Finding new ways to give clients what they want

Simon D. Lister, Dip PFS, doesn’t usually do webinars. And, technically, he still doesn’t.

The 13-year MDRT member from Wymondham, England, has shifted away from his usual in-person seminars to large virtual meetings, but he’s not calling them webinars. He calls them “online briefings.” The purpose is to avoid anything that sounds like jargon, particularly for his client base (pre-retirees and retirees 50 and over) who may be wary of language that sounds too focused on technology.

The response has been remarkable. For a recent, 30-minute briefing, Lister first emailed about 600 of his 770 clients to ask if they would be interested in a session about the impact of COVID-19 on their finances. A whopping 33% responded, and nearly 200 showed up for the briefing. (That one was for clients only; other sessions are open to clients’ family and friends.)

Before the online briefing, Lister made sure to do a dress rehearsal, which not only helped get the lighting right and affirmed his confidence about executing the briefing properly, but it also revealed subtle tweaks that needed to be made. In this case, that meant adding more slides to clarify the message about actions clients should take.

Even before he could ask for feedback, clients sent messages saying things like, “I’m left feeling comfortable that you’re on the case — not that I ever doubted it — and I see the financial opportunity in front of us.”

Where previously Lister communicated with clients on a monthly basis, he now emails weekly (on Thursday or Friday) to provide updates on the coronavirus situation and its impact on their finances, making sure to balance the negatives in the news with positive information as well. Feedback for this has been sizable and enthusiastic, Lister said. “It really means they always know we’re there for them,” he said. “It’s one of the most important things we want to say, without having to say exactly that.”

That assurance, of course, isn’t just about sending messages in bulk. One client is a woman in her 60s who lost her husband a few years ago and her mother earlier this year. The client traditionally had not been the one to look after her household’s finances, so the stress of handling her money and her inheritance was an extra challenge on top of the devastation of the losses — not to mention being isolated from other family and friends during this unusual time.

So Lister and his team (he has 13 full-time and six part-time staff members) have had multiple calls with her, by video and by phone, to check in, guiding her through financial steps as well as helping with technology for communication and further emotional support.

“It’s about showing she isn’t alone and that you do actually care,” Lister said. “It isn’t just about the money. Enabling her to empower somebody to take the stress away can be a huge relief.”

Obviously, organization on the back end is crucial to connect with the right people at the right time.

One of the first things Lister did as the world shifted to remote communication was categorize his clients by age (also noting whether or not they were alone) and call to make sure the oldest clients were OK, beginning with those in their 90s, then 80s, 70s and 60s. The conversation was not about the market or new business; it was just to check in with them, which, as you’d expect, clients really appreciated.

For each of these calls, Lister’s team identifies who was called and when, so the office can keep a record of these contacts. And there is a deliberate effort made to contact people more than once to reaffirm the previous messages and maintain a feeling of support. Naturally, these communications build trust and do lead to business as clients recognize opportunities to buy in a down market, Lister said.

Strong record-keeping has also meant utilizing soft facts gathered over the years to easily adapt to new strategies regarding, for example, recognition of client birthdays. As these can be especially lonely during quarantine, Lister is ensuring each is recognized by a card, email, phone call or other messaging to touch base.

The important thing, Lister said, is customization. Some client calls are videos, but he speaks by phone when clients prefer not to do a video call or if the phone makes more sense for security or timing. Or, sometimes, he sets up both — like a Skype video call put on mute and augmented by the better audio of a simultaneous phone conversation for an older couple with hearing limitations.

“For many, the thought of doing something out of the ordinary has created additional stress,” he said. “We try to work at a level that they’re comfortable with.”

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