Three Steps to Building Better Relationships With Your Clients

The American College of Financial Services
January 16, 2020

In any line of work, the foundation of a business model that succeeds, grows, and generates profit starts and ends with one word: trust. When you go to the grocery store, you trust the food products you buy have been carefully handled and are safe to consume. When you call your local plumber to fix a busted pipe, you trust that they know what they’re doing and won’t flood your house. But the relationship of a financial advisor to their client takes this trust dynamic to a different level. In this case, you’re handling people’s money--more than that, you’re handling their livelihood and their ability to pay their bills and take care of themselves and their loved ones. This requires you, as a financial services professional, to rise to the occasion as a trusted advisor: someone who, much like a lawyer or a psychiatrist, provides advice and direction that can deeply affect your clients’ lives. It’s not a responsibility to be taken lightly.

So how can you, as an aspiring or established financial advisor, build this kind of relationship with your clients? Certainly having some experience, along with name and brand recognition, helps, but it’s not everything. Here are three simple steps you can take right now that can improve existing relationships with clients and start new ones off on the right foot.


Step 1: Set the Bar (Early and Often)


It’s been said time and time again, but the key to forming a healthy relationship with clients is constructive communication. When you’re first bringing a new client on board, or maybe working to refine your relationship with a longtime advisee, it’s important to make a plan for what goals the client has and how you plan to meet them. To do this, you’ll need to know and understand a lot about your client: who they are, where they come from, what their financial situation may be, and what their short and long-term goals are, just to name a few. Doing this may take some time, but strong advisor/client relationships aren’t built overnight. It takes time and effort on both sides to make it happen, so make sure you’re doing your part.

A big part of this is making communication regular and consistent. Make sure your client knows how and where to get in touch with you if they have questions or need advice, and when they seek you out, answer them in a timely, courteous, and professional manner. However, simply responding on time isn’t enough to really show a client you care about them--it’s the manner of your response that can make or break their trust in you. Don’t use form letters. Personalize your conversations with clients to show you really know them and care about what’s going on in their lives. Again, a lot of this has to do with how well you understand their situation and individual needs. Schedule frequent and reliable check-ins where your client can discuss what’s on their mind, and be prepared to offer them an up-to-date look at where they’re at in accomplishing their goals.


Step 2: Stand and Deliver


Now that you’ve gotten to know your client and have a sense of where they want to go and what they want to do, it’s up to you to step up and make it happen. For your clients to trust you, they have to be sure that you not only understand what they want, but that you’re able to make follow through on your promises to get them there. Modesty is a fine quality, but to solidify your clients’ confidence you have to be comfortable embracing your role as the expert in the relationship. Do your homework. Take your time explaining financial terms and conditions to clients if they’re not familiar with them. Don’t be afraid to have honest and frank conversations with your clients. If people sense that you’re knowledgeable and you’re being straight with them, they’re much more likely to trust you.

A word of caution, however: in your quest to project confidence to your clients, don’t promise what you can’t deliver. A part of having straight talk with clients is setting reasonable, achievable goals and expectations right out of the gate, along with benchmarks you can gradually build upon. What a client thinks of as their short or long-term goal may not be immediately realistic, and these kinds of conversations need to go both ways. It’s important in your relationships with clients to show you’re going above and beyond expectations in how you’re trying to help them, and a good way to establish this rapport is to start with smaller, easily-accomplished goals and gradually work your way up to their bigger ambitions.

On the flip side, listen to your clients. Even though you’re the expert in this partnership, don’t be afraid to consider their suggestions or ideas and talk them through. Showing that you’re open to feedback and actively take what a client thinks into consideration is a great way to build trust. And above all, it goes without saying that a client is probably thankful for your financial advice--make sure they know you’re also grateful for their trust and business. Always remember to thank them for putting their financial future in your hands.


Step 3: You’re a Person, So Act Like One


Throughout your relationship with any given client, it’s important that they both like you and trust you. The unfortunate truth is if a client doesn’t like you personally, they’re much less likely to trust the advice you give them, even if it’s perfectly sound. On the other hand, if a client likes you too much and sees you as more of a friend than a professional advisor, there’s also a chance they could either disregard your advice or neglect to offer their own feedback. Establishing an advisor/client relationship is about creating and maintaining that fine line between the business and the personal, and it’s not always easy.

Having a personal knowledge of who your client is and what they’re looking to accomplish is, as we’ve said, the first step toward a successful relationship, but at this point, something more is needed. This is where overall attitude comes into play. Even though you may feel overwhelmed or stressed out at times when trying to help clients meet their goals, maintaining a positive attitude is critical to keeping their trust in you. Showing you have enthusiasm for your profession and that you love what you do, as well as taking pride in helping your clients succeed, are attractive traits that will make people want to be around you and make clients want to work with you more. But the most difficult part of all is owning up to your mistakes. We’re all human, and sometimes, despite our best efforts, we miscalculate or give people bad advice. If and when this happens, it’s important to come clean to your clients about things as quickly and completely as possible: explain where you went wrong and how it happened, and of course apologize, but also offer a plan to get things back on track. While your clients may not be happy with you initially, seeing that you acknowledge your mistakes and have a concrete plan to fix it is much more likely to preserve their respect and trust in you than if you try to hide it.


Take a moment on this Get to Know Your Customers Day to consider how you’re going to build and improve your relationships with clients this year. As with anything else, the more you’re willing to give to cultivating a good rapport and a strong trust with the people whose finances you’re managing, the more continued success and personal growth you’re likely to enjoy!

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