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Why Process Is Critical to Client Communications

In the first year, communication with a new client comes easily. You need data and time to deliver a plan that fits and there are many face-to-face meetings that help you build trust.

Over time the value of these meetings begins to diminish. That’s when questions about how to effectively communicate with the client arise—How often should you reach out? Is there a process to follow? Are you reinforcing your value, or being a bother?

On this episode of Elementality, Reese and Chad look into the cadence and methods advisors use to communicate with their clients. There’s a need to become more proactive with “asynchronous” communication—email, text, or direct messages—as the relationship develops. If you are unsure what to do, Reese and Chad offer a plan on how to deliver messages consistently, while also continuing to build client trust.

 


Podcast Transcript

Reese Harper:
The asynchronous stuff that’s happening behind the scenes, it has to be consistent, so that the client can trust that you didn’t just go away, that you’re not done, that you’re continuing to work for them and look at their situation, monitor their situation. What they really want you to do after the initial stage is monitor. They want to know you’re monitoring. You’re not just quitting on me.

Jordan Haynes:
Welcome to Elementality. I’m Jordan Haynes, financial planning specialist at Elements. In this episode of Elementality, Reese and Chad, talk about the cadence and methods by which advisors communicate with their clients. And how centering communication and planning around scheduled meetings could potentially diminish your relational value with clients over time. As you listen, consider how you can utilize proactive, asynchronous communication, like sending an email, a text or a direct message, and how building a process to incorporate these can communicate to the client, your proactivity, and build the trust that they have in you. Enjoy the episode.

Reese Harper:
Welcome to Elementality everybody. I’m your host, Reese Harper here with my co-host, Chad “The Dad” Jardine. Chad, thanks for tuning in again.

Chad Jardine:
Thank you kind audience for putting up with a co-host called Chad the Dad.

Reese Harper:
I like it. I was given a nickname in the interim in the last week. There may be a once in a while that I will be referred to as a Chad as well, but it’ll be Chatty Cathy because apparently I go off on a tangent and don’t shut up. And, the producing team has told me I need to stop mixing four thoughts into one and pause for a moment to breathe. Chatty Cathy signing in. I’m going to probably keep stick with my real name though, even that’s a great stage name, probably going to have to go with a real name, long-term. Marketing team doesn’t want to have to like overcome the fact that I’m not known as Reese Harper anyway, in the market. So trying to get me known as Chatty Cathy might be a little bit difficult.

Chad Jardine:
And your next career as an actor on the silver screen, I mean, Tom Cruise is already taken.

Reese Harper:
Yeah.

Chad Jardine:
You just go with.

Reese Harper:
Harrison Ford’s, done his thing. All right.

Chad Jardine:
It’s got to be fresh.

Reese Harper:
What’s the exploring question of the day that we’re going to dive into. I’m excited for this.

Chad Jardine:
Yeah. Well, I’m also excited about this. So we’ve had a few brief conversations about this topic, but not to the depth that I hope we can get to today. What I want to ask you about is the cadence of client communication. So, the timing and the volume of communication between advisors and clients, and to give a little bit of background. This is a topic that comes up in a lot of our conversations with advisors because, they’re asking or they have a process for what their client communication is. And they’re unsure if it’s too much, if it’s too little, are they annoying the client or are they reinforcing their value? And so it seems like that this is a topic that, and sometimes it could be one, sometimes the other, depending on who the advisor is, and who the client is. So, I’m really curious how you, kind of thread the needle about what’s an appropriate cadence for client communication.

Reese Harper:
This is a really important topic, and it affects a lot of the development of our technology and our planning process and our philosophy around client interactions. And so, I think it’s an important one for us to share. I think it does… I would start by saying, it’s really important that you understand that each of your customers or each of your clients have a different need for communication, right? Different like communication mediums and different cadence preferences. There are some services that you might be providing that are more transactional, or they’re less comprehensive. For the most part, the things we speak to on the show have to do with developing deep relationships with people in the broad spectrum of wealth management. And so, I’m not going to say that this philosophy I’m about to share with you applies to everyone. But it probably applies in the frame of advisors who are giving holistic advice and trying to develop deep relationships with fewer numbers of people at a premium price.

Reese Harper:
And I think that’s kind of the RIA market. And so, in that context, I think that you have to kind of start out knowing that a customer is already gone through quite a bit of decision-making in their own mind, before they’ve picked to work with you. There was a lot of referral checking, there was some emotional decision-making around fees. There was some choices that they had to make around specialization, your industry expertise, your positioning. There’s been some meaningful relationship that’s been built, usually prior to them saying, yes. However, the next three to six to nine months, to the first year of your relationship, like that, you’re on trial, right? You’re on, you’re being examined and looked at consistently in every one of your interactions throughout that early period.

Reese Harper:
And the time where there’s a lot of the turnover in clients, that’s highest in financial services, is in those first few years, right? Of working with the client, that’s when you either secure the client or, the client chooses to move on. It’s rare that someone after many years, at that five to seven year mark, seven to nine year mark, 10 year mark, like the turnover and churn in a practice is just very low at that stage. Any Questions about that?

Chad Jardine:
Well it kind of underscores the importance, right? If you’re building a practice, your ability to retain clients is impacted by how well you manage the cadence of communication. At least that’s what I hear you’re saying.

Reese Harper:
Yes. And in the early stages, that cadence is really important. Now, in my experience, there’s a big difference between meetings, and when I say meetings, this could be, this can be a Zoom call, it can be a phone call. I actually think that Zoom calls start to feel more like in-person meetings as time passes. I really, I think it’s just seeing someone face to face, feeling their energy and seeing them, that’s what made an in-person meeting so palpable for people, and that’s why a lot of services have been so localized and not, it’s been harder for some services like wealth management to really scale nationally. But I do think there’s, thanks to COVID and the transition we were kind of forced through.

Chad Jardine:
There’s a higher tolerance for Zoom meetings, as opposed to in-person meetings.

Reese Harper:
Yeah, and-

Chad Jardine:
We’ve all gotten used to it a little bit.

Reese Harper:
Yeah. And, I would say, not even as much the tolerance for, but like the emotional connection that you can actually build through a Zoom meeting?

Chad Jardine:
We are actually getting better at that.

Reese Harper:
It starts to approximate a physical meeting. It’s going to get better at over time. Bottom line is, I’m trying to just say that there’s a cadence between some kind of emotional connection in a meeting, that I think is augmented by in-person and Zoom and, to some degree, a phone call is the third rank. So in-person, Zoom, phone call. Like those are-

Chad Jardine:
And you’re, you’re ranking these by kind of a level of intimacy and depth of the communication, not by,

Reese Harper:
Function.

Chad Jardine:
frequency or like you’re not suggesting that you need more of the deeper meeting communications, or are you?

Reese Harper:
Well, we’re not get… I haven’t shared the cadence yet.

Chad Jardine:
Okay.

Reese Harper:
But I want to just establish that there’s two broad types of communication that I’m going to define. One is an actual meeting, and those can be breaking up, those could be broken up into in-person, video conference or phone calls. And those have a similar spectrum of emotional connection. Okay. And if you took the time to schedule with me, you blocked it out of your calendar, we’re doing this for real. Like we’re actually going to do something. That’s very different than the others types of communication, which is asynchronous, right? Where, you email, a text, an IM, a report.

Chad Jardine:
Well then there’s The… A meeting is kind of… I know this might seem like I’m over describing this but, this is a hallmark of the way this industry works, and the way business is done between advisors and clients. Correct? Right. Like we have a certain amount of meetings and that’s part of how the service is delivered. Am I correct in that?

Reese Harper:
Historically? Yes. And I just think that lines starting to be blurred with all the asynchronous communication that we have. And the SEC and regulators don’t know how to really deal with this really effectively right now. You’ve got every IM platform, if I’m connected to my financial advisor through Instagram, I might just pay him. I don’t want my advisor to be, I can’t discuss anything with you through this channel. You got to go through my appropriate channel. That’s going to start to be annoying. It’s… I want to… I’m on LinkedIn and you’re there, I want to ask you a quick question or I’m going to text you.

Chad Jardine:
Yeah. It’s just a function of being where the client is, right?

Reese Harper:
It is. And each client Has different preference for the medium of communication that they want to have.

Chad Jardine:
I feel like I need to do an SEC disclaimer. But of course this is the only appropriate communication, [crosstalk 00:10:07]

Reese Harper:
Yeah. But of course, we would never advocate for communication outside of appropriate channels and archiving through your compliance department. Please talk to your chief compliance officer about the details.

Chad Jardine:
Amen.

Reese Harper:
Anyway. So if you break apart those two broad types of communication, I think, absent any one of those two broad types you’re in trouble. If you’re only the meetings’ advisor, or if you’re only the asynchronous advisor, that’s never prioritizing meetings, but always pinging people and doing emails and try and do everything asynchronously. That’s not going to result in the deepest relationships. However, I think that historically we’ve been way more meeting heavy than we need to be, and we need to move more towards effective asynchronous communication. Because, I think when people wait to hear from you for six months or a year, or it’s been three months, and I haven’t even heard from you, that starts to break down the trust.

Chad Jardine:
I’m curious about, kind of two things. One, is there like a magic ratio of proactive outbound communication to clients, versus inbound communication from clients? How does the cadence, the appropriate cadence of client communication or channel change over the life cycle of your relationship with the client? Cause you already brought up that it’s really critical to kind of set the right tone and right expectation as clients are new. You’re onboarding a new client, They’re, you’re building this relationship from scratch, even if it had some preliminary activities. But how does that change as you go? Maybe now you’ve been, you’ve had a client for five or 10 years. What is… Is that different than that first year?

Reese Harper:
Yeah. Well, a lot of it depends on your service model probably, but in my experience, the need for in-person this… We’ll call it communication type A is the meetings.

Chad Jardine:
A is the formal meeting.

Reese Harper:
And B-

Chad Jardine:
synchronous

Reese Harper:
is the asynchronous stuff. Synchronous decline, the need for synchronous declines over time. And, the need for asynchronous communication to me stays somewhat steady.

Reese Harper:
Let’s put it this way. You can get by with asynchronous communication. As long as in the early stages, you had a lot of synchronous, right? So, if meetings were a part of your original kind of relationship foundation, you have a deep connection and an understanding of this person. You don’t have to continue at the same cadence with the synchronous type of communication. But what usually ends up happening is all that most advisors have to depend on is synchronous, they are just doing meetings and phone calls and Zoom calls, and that’s when stuff gets done, and that’s when the relationship gets built.

Reese Harper:
The challenge is during those meetings, a lot of times, there’s not as much getting done in terms of tasks, and implementation, and projects that the client wants to see completed. You’re doing all that outside of those meetings. And so I think, if the client doesn’t hear from you, around all of the things that you work on for them, and they just assume that you’re doing everything outside of those meetings, and your meetings decline, right? You’re doing less meetings now over time, just naturally. Because, the demand for kind of like getting together and having more intimacy, which maybe people wouldn’t refer it to that way, but I’m referring it to that way, because I think that’s what people are actually responding to from a meeting. They want to see you, They want to see what you think, and feel what you think.

Reese Harper:
That need declines over time naturally, if you’re not doing asynchronous stuff consistently, then they start to feel like you’re getting lazy. They start to feel like you’ve gone away, you’re too busy for them. You’re gone.

Chad Jardine:
They feel your absence.

Reese Harper:
You’re golfing all the time. You used to be really great at the beginning when we first started working together. But now I’m just,

Chad Jardine:
Do you feel like you’re inattentive?

Reese Harper:
Yeah. And so, you have several choices. You can keep going with asynchronous, you can keep going with meetings consistently on an ongoing basis. Or you can, and then have clients be like, “I don’t need to meet” because that’s what will happen. If you try to go with the same meeting cadence all the time that you went at the beginning, people are not going to be dying to meet at the same cadence. Because the natural work of financial planning is less heavy in the longer tail side. Right?

Reese Harper:
For at least, and the decision-making is more pragmatic. It’s not as significant, it’s not as life altering. And occasionally when they have a question, that’s a huge life transition. That’s when a synchronous meeting, a meeting is going to be required. But, the asynchronous stuff that’s happening behind the scenes, it has to be consistent so that the client can trust, that you didn’t just go away, that you’re not done, that you’re continuing to work for them and look at their situation, monitor the situation. What they really want you to do after the initial stage is monitor. They want to know you’re monitoring. You’re not just quitting on me.

Jordan Haynes:
Do you ever wonder if you do enough for your clients to be worth what they’re paying you for? Do you feel like you’re delivering enough value? I mean, the advisors wrestle with questions like these. I’ve used the Elements Financial Planning System for a couple of years now. With it, I can deliver periodic insight about a client’s financial health and progress by utilizing standardized measurements. They know I’m watching their progress and can actually see how my advice is improving their life. With the Elements Financial Planning System, you can also give your clients consistent planning guidance, and the valuable advice they expect. Check it out at, getelements.com/meet.

Chad Jardine:
And, so I’ve got one final question for you, on this topic which is, you kind of described variability, striking a balance between variability and adaptability to the client’s needs and standardization, right? That you need to have this kind of sense of reliability and consistency, but also be adaptable to the variable needs of each individual client. How do you strike that balance?

Reese Harper:
Well, I just think, you don’t change your cadence of communication on the asynchronous stuff, but you might change the medium in which you’re communicating with them, these asynchronous activities. So for some people, for example, text messaging feels very invasive, especially if you don’t request permission to communicate with them in that forum, not just at the beginning, but on an ongoing basis. So if I’m about to text someone, I generally like to lead with, “Hey, how are you can I ask you? Do you have a minute for me to be able to ask you a question?” So, as I don’t just like throw a question at them, because I don’t know if they’re in a place where they really want to deal with this right now. You know, my agenda may not be their agenda. I want to ask for permission to engage. This is a heavy topic and they’re going to do some,

Chad Jardine:
You’re not saying that you’re asking for permission to communicate with them via text. You’re sending a brief communication to ask permission, to open up a larger conversation.

Reese Harper:
Yes. In that text chain, because they might be on vacation. I want to be respectful. So I’m like giving them the, I’m letting them have the control of saying this works for me right now. Super… I think it’s really appreciated. “Hey, do you have, I have something I want to run by you. Do you have a second? Like in text it to you or would you prefer that I email it?” You can get to know someone’s pattern and decide. Maybe I should just do that in email, because email comes across as a much less invasive form. Right? But you’re not going to get the response that you want from email in terms of the urgency of response, that email is perceived as something that has a week long response time would be like adequate in some people’s minds. For me, it’s more like 48 hours or 24 hours.

Chad Jardine:
Yeah. Really texts is kind of like grabbing somebody by the shirt collar. And saying “Hey, I’m here.”

Reese Harper:
And so, in each of the ages of your clients is going to make a difference, but you have to have your asynchronous plan of communicating value, going on independent of the choice that the client has of how they want to be communicated with. And maybe that means you have to just go with email, because it’s a lower form of communication. But some people don’t check their email, they don’t work on their email. So, they might say text me. Some people might have a particular channel of IM that they want to consolidate their communications through, and they really want you to contact them through a particular medium. And I found that to be a more challenging as time has passed because, some people are just really responsive on the phone and not in text or, and anyway.

Reese Harper:
My point in this whole con… This last segment was, I think it’s important for you to have an asynchronous plan. Independent of the medium that the client prefers. And you’re going to have to only customize the channel, but you shouldn’t customize the frequency, or the cadence of how you show value to your client. Because in my experience that when you start doing that, you run the risk of the client, assuming that you’re a silent and not working for them and not giving the value that you promised you deliver.

Reese Harper:
I think this is a conversation that would be… This is highly customized to each firm and their clientele. It’s hard to kind of probably take away an exact plan from this. But I think if you’re not thinking about communication, frequency, and cadence, as it relates to both asynchronous and synchronous communication, then you’re going to be struggling to compete in the next 10 years. Because this is where the responsiveness battle’s going to be won. And all clients list this as the number one thing that makes them leave their advisor, is when you’re not, they do not feel like you’re not being responsive to their needs.

Reese Harper:
And they’ll say that. And sometimes advisors assume that, that means they’re not answering the phone. It’s not just, when clients say, “I just don’t feel like he really cares, or he’s not very responsive.” I mean, a lot of these surveys that are done, are getting advisors in my experience at least they assume this is all just about returning voicemails and phone calls. And really, a lot of the questions go deeper than just does he return my call. It’s, “does he call me? Does he, is he working for me? Does he, what does he do for me? What does she do for me?” And I think that’s where the asynchronous communications is really critical.

Jordan Haynes:
Next time on Elementality.

Caleb Brown:
The way we look at the candidate side is, have they demonstrated passion for the profession? Okay. Is someone getting on the phone with me saying, “Caleb, I have been looking at financial planning for the last couple of years. I’m born to do this. I’d love to work with you. I love to get placed at one of your firms, but if you can’t help me, no one’s going to stop me. I’m getting in financial planning. Hey, I’m going to get my Series 65. I’m not waiting around for someone to tell me how I’m going to go get multiple internships. I’m going to go learn multiple software programs. That way. When I show up at Reese Harper’s firm, I know how to use at least at a basic level, all the four or five major financial planning programs. So I’m versatile.”

Jordan Haynes:
You can learn more, more about the elements, financial planning system at getelements.com/meet. And schedule a time to meet with me, or one of our friendly financial planning experts. Elementality executive creators are Reese Harper and Chad Jardine, Elementality is produced by Abby Morton and directed by Jordan Haynes.

 

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