By Kevin R. Clark
Asking good questions is an essential skill to building trust with the people you serve and advise. Here are seven questions I’ve found, through hundreds of conversations, to be especially useful at establishing a personal connection with clients.
How did you meet?
Couples love this question. It’s especially effective as an ice-breaker when first sitting down with a pair of prospective new clients. At least one if not both will crack a smile or chuckle. Anxiety is common when discussing an emotional subject like money, particularly when it’s with a stranger.
Asking this question instantly relieves that tension. The clients see you as a person interested in them instead of just a financial advisor soliciting their business.
What’s on your mind that we need to discuss first?
This is my initial question for every client review meeting. Clients ALWAYS have something top-of-mind they want to talk about. Many times, it may be the same thing you want to discuss with them. Asking this makes sure the client’s priorities are addressed first. It shows consideration and communicates that the meeting is for them.
How are your family members?
Family is often more important than money for the people we serve. I ask clients how their kids, grandkids and pets are doing every time we talk. Two best practices: add your clients on Facebook to get updates on milestones, events or other things occurring in the client’s personal and family life.
Then, make a note of these events and the names of their family members. Asking specifically about something you saw on social media and using first names shows attention to detail and reminds clients that your relationship goes beyond their money.
May I research that and get back to you?
Clients look to us for expertise and advice. They don’t expect us to be robots capable of reciting the tax code. If a client asks a question and you aren’t completely sure of the answer, it’s okay to say you don’t know and ask permission to follow up. Every client I’ve worked with appreciates a prompt response with the correct answer over an immediate guess.
How are you feeling right now?
You’ll be exposed to a lot of sources of stress in your clients’ lives that intersect with their financial plans. This question addresses the human side of our job in those times of conflict and lets clients know you’re there to listen.
When clients are in crisis, the ability to talk through their emotions is often what’s needed most, even more than financial advice. This is also a great question to ask prospective clients after showing them the initial results of their financial planning simulation.
Is there anything we’ve talked about so far that you need me to clarify for you?
I use this at least twice every meeting. Typically I’ll preface it with, “We just went through a lot of information really quickly, I want to make sure I didn’t confuse you.” It gives the client a chance to pump the brakes when needed to make sure they absorb what you’re discussing.
Clients want to become educated about their money as part of their planning process. This makes sure you aren’t talking over their heads and keeps them engaged in your conversation. When clients do ask you to rephrase, add “Did that make sense?” at the end of your reply, and repeat as many times as the client needs to gain an understanding.
Are you doing anything fun this weekend?
This is a great question to wrap up your talk, particularly if you’ve just had a difficult and emotional conversation. As with the other questions above, it shows that you are just as invested in the client’s personal life as their financial life and hopefully allows them to leave on a positive note.
If it’s something especially exciting to the client, write it down and bring it up the next time you talk with them.
Kevin R. Clark, CFP®, CIMA®, is a Financial Advisor at Highview Advisor Group, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC in Worthington, Ohio. He serves as the national NexGen President-Elect of Financial Planning Association (FPA). Investment advisory products and services are made available through Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC, a registered investment adviser. Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC. Member FINRA and SIPC.
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