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Going deeper
Going deeper

Nov 01 2022 / Round the Table Magazine

Going deeper

Developing unique client relationships requires moving back to the basics.

By Austyn Anthony Smith, Dip PFS

Topics Covered

A couple of years ago, as I was going through a rediscovery process, I said to my team, “What we’re going to do after every meeting is ask a crazy question. We’re going to ask, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Client, why do you deal with us? Is there anything that makes us different or a little bit special?” Then just be quiet and let them answer the question. Say goodbye, go into the next room, get one of those big, sticky A3 charts and write out what they said in their own words, which is really important. Then I’d take those charts to a meeting with the back-office team. I’d say, “This is what so-and-so just said about us. Isn’t that great?” and we’d all look at it. After collecting and posting more client comments, eventually the whole back office was covered in 20 sheets of paper.

DIY marketing research

We were looking at this wall with all these things people said about us, and we could pick out themes. So why pay thousands in fees to a marketing agency to tell us what we should be saying to clients when the people who are paying our checks are telling us what they actually value? Follow that exercise, and it will help you find the words for your website and your marketing literature that resonate with your target market. Just asking clients, “Why are you doing business with us?” radically changed what we did.

We used the same process to look at the products we offered. For that, we asked whether they make a client’s life better, and how we can make buying them easier. We really took it back to the basics. What does the client want? What is the problem that we solve? As we collected these client feedback sheets, we realized that we weren’t showing the journey. We were talking about the stuff we did while the clients were here, but we weren’t showing them what happens after they purchased the product.

So, we had to start showing what life looked like afterward by showing them the journey. We had to get out of our own way. So, we started to tell clients, “We’re on a journey, and we want you to come on that journey with us. Isn’t that exciting? We’re going to be on this journey of discovery.”

Deeper conversations

How much of your journey and your story do you share with clients? I backed away from doing this for years until it got to a point where if my clients were going through a difficult situation, they would have to share a little bit about it. I found that the more I shared my story, the more a client shared, and a deeper conversation would result.

One thing I learned, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is to be more inquisitive and more curious. I realized when I was checking in with my family, my team and my clients during lockdown, I was constantly asking the same question: “How are you feeling?” It’s a habit in our culture where most people say, “How are you doing?” Usually the person responds, “Good,” and moves on.

But instead say, “How are you feeling?” When I’m asked that question, I can’t just blank it out. I’d have to go inside my head and think, Oh, how am I feeling? That question pulls out more emotion, more connection and more topics for conversation.

Creating community

Checking in with clients has been incredibly important. When the pandemic lockdown started, I got together with the team to figure out how on earth we were going to deal with this, because we could have hundreds of people phoning us up every hour of the day wanting to know what’s going on. I thought, let’s try to head this off at the pass.

So, I got together with Nick, an office colleague, to record a 10-minute interview each week. We’d send it out to clients every Thursday night just to tell them what I’m thinking. These were little snippets of reassurance and, yes, like everyone else, I didn’t have a clue about what was going on with the pandemic and what was next. But the message provided little words of reassurance, confidence and comfort. We weren’t dispensing financial advice. Nick and I would get together for about a half hour before recording and look at the headlines for something to talk about. It wasn’t even a video; we recorded it on a phone.

We thought we would do it for a few weeks, but the feedback from clients was amazing. Even more than a year later, they won’t let us stop doing it. It was simply like the 10-to-15-minute segue that an advisor might have when you meet clients face to face and talk about family, friends and what’s in the news. That’s all it was, but it was a connection that gave community back to clients. This is what I mean about being curious: thinking about doing things slightly different and being able to move the conversation on, even in these difficult times.