Client Engagement “201”

Is “Client Engagement” the new buzzword? 

It strikes me as a word that we all use a lot but actually have very different pictures in our heads of what it means. On one end of the spectrum, it’s hard not to do “client engagement.” With a quote in the briefcase and some quirps about the weekend’s rugby, we’re already equipped with a very medieval version of it . Add a few evolutionary decades to this version and we get to the other end of the spectrum where client engagement has become more clinical, more scientific and undoubtedly more compliant. Between the two, it’s easy to pinpoint which one makes the advisor feel more valued. I think it’s a different question altogether to be asking which one does the client value. In truth, it feels like both versions fall short of actually connecting with the client in very fundamental ways.

I think we’re progressing to a new space which clients are using to decide whether our engagement is valuable. Here are some new factors that create the magic around whether our efforts are deemed positive or not …  

First, the advisor must be completely comfortable with the engagement process they intend taking their clients through. If they’re anticipating questions that they’re not entirely comfortable answering, this tension will feed quietly into the engagement, colouring it with anxiety and discomfort. Are you comfortable with the artefacts you’re using? Is it a tool? Can you find the right buttons? Are the pictures easily explainable? Are the assumptions clearly understood? Are you clear on the outcomes you’re trying to achieve in each phase? 

A simple, clear process with props that enable a relevant and meaningful exchange of words is the cornerstone of raising confidence and lowering anxiety when we never know which way the client may go.

Secondly, the client needs to be completely at ease, open to engage on personal, sensitive topics. How comfortable is the client? Are they sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to look at another picture or table they don’t understand? Are you showing them stuff they can relate to, comment on? Do they feel like you’ve heard them correctly? Do they feel like they could equally drive the process if you handed the “talking stick” over to them? 

Giving the clients feedback to show that they have been heard, that you consider their contributions as important shows that you care. Demonstrably showing your interest, being open to changing things, being vulnerable to working together, inspires meaningful engagement and intimate levels of trust. 

Third, the other important people need to be on-board. Are they on the financial picture? Are they in the room? How are they feeling? Can they connect with the story you’re painting? Are they contributing to the story you’re building together? Can your engagement become the golden thread that starts managing expectations and growing clarity between family members? 

We all too often discount the impact of other people on the effectiveness of our advice. We’re social beings and having all our important relationships singing in concert promotes proper engagement between the influencers that count. 

In conclusion, not all client engagement is created equal. Shooting the breeze may be enjoyable, but neither effective nor deep enough to affect change. On the other hand, being analytical and clinical, may be compliant, but it too, is neither effective nor is it a way to open up a space for clients to be vulnerable and get to the core of what drives them. 

If you’re skating along the surface of your relationships, talking about the “professional detail”, or rugby, I put to you that you haven’t yet scratched the surface of meaningful engagement that truly enhances the client’s experience of your value.

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