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What you actually said, versus what the client heard you say

Friday, June 13th 2014, 6:00AM 1 Comment

Clients can hear something completely different to what you actually say. It depends on a lot. A generally hazy notion of what it is you are talking about, coupled with a desire not to look foolish by asking basic questions, and further confused perhaps by something a friend said before or after the meeting.

One practical example: I bumped into a friend recently who knows nothing about insurance but noticed I was quoted in an article on the subject of Total and Permanent Disablement insurance.

What they remembered was “you think TPD is a load of rubbish.”

I corrected them immediately – I own TPD cover, and actually think it is quite important. But I had to go back to the office and look up the article immediately and check if I was misquoted. I was not: I had supported the idea of good cover in this area. So why was my friend’s memory so poor?

People remember most what reinforces beliefs that they already hold. I think my friend was already of the opinion that TPD, and perhaps insurance as a whole, was not good value.

It is quite depressing when you come to think about it… both you and I are, in effect, professional communicators: our ability to earn a living depends on being able to convey ideas and change people’s views. Yet many people can be hard to change or talk to about things they are not familiar with.

Often they filter incoming views, unconsciously, so that they agree with their own.

There are two major implications from this.

The first is that my communication must be powerful: that means really clear, strong, memorable stories where the images and metaphors use are shot through with meaning – so that remembering any part of the story will trigger memory of the meaning.

That can be enhanced with a written document, containing visuals and simple summaries of the key points. A marketing guru, Winston Marsh, says “you must be a better communicator of what you do than a doer of what you do”. I have always struggled with that, until I realised the difficulties in communication.

The second is that any communication with clients about important advice issues must, absolutely must, be backed up with a written record. Because they forget, get it wrong, and get confused.

Sometimes clients just end up wanting to believe something else, and so they do… so the written record is there to protect you.

As it happens, that is also the biggest lesson from the Adviser X decision by the Financial Adviser Disciplinary Committee. The single biggest issue was a lack of documented reasons for the recommendation.

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Comments from our readers

On 13 June 2014 at 10:14 am David Whyte said:
Excellent article! All the text books hold that communication is a "two-way" exercise, but in our industry I believe the onus lies with advisers to communicate with their clients in such a way that there is no misunderstanding in any area of the process. The way which clients receive, absorb, and interpret information is as important to an adviser's understanding of the client, as any of the 'hard' facts of client financial circumstances.

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