The most basic skill needed by advisors is not proficiency in portfolio construction but the ability to listen to clients and communicate effectively. Too often, in attempting to impress clients with their knowledge and expertise, advisors fall back on buzzwords, industry jargon, confusing charts and minutiae that might seem important to the advisor but fail to lead to positive conversations with the client.
The first step toward effective communication and effective connections is understanding that clients learn and absorb information differently. Research has found that there are three main ways that humans learn. There is a direct correlation between different information processing styles and the ultimate success of the relationships that advisors have with their clients.
Personalities Influence Information Processing
The three types of learning are visual, kinesthetic and auditory. Studies have shown that approximately 40% of people are visual learners1, which would help explain why YouTube is now the world’s second-largest search engine2. A kinesthetic learner is a person who learns best by touching, feeling and experiencing things for himself or herself. Auditory learners tend to benefit most when directions are read aloud or information is presented verbally.
Understanding the different learning types should be followed by an assessment of client personality types and the frequency of communication that will lead to stronger relationships, since the typical advisory firm serves a wide array of personalities and professions. A sampling might include an engineer, a retired small business owner, an artist and a farmer. Each of these individuals will have a dominant learning style, but their personalities should also be taken into consideration.
This analysis will allow advisors to see their clients for who they truly are and interact with them on their own terms. Once that basic data has been gathered, advisors should build a few templates that can be implemented with client portals, reports, e-mail and other communications. The next step is to incorporate this information into the new client onboarding process, which will maximize communication at the onset of the relationship.
In addition to the learning and personality distinctions mentioned above, advisors should also be aware of generational preferences. For example, younger clients expect enhanced levels of technology and social media integrated into the relationship. Whoever the client is, the advisor always wants to try and accommodate the client’s personality, age and preferred communication style.
The Tools of Engagement
When looking for reporting applications, advisors should seek out offerings that provide the greatest degree of flexibility and customization. The majority of clients will want a simple and straightforward report with just the basic information, while a handful want every detail spelled out. Software that facilitates mixing and matching reports to fit various personality types allows the advisor to speak to each client in the way they learn best, while also tailoring the frequency of reporting to a client’s preference (which can also decrease costs when a client wants fewer reports). Advisors must also be cognizant of the delivery preferences of clients and offer the option to receive reports via mail, e-mail or both.
For example, if the client is an engineer who is primarily a visual learner, the advisor should use a combination of visuals and detailed explanations when constructing a report, which would appeal to the client’s desire for visuals, while also accommodating the engineer’s desire to know, in detail, how the process works. On the other hand, in constructing a report template for a kinesthetic artist, the emphasis will be much more visual, with additional details in colors, which can help bring emotion and allow the advisor to relate more directly to the artist.
Communication Is Everything
First impressions are crucial, and one of the first messages that any potential client is likely to encounter will be the advisor’s Web page. It is important to design the firm’s landing page to appeal, on some level, to all personality and learning types. Whether the client is a farmer who prefers to listen in order to learn, or a small business owner who needs to visualize, it is important to take into account the different ways clients process information so the viewer can get the most out of the experience. Advisors should make sure that their client landing pages have elements that will appeal to the visual, kinesthetic and auditory learners in their client base. Paying attention to these details can increase visits to the firm’s Web site; the content should be relevant to the way clients learn best, while also creating engaging content for each type of learner.
When it comes to actually communicating with clients, there’s nothing more basic than e-mail. Messages should be to the point, but also include the items the advisor wants in the communication. For example, the client might be a kinesthetic learner who loves the fact that the advisor sends a simple message regarding his account, which also includes a link to a video message. Regardless of what type of learners the clients are, they should be presented with information in a way that enables them to process it best, allowing the advisor to realize the maximum return on the effort of taking into consideration learning and personality types.
However extensive or limited their communication programs, advisors should not issue generic mass blasted communications, but instead tailor both the content and frequency of their e-mails, statements and reports to best suit the individual client’s needs. It’s important that advisors recognize the client’s preferred communication method and then try and match the message delivery to that client’s preferences, regardless of what type of client the advisor is working with.