For those advisers aspiring to greater things, two recent pieces of research may contain the insights they need to drive their business further, according to Zurich’s Richard Dunkerley.
A week after we revealed the extent to which advisers were adopting mobile technology and social media at a rate much faster than the overall community, we were excited when our latest partnership with the AFA and the Beddoes Institute bore fruit in the form of the ‘Trusted Adviser’ whitepaper.
This whitepaper, based on over 500 client interviews, quantified the extent to which Australia’s leading advisers are trusted by their clients, and more importantly quantified the business benefits of achieving such status.
The whitepaper also found that technical expertise, qualifications and experience are mere hygiene factors these days, and what clients truly value most in their adviser are their interpersonal skills; sometimes called ‘soft skills’ but in a modern context defined as ‘emotional intelligence’ (or EQ).
These superior interpersonal skills, identified by 82 per cent of clients surveyed as the attributes they most value in their adviser, comprise: communication, rapport building, caring, understanding needs, listening and empathy.
Although these two studies were independent of each other, combining the insights from both makes for an extremely powerful competitive advantage.
Put simply, these advisers who are able to harness the power of ‘new media’ to exhibit their EQ may well grab a head-start over their peers as we head into a new era of consumer empowerment.
So how exactly can you demonstrate your EQ through social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter and through the latest mobile technology such as smart phones and tablets?
1. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes from the outset and think mobile first
The Yellow Pages is a product of a bygone era; today your prospects will find out about you via Google, and then in turn via your website and your social media presence.
We are almost at the tipping point of more online activity being done via mobile devices than via desktops and laptops.
The implications of this? Think about employing the ‘mobile first’ philosophy when designing your online presence.
At the time of writing, very few advisers have optimised their website for smartphones. Doing so makes a massive positive difference to your accessibility and user experience. The first advisers to do this will steal a march on their peers.
2. Remember what is important to clients, every step of the way
Leading advisers all rate highly on technical expertise and experience. It’s why clients decide they need advice, but it’s not how they choose an adviser.
As the whitepaper proved, clients are interested in the real you, the person behind the desk. And yet the landing pages of most adviser websites focus on all the technical detail (qualifications, experience, services offered). This misses the point of what clients are looking for.
Think about this as your opportunity to speed date, and share content that focuses on the real you; why you do what you do, your interests outside of your business, your philosophy on life.
Not all clients will suit all advisers (and vice versa).
Cutting to the chase and focusing on what’s important can make relationship building much more efficient.
If you are one of the 70 per cent of advisers already using LinkedIn, this point is particularly crucial, as it has implications for the way you maintain your LinkedIn profile.
What’s important to clients informs the way they search, meaning your profile should be keyword-friendly and exhibit the real you, rather than just a laundry list of your job titles and qualifications.
3. How to show you care
The massive uptake in usage of social media has undoubtedly been fuelled by the growth in mobile technology which has made it easier than ever before to connect.
But beware, many mobile versions of these social platforms cut out some of the ‘niceties’.
On LinkedIn for example, an invitation to connect sent from the mobile app will automatically use the default message ‘I’d like to connect’, which is about as personal as a bucket of cold water.
If you care enough to connect, you should care enough to craft a personalised message about why you want to connect, which means using the full version of LinkedIn.
Similarly, thank every new twitter follower you accumulate (at least every genuine one!), and open up your website to comment to show the value you place on your client’s feedback.
4. Prove you are listening
One of the most basic listening skills involves playing back a conversation, perhaps asking questions that demonstrate you have been paying attention and are interested in what the other person has said. In a social media context this means engaging in two-way conversation, rather than simply using social as a one-way broadcast channel.
Think of it as a legitimate communication platform, the same as email or the telephone. Participate in group discussions, share content, share opinions.
When social media guru and author Scott Stratten spoke at this year’s MDRT meeting in Philadelphia he said the only metric that mattered to him was that 75 per cent of his tweets were actually replies to tweets from his thousands of followers. It shows he’s listening, and cares enough to carry on the conversation.
Empathy can mean a lot of things; in a social media context it can mean tailoring your content to your audience.
In an ideal world, content would be totally personalised – to an individual level – and certainly the quality of smartphone video cameras these days makes it entirely practical to produce video content personalised to individual clients.
Of course depending on your business this isn’t always practical, but thinking in terms of your client segments may well be.
6. Be there when you are needed
One of the most powerful case studies to come out of last year’s SMILEYS awards for social media best practice involved an adviser who followed his clients on social media, and through monitoring a conversation stream between his client and an airline, determined his client’s child was seriously ill.
The adviser was able to get on the front foot and put the wheels in motion for a child trauma insurance claim, a demonstration of caring which was undoubtedly appreciated by his client who would have had other things on his mind at such a stressful time.
There is much skepticism about the business value of social media, but one way to break down the barrier to acceptance is to show how the secrets to success in this new world are actually the same fundamental ‘soft’ skills that have always driven success in the advice profession.
Indeed, as the famous New York Yankees pitcher – Peter ‘Yogi’ Berra – put it, “it’s déjà vu, all over again”.
Richard Dunkerley is head of marketing for Zurich’s life and investments business.