“If you help a client through the toughest time of their lives, you’ve got a client for life,” said Amy Florian.
Not only that, but “doing what’s right” for your client who is grieving, due to death or another major issue like divorce, is also “doing what’s right for your business,” the CEO of Corgenius told a standing-room-only crowd at the Financial Planning Association’s annual conference Wednesday.
In addition to gaining that client for life, if you follow best practices in helping a client who is grieving you’re also more likely to gain additional clients from among the original client’s family, friends and colleagues.
Florian began her session by speaking about a topic most Americans avoid: death. “We live in a death-denying society. We can’t even say the words,” she said, though we do tend to use words like “dead” and “death” in conversation “until a person actually dies.”
Florian got the crowd laughing about a topic that’s uncomfortable to most by reciting a litany of “death” phrases in common parlance: “Dead broke, dead drunk, food that’s to die for,” for instance. Once a person does die, we tend to use euphemisms rather than saying the word “dead,” such as “passed, passed away, no longer with us, gone to their reward; pushing up daisies.”
Florian quoted a Chinese proverb when talking about the first step in intelligently helping a grieving client: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.”
So what should advisors say when a client faces a deeply felt loss like the death of a spouse or other loved one? Since “most people you’ll run into don’t know what to do or say, when you do, you immediately set yourself apart,” she said.
Florian reported that “99% of Americans” will first say “I’m sorry” when speaking to a grieving person, but she told the assembled advisors “you can do so much better.” Florian related the feelings of one widow who told her, “I wish people would stop apologizing for my husband’s death.”
Instead, what you say is less important than asking open-ended, invitational questions to the grieving person “that allows a client to tell their story.” In “letting the client lead” the conversation, “you’ve opened a door; grieving people are so hungry to tell their story.” So instead, ask, “Can you tell me what happened?” After all, grieving people “want to tell their story,” since, by doing so, “we make it real by repeating” the story “over and over again.” And if they say something like, “‘I can’t talk now; I have a lot of phone calls to make,’ offer to make some of those calls yourself.”
“My favorite question” to ask a grieving person, Florian said, is, “‘What do you wish people knew about what you’re going through?’” since so often well-meaning people will say to a grieving person, “I know exactly what you’re going through” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” though those phrases have the effect of “pushing people away” from a shared human experience. “We’re intelligent people,” she said, “ we CAN imagine” what a grieving person is going through.