Since COVID lockdowns began about six months ago, interacting with customers has become more interesting than ever. I have been listening intently, wanting to know what has helped some advisors continue to succeed. What are they doing differently that helps them achieve success, often beyond what they achieved prior to COVID?
Many advisors have implemented social distancing (I will not miss that phrase!) and are using online meetings to engage clients. But what advisor wants to spend another 30 minutes or an hour interacting online with a client about retirement planning? And how many of your clients are looking forward to an online meeting with you? If we are honest, engagement was already difficult prior to social distancing—and it may seem downright impossible now.
Over the past few months, I have heard a number of advisors talk about the positive aspects of online meetings. For example, they love the efficiency as no one needs to drive anywhere and clients are more readily available. And they can keep clients focused on meaningful content specific to their retirement situation. In a podcast interview, Eric Stephens shared with me how he holds group meetings with prospective clients and gets 80% of them to sign up for on one-on-one meetings.
As I have interacted with advisors who are experiencing success, I have noticed one key difference in their approach: they put their clients in the driver’s seat. These advisors are letting their clients take the lead and coaching them toward retirement success. A client who is in the driver’s seat is more engaged, asks more pertinent questions, and appreciates the experience more.
Let client’s drive the solutions
There are a few keys to putting the client in the driver’s seat:
Make sure your retirement planning tool is graphical. Clients need to be able to understand how their various benefits work with each other (such as Social Security, a pension plan, and any retirement savings). For most clients, showing numbers early on can be overwhelming. It’s cliché to say a picture paints 1,000 words, but there is truth to it. Clients can more easily connect to what is being displayed graphically.
After painting the picture, put your clients in the driver’s seat by asking questions. Many advisors are eager to share how much they know in order to solve any potential shortfall, but by doing so they miss what could be a pivotal moment in their relationship with the client. This is a key time to start asking questions. The most discerning advisors ask what the client would like to change about the situation. Then they sit and wait quietly for the client’s answer. It may take a moment—clients are not used to driving and are accustomed to having their advisors tell them what needs to be done. But clients need to start thinking. Most clients will not be used to this, so be patient. This process brings about client engagement and ownership, and it reveals the client’s value system.
Some clients may have unreasonable expectations about what they want to change. Remind yourself that they are learning, so don’t chastise them if they want more money than illustrated, want to retire earlier, or want better rates of return. Gently bring them back to reality (recognizing that some of them may be facing reality for the first time). Everyone learns in different ways and at different paces. Enjoy the moment and process with each client.
Be aware that if clients have outside assets that they were not going to discuss with you, they will often bring them up at this time. Why? Because they are driving. They are responsible for finding a successful solution and they want to see how their total assets change the situation. That’s why putting the client in the driver’s seat is a great way to increase client engagement.
As you are asking questions, your retirement planning tool must be interactive. A static report does not allow clients to see quick answers to the questions they are asking. You need to be able to change the picture to reflect what your clients want to change. Overly sophisticated, cumbersome software makes it difficult to alter the scenario and bring it back to the client. Retirement planning software needs to be interactive, quickly showing answers to the client’s questions.
While we miss the pre-COVID days, we need to acknowledge that they may never return. At the same time, we should acknowledge the opportunity to work with clients in a new way that provides better engagement toward retirement success and also helps advisors improve their bottom line.
For several advisors, COVID has redefined their business, and they are never going back to the way things were. Online meetings have benefited not only their clients’ retirement engagement but also the advisors’ income. These advisors are helping clients by giving them a retirement picture they can understand, allowing them to say what they would change, and interactively showing them the results of those changes. Putting clients in the driver’s seat with the right tools makes all the difference and will propel you through these interesting times as you grow your practice well into the future.
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