couple talks with advisor in office

Enhancing client experiences through communication and office design

For financial advisors, enhancing the client experience stems from understanding, from knowing what intimidates and overwhelms them, and what drives their choices. Offering sound investment advice is only part of the craft — how you communicate with clients may be the key to success in building long-lasting relationships with your clients.

No different than the advice you give, the way you communicate needs to vary depending on the client. Communicating with a client in their 70s will differ from how you'd communicate with one in their 20s. Additionally, how your office is designed can also play a role.

Here are several factors to consider when tailoring your communication style to clients and designing a space that will enhance client relationships.

Best practices for communicating

There's a reason why words like “trust" and “transparency" are foundational when it comes to client-focused branding — the success of your client is firmly rooted in their ability to accept your advice and therefore, your ability to gain their trust. So how do you create trust?

Start off on the same page

Before meeting with a prospect or new client, pull together an agenda of how the meeting will look and the topics that will be discussed. Share it with your client beforehand and invite them to review and confirm the agenda and to add their own topics. This approach to organization will suggest from the get-go that it's a collaborative effort.

Seek to understand first

Treat every meeting as an opportunity to learn more about your client and better understand their evolving financial ambitions. Then you can suggest products and solutions to help them get there. Products and solutions are there to help your client meet their goals, but it's the way in which you communicate with them that enhances the relationship.

Stay in contact

According to the CFA Institute's latest Standards of Practice Handbook, advisors should connect with their clients, at the very least, on an annual basis in order to review their investment policy statement. Ask your client how frequently they'd like to hear from you, then develop a communication strategy that balances one-to-one reviews with one-to-many insights via a newsletter, blog or social feed like LinkedIn.

Generation-specific communication preferences

The Silent Generation (born 1925-1945)

  • The key to communicating with the Silent Generation is to ask how and how often they prefer to communicate and share information.
  • Keeping in mind they are a more conservative generation, approach probing questions about their financial history or appetite for risk without judgement.
  • Understand the importance of legacy to them; what their end-of-life plan is, and the role philanthropy and wealth transfer play in that legacy.

Baby Boomers (born 1946 - 1964)

  • Take time to establish a communication plan with Baby Boomers that addresses questions like: how do they want to be contacted — email, phone calls? Do they prefer one-to-one or one-to-many insights as well? How often would they like to hear from you? And what are their preferences with regard to formal/informal meetings?
  • Reinforce your boomer client's role in transferring values and virtues to the next generation and offer to play a role in helping them do so.
  • Communicate openly and positively without financial jargon.

Generation X (born 1965 – 1980)

  • Approach the relationship as an expert who can validate their findings and serve as a resource.
  • Use personal anecdotes to find commonalities.
  • Use communication methods like email newsletters and blogs to keep them engaged and position yourself as a valuable provider of relevant insight.

Millennials (born 1981 - 1997)

  • Be transparent about fees and how the economy could affect their portfolio.
  • Communicate digitally first when possible, directing them to the portal capabilities of your custodian or broker-dealer.
  • Open conversations with discussing their ideas and approach planning as a collaborative endeavor, allowing them to feel heard.

Generation Z (born 1998 – today)

  • Invite your older clients with children in this age group to bring them to meetings which will give you a chance to connect.
  • Communicate transparently and share your own experiences with them.
  • Approach conversations as a resource and an expert; be a teacher who can help them and their parents talk about finances.

The well-designed office space

“The importance of the office environment is universal,” author John E. Grable, Ph.D., CFP®, and Director of the Financial Planning Performance Laboratory at the University of Georgia, wrote in a recent article. “This means that a financial advisor should spend time to create an environment that facilitates client financial health," he says. “Regardless if the advisor is working out of their home, has a small office in a suburban center, or owns a suite of offices in a large building."

Ensure the space reflects who you are

One of the most important elements of design is allowing your space to illustrate to the client who you are. Personal objects, live plants, artwork, photos of yourself traveling with your family or engaging in your hobbies — all these elements help paint a picture of who you are, and help in establishing that initial rapport.

Design for function

Ensure you have seating alternatives like adjustable chairs and comfortable options such as a love seat/couch to fit different clients' needs. Alternatives can also ensure you have options for clients with disabilities. 

Buffer zones

Grable points to the importance of the distance between advisors and their clients —the buffer zone. “Among US financial advisory clients, this distance is between 48 and 60 inches," he says, adding that gender and cultural differences will impact these benchmarks. “For instance, women are more comfortable with smaller buffer zones, whereas men prefer a larger interaction distance (but) when a client and financial advisor are of the opposite sex, clients tend to prefer a wider buffer zone."

Understand environmental effects

The colors of your office can also have an impact. Neutral colors (white, beige, light grey) are usually best for walls but you can add pops of color with art, plants and furniture. “The consensus is that hung pictures should be texturally complex, representing natural scenes," writes Grable. “Financial advisory clients typically find abstract art, urban scenes, and pictures of people to be stressful."

Find what works for you

Together, it's the way you communicate and the space in which you connect with clients that fosters trust and enhances their experience. Taking the time to consider your approach and how you can improve it, will go a long way in establishing lasting relationships with clients.