Now, during a time of multifaceted crisis when so many are reeling from not only the pandemic but also its widespread socioeconomic impact, long-term solitude and uncertainty, and the rest of the tragic mess that has been 2020, it has become increasingly clear: not only does the public abhor a hypocrite, but especially false compassion. So how do advisors separate themselves from this crowd of fake smiles?
We’ve all gotten the emails, seen the commercials, and heard the radio or Spotify ads; it seems that every business under the sun really wants us to know how much they understand the difficulties we’re facing during these so-called “unprecedented times”. In some ways that’s true; businesses big and small, people rich and poor, folks of all ages, genders, races, religions, and creeds have been impacted by COVID-19.
That said, at this point we can all acknowledge that, for the most part, it’s more about optics; after all, it’s bad branding to appear unconcerned about a global health emergency and go on with business as usual. Brands want to keep our business, and perhaps even use this as an opportunity to stand out from the crowd by showing how much more they care than their competitors. Coupled with the fact that they all seem to be reading off the same script, it means that no one is really buying these platitudes; if anything, regular people are simply tuning these ad campaigns out, or calling out brands for actively risking the health of the employees and customers they claim to be so invested in.
Even Ellen, well-known for her personal affability and messages of compassion, has recently faced criticism for cultivating a hostile work environment and treating employees and fans with derision. Her brand, built on her public persona as an avatar of kindness, is now beginning to crumble as alleged media coverage of her possible inauthenticity occurs. Now, during a time of multifaceted crisis when so many are reeling from not only the pandemic but also its widespread socioeconomic impact, long-term solitude and uncertainty, and the rest of the tragic mess that has been 2020, it has become increasingly clear: not only does the public abhor a hypocrite, but especially false compassion. So how do advisors separate themselves from this crowd of fake smiles?
The likelihood that clients will run into financial challenges this year (especially due to health crises or other related impacts of COVID-19) is significantly higher than years previous, meaning that it’s more important than ever to be able to interact and respond in a way that doesn’t come off as cold or mechanical. After all, there’s clearly already enough of that to go around. Therefore, well-written client communications are more important than ever, especially so now that face-to-face interactions have become minimal to nonexistent or have moved entirely online.
While it’s always important to be professional, many adults write in a more formal register than their regular speaking tone. It makes sense; we all learned in school how to write a book report or an essay, but not how to write a thoughtful thank-you note to grandma or express concern in a business-appropriate (but nevertheless genuine) way to clients or colleagues. This means that heartfelt concern may unintentionally come across as emotionally distant and disinterested. Reading over business communications to make sure they aren’t cold and short, or even dictating them aloud in an attempt to mimic one’s natural speech, can help advisors convey sympathy and understanding in a more supportive and personalized tone.
Additionally, being able to anticipate client needs and really listening to what clients are saying about what they want is an important aspect of maintaining positive client relationships. In Businessolver’s 2020 State of Workplace Empathy Study, they found that “91% of CEOs say their company is empathetic, but only 68% of employees agree.” While managing clients and managing employees are not the same, the key takeaway is to not rely solely on your own perspective; intent and impact are very different, and it’s important to understand your clients’ point of view. What you may think is kind and thoughtful they may find superficial and insincere, and preventing these kinds of disconnects by actively listening and responding thoughtfully can help prevent unfortunate miscommunications.
Lastly, remember that clients are looking to financial advisors for a specific service rather than emotional support, so keeping your gestures of empathy short and sweet is more than appropriate; even one or two sentences in an email can fulfil this role adequately. At the end of the day it’s your actions more than your words that matter, so while active listening and problem solving are going to be your most valuable assets in making clients feel seen and heard, when it comes down to it, clients are looking for financial advice and not a confidante.
These articles are prepared for general purposes and are not intended to provide advice or encourage specific behavior. Before taking any action, Advisors and Plan Sponsors should consult with their compliance, finance and legal teams.
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