In an industry in which products can look the same to clients, you should focus on creating an experience that will differentiate you from others.
“How do you make that experience different from everyone else?” asks Mark Leung, director of Rotman DesignWorks at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “You have to empathize.”
Leung defines “empathy” as “walking a mile in your client’s shoes” and making an emotional connection with that person. Empathy, he adds, is the quality a good advisor can use to build relationships — instead of transactions.
Leung lists the three steps necessary in building empathetic connections with your clients:
1. Take stock of pre-conceived notions
It becomes easy to make judgments about clients after you have known them for a length of time. When you enter client meetings with certain beliefs, your opinions of your client may become apparent through your body language.
For example, you have worked with Mr. Smith for many years and consider him to be a chronic complainer. Without realizing it, you may be prone to rolling your eyes or looking exasperated when speaking to him. This type of behaviour doesn’t fix the issue nor does it deepen your relationship with this client. Instead, it may inhibit your client from asking for help in resolving problems that could use your expertise.
A reflective exercise can help prevent these types of reactions. Before speaking with a client, take three minutes to list your various assumptions regarding this person. Use this list as a way to set those biases aside and motivate yourself to make a greater effort in understanding the true causes of your client’s behaviour.
2. Continually learn more about clients
You should walk into every client meeting with a “beginner’s mindset,” Leung says.
“Don’t walk in with any sort of bias or objective,” he says. “Just listen and get to know the person.”
Let clients talk about anything that’s on their mind, whether it be their financial issues or just how their day is going. And don’t hurry the conversation along. Instead, go deeper into these issues by saying: “That’s really interesting. Can you tell me more?”
By doing so, Leung says, you show that you are making an effort to understand the client.
For example, you usually dread asking personal questions of Mr. Smith, the chronic complainer, because he finds the negative side of any situation. However, in order to be empathetic, you should encourage him to tell you more about what is frustrating him.
One of the things Mr. Smith mentions is the stress that comes from running a small business. This information is important because you can recommend he see a small-business advisor in your firm, who may be able to help Mr. Smith feel less anxious about his business. Mr. Smith should be pleased to know that you care and are willing to help him beyond his personal investments.
3. Conduct a “debrief”
After each client meeting, think about how your conversation confirmed or contradicted any of your previous assumptions. If there was a colleague in the meeting, such as an associate or a branch manager, ask what that person felt they heard your client communicate.
Your objective here, Leung says, should be to separate your opinions from what actually occurred.