clients_are_experts-1I bet you think you treat your clients with respect and I’m sure you do.  The real question is do you recognize and appreciate your clients for the expertise they have.  Specifically I’m talking about expertise in what makes their lives better.

If we made the change from clients looking to us for advice to one where clients look to us as thinking partners I think you would see a huge difference in client relations.

You would ask a lot more questions.

I know that when I’m dealing with an expert, I ask lots of questions.  I don’t think I have all of the answers.  I want to find out what the person I’m working with knows and how I can learn from them.

We have lots of expertise we get to use with our clients.  But first, we need to make sure that we really understand what’s important with our clients and what help they would like from us. 

The best way I know to get this information is to ask lots of questions.  I don’t just hear what they want; I ask why it’s important.  I don’t ask why once, I ask why at least five times.  For me to know what help I might provide I first need to know what we’re trying to accomplish and the core reason for why it’s important.

This will require patience.

Going through a thorough session for what and why can take several hours.  It’s not something you’re going to get done quickly.  At first your clients might not have a simple answer.  After all, life isn’t always a simple and orderly process.

You’re going to be a thinking partner in this part of a client engagement.  You’re going to work with a beginners mind.  It’s hard and it’ll take practice.  Do you think you have it in you?

You would think about how you can involve your clients in the planning process.

You’re going to think more thoroughly about how you can involve your clients in the planning process.  Most advisors get information, work on a plan and then present that plan to the client.

You certainly ask questions about what your client wants.  I have a question for you.  How often do you do a plan to only have to redo it two, three or more times before it is what the client wants?  What if you were to do a plan together?  I bet you would see that the planning process would take much less time.

You would look at your client relationships as being collaborative.

When you start thinking of your clients as experts on their lives you automatically start working with your client in a much more collaborative manner. 

An easy way to start collaborating with clients is in the initial planning process.  If you use mind maps you can start right from the beginning.  As you discuss what your clients want to achieve and why; doing a mind map together on a big screen starts to level the playing field.

A second step might be in putting together the initial financial plan.  Instead of taking information from your client and assembling a plan you might try getting the raw information entered before your meeting.  Once your client enters your office you bring the raw information up in your planning program.  Together you start asking questions like how much, when and where. This allows you and your client to ask what would happen if questions.  I can promise you that your clients will become much more engaged in the process if you do this.

Instead of having several iterations of the plan taking weeks of time, you can finish the initial planning process in a matter of an hour or two.  Doesn’t that make more sense?

You would use communication tools that encouraged two way communication.

A truly collaborative planning process would involve finding new tools that are aimed at leveling the field of expertise.  Many of these tools would allow the client to take control of the planning process.  You get to stop being the only expert in the room.

You get to use the knowledge you’ve gained over years of helping clients think about what’s important in their life.  You help them stay the course and help them think about what’s really important in their life and most importantly why it’s important.

You would learn things about your clients that surprise you.

When I first adopted this style of working with my clients I found things about my clients that truly surprised me.  I no longer worked using stereotypes about the people who walked in my office.  I started seeing each person as unique.

Yes, those from the same groups had similar problems.  I knew where typical pressure points would be.  I could probe using that knowledge.  At the same time, I found there were important differences that allowed me to be a better advisor.  And, for me that was incredibly satisfying.

It’s really not that hard.

Here are some things that you can start with.  Think about starting with a beginners mind.  Pretend you don’t know anything about why your client wants what they think they want.  Start with questions and stay with questions for at least the first few hours you spend with a new client.

Next, drill down on why.  This is the key with treating your clients as experts.  If we ask why, we allow our clients to own what’s important in their life.  Getting to core reasons keeps us thinking about whether our clients are staying true to what they want.  When they wander, it’s our job to help bring them back.  To me, that’s a great role and one that I’m personally proud to play.

Are you willing to think about what ways you can bring clients into a more active role in your practice?  Let me know what you find.  The comments area below is a great place to start.

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Topics: collaboration, Creating Value, experts, customer service

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