a central shift in the workplace – from one based on a hierarchical structure to one more loosely configured and centered on a web of constantly shifting networks.

In the past, the organizational chart of a company entailed its own “collection of rules, values and expectations, and it quite literally is a view of the world,” he explained. While that structure, especially for baby boomers, “became engrained and baked in to our DNA,” it will not be the world of work to come.

“The most influential brands and individuals share information. This is what’s most powerful today vs. the emphasis on not sharing in the past,” Mattison stated. In addition, the world is moving toward a workplace that mixes those at the top, middle and bottom. “You may want to look at those you know who are under age 18,” he said. They are like a working lab of what’s next in the workplace and how it will change in terms of information flows.”

He asked the audience to consider what the workplace will look like with information and ideas “bouncing around.” This has significant implication of how advisors “show up” and serve the next generation of clients and how they attract talent to their firms.

Addressing the Robo-Threat

It’s a time of full transparency of information and disruptive technology that more and more people are using to streamline different aspects of their life. “It’s a new mindset and ethos,” Mattison said, “and it’s about making processes faster, simpler, easier and more personalized.”

Thus, we can now use Uber instead of traditional taxi cabs, and consumers can turn to robo-advisors instead of human ones.

“Everyone will not default to technology and to robo-advisors, but it’s an opportunity to stop, step back and evaluation your practices: What is the additional value [you] bring to the equation? If it is a generic email every six months, that’s not enough to compete with technology. Why should client pay you a fee? What value do you bring to the equation?”

The workplace expert urged advisors and others at the FSI event not to think they can “opt out” of this change: “You have got to [have someone to whom] you will transfer your book of business and … you have got to have younger clients.”

A crucial step in successfully competing with both robo-advisors and other FAs, he explains, is to elevate the service level and client experience. Advisors should make their contact with clients “remarkable, memorable and meaningful,” Mattison says. Secrets of Success

Some steps advisors can take are straightforward, but not necessarily easy. “It comes down to the quality of the questions you ask … master the art of effectively asking open-ended questions,” he explained. This is a powerful way to really understand clients and to build trust.

“This is a relationship-based business. What you do [and say] has an impact … My favorite question is: What do you do when you are not working?” the speaker stated. “This gets at what people really care about.”

Other favorite questions include: Can you tell me more about that? Why do you feel that way? What’s behind your opinion on that?

“This is known as power probing, and you have got to practice it,” Mattison said.

Taking this approach, and asking tough questions of clients, is not necessarily easy. “It takes courage. But if you do it everyday, the muscle grows… and this is really in your best interest,” he explained. “And focus on being remarkable consistently.”

Furthermore, advisors have to ask themselves difficult questions. “Think about the experiences you create” as if you are the client, he explained. Are you offering the client’s favorite snack at your office? Are you tailoring each client experience and capturing client preferences to your advantage?

In addition, both advisors and staff need to show “discretionary effort,” i.e., actions that go “above and beyond what [clients] pay for,” he says. “Everyone pays attention to how you show up … and consistency matters.”

Advisors and their colleagues should not let text message, email and other “distractions” every get in the way of stellar service. In the “age of distraction, clients know “when you are mentally or emotionally checked out,” Mattison explained. Instead, “Be here now!”

We make a daily choice, he says, to be fully present in the moment or not: “Are you supporting others to make a difference, so they will feel gratitude about you? “Who needs you to show up and support them?”

Even when attending a conference, advisors need to avoid distractions and make a conscious decision to focus on priorities, according to the speaker: “Otherwise, it costs you. So, show up, be your best self and get ready to rock. Don’t just go through motions … All our choices count, and they are all opportunities [to change] our experiences, relationships – everything.”