Financial planning is a relationship business, but in our increasingly mobile and time-stressed society, it’s harder than ever to maintain face-to-face relationships. Not just because it may be difficult to find a time to schedule an in-person meeting with clients, but also because many clients relocate and aren’t even in the area for a face-to-face meeting!
Yet with the rise of broadband internet access, it is now increasingly feasible to use video to connect with clients at a distance. Of course, many advisors already communicate with clients at a distance via emails and telephone calls, but the significance of video is that it literally puts the “face-to-face” back into a distance-based relationship. You can see the client, the client can see you, and all the non-verbal communication that is lost in a telephone call or an email comes back into the conversation.
And notably, video is relevant not just for maintaining face-to-face relationships with existing clients, but as a means to build a relationship with new clients as well. In fact, arguably it may be even more feasible than ever for advisors to build relationships with new clients at a distance, as video allows even those who have never “met” in person to get to know each other, face to face!
The Challenge Of Working With Clients At A Distance – Losing The Face To Face Connection
Historically, the delivery of financial planning has been a face-to-face proposition. Advisors meet with their clients in person to establish the trust necessary to form a fruitful financial planning relationship. We break bread together, and spend time together getting to know one another. Data is gathered in person, and plan recommendations are delivered in person.
Yet the reality for almost any experienced financial planner is that while all of the client relationships may have started as an in-person face-to-face meeting, many are not that way anymore, given our increasingly mobile society. The client who started out local got a job transfer to another part of the country. The working client successfully retired, and in the transition moved to a warmer and sunnier climate. In some cases, it was the planner who relocated, perhaps to support a spouse’s job, or be closer to family. Whatever the cause, the advisor now has relationships that started out in person, but no longer afford much opportunity for in-person meetings.
Fortunately, modern technology does allow the means to maintain some connection, whether it’s by telephone check-in calls or communicating via email. Yet the reality is that it’s hard to have the same level of connection and relationship through phone calls alone, especially when it’s time for a difficult conversation. We strain to hear the subtleties of the client’s tone of voice for any clues about how they’re handling the situation. And if it’s a couple, there’s no way to read the responses of the spouse who isn’t speaking up on the call.
Similarly, email may be efficient for brief interactions or relaying factual information, but it is often problematic when it comes to more emotional issues, as written text alone often fails to communicate the emotion and subtext of the conversation, for better or for worse. And of course, some people are better (or worse) writers in the first place. But even for the most gifted of written communicators, some conversations just can’t be had via emails alone.
In practice, some firms will even periodically travel to distant clients, just to maintain the opportunity for in-person face-to-face connections. Yet the challenge is that as the number of distance-based clients grows, so too does the volume of travel, which can eventually become overwhelming. While flying out to have a meal might be feasible for a small subset of top clientele, it is not very feasible to service an entire client base, or even a large percentage of it, in most cases.
Using Video To Bring Back The Face-To-Face Meeting
So what can be done to maintain a deeper relationship with distant clients as a virtual advisor, short of traveling regularly to see each one of them? The answer in a word: video.
While just 10 years ago, the (limited) distribution of high-speed internet meant that many people had no means for watching and streaming video from their home (or office), the explosion of high-speed broadband at home (from 3% of households in 2000 to 70% by 2013) has resolved this issue for most of the country. In other words, most homes have internet connections with download speeds capable of supporting video… as evidenced by the rapid rise of NetFlix and similar on-demand video services.
Yet the expanded accessibility of high-speed internet isn’t just about the potential to watch videos and movies, but also to use video as a two-way communication tool. Most laptops and modern computer monitors have a webcam built in, to support the ability to do video chat with services like Skype. Front-facing cameras on tablets and smartphones make it feasible to have video conversations from virtually anywhere, using tools like Facetime or Google Hangouts.
The significance of these tools, though, is that with video, communication is once again face-to-face. Literally, video enables a conversation where the participants can see each other face-to-face, in a manner that simply does not exist with telephone calls and email correspondence. Given research suggesting that the overwhelming majority of communication actually comes from not just the words we say but the non-verbal cues (much of which like gestures, posture, and facial expressions, we have to see to perceive), the availability of video is a dramatic expansion and enrichment of the communication process. In other words, video allows the client to maintain a deeper connection with the advisor; we are social beings, and we like to connect visually.
In other words, the use of video brings back much of the key parts of communication that exists in an in-person meeting, but is lost with a distant client where the interaction is solely by telephone and email. The interaction with the client may not end with a handshake like a physical in-person meeting, but it is still a face-to-face meeting!
Tools For Doing Video Meetings With Clients
So what kinds of tools are available to do video meetings with clients?
The first key requirement is to recognize that meeting virtually with a client typically will require both sharing of information – e.g., statements, performance reports, financial plan results, etc. – that the advisor and client need to see together, as well as the need to actually be able to see each other (e.g., via a webcam). This means effective software tools must allow for both the simultaneous “screensharing” of material and the use of a “video chat” where the participants can see each other.
One option for doing this is the popular GoToMeeting platform, which makes it possible to both screenshare information with a client, and include a window for video feeds where the advisor and client can see each other. Another option is the premium version of Skype, which makes it possible to simultaneously screenshare a document and include a video feed. By contrast, though, the Google Hangouts platform forces the advisor to either screenshare a document or view video, but makes it impossible to do both simultaneously.
In considering the options, the virtue of Skype is that from the client perspective, many are already familiar and comfortable with the platform; however, GoToMeeting currently has more functionality, such as creating calendar invites with meeting details that can be easily sent to clients and incorporated into the advisor’s own calendar tools (e.g., Google Calendar or Outlook).
Notably, as virtual meetings become more popular, new/different software tools are being launched regularly that may trump even the popular GoToMeeting and Skype options; again, the key is that whatever solution will be used must be able to share documents and include a bi-directional video feed (advisor sees client and client sees advisor), and ideally is convenient to set up meetings, send invitations via email to the client with the requisite meeting link, and integrate easily with calendar software.
Of course, it’s also important to note that doing video meetings with clients necessitates having some sort of webcam so the clients can see you. While many/most laptops have built-in webcams, as do many computer monitors, and most tablets, from the advisor’s perspective it’s worthwhile to consider spending a little extra to ensure having a high-quality webcam that will convey professionalism. I use the Logitech HD Pro C920, and other similar webcam devices from the respected Logitech line are a good option to consider as well.
Notably, doing video conferencing with a client also necessitates the client having a webcam as well. Again, many clients may not realize that they already have one included with their laptop, computer monitor, or tablet (or even a smartphone, but from a client’s perspective, it will be difficult to see/view a screenshared document on such a small screen). For those that don’t, the advisor might even consider purchasing one (e.g., via Amazon) on behalf of a client and having it delivered to them, and/or even purchasing via a store like BestBuy and having Geek Squad go out to the client’s house to install and set it up; all-in, the cost even with installation would likely be no more than $150 - $200, a modest price given that many advisory firms generate $2,000/year, $5,000/year, $10,000/year, or more from some clients! And not only is it a nice service for a client, and for even a “moderately” affluent client, the “return on investment” for the advisor will come the first time a meeting is shorter, doesn’t have to be cancelled/rescheduled, and/or the advisor simply saves a drive going out/back to visit with the client in person!
Using Video Chats To Engage Prospective Clients As Well
Notably, while video meeting tools can be effective as a means to keep the “face-to-face” connection with a client who has relocated out of the area, ultimately video meetings are relevant not only for existing clients, but prospective ones as well. After all, the growing capabilities for online search to find advisors, and inbound marketing strategies for niche advisors to attract new clients to them, will make it increasingly feasible for consumers to find “the best” advisor for their needs, regardless of geography – which means more and more advisors may find themselves talking to potential new clients who are not local.
And in point of fact, video may actually be especially powerful as a tool for establishing a new relationship with a client at a distance, as the lack of any prior in-person meetings means video may be the only means of establishing rapport and good communication with a “face-to-face” meeting. While ‘static’ video on a website can help facilitate this process – e.g., an advisor “bio” video that clients can view to get familiar with the firm – it’s still not the same as ‘live’ two-way communication to build rapport.
Accordingly, for virtual advisors looking to create a location-independent practice and develop business with new clients online – and/or who may simply find distance-based clients attracted to or referred to them – consider adopting video as a means to do an “approach talk” with a prospective client as well. Arguably, for what will otherwise be a distance-based relationship, that face-to-face video opportunity is more important than ever!
So the next time you field a call or email from a prospective client (who isn’t local), consider responding “We like to keep a face-to-face connection with all of our clients, even the ones we work with at a distance. So in evaluating whether we’re a good fit, we’d like to get to know you via a video meeting. Here are the details to connect and meet us face-to-face…”
So what do you think? Have you ever conducted client meetings ‘virtually’ using video? How did you find it contrasts with “just” using the telephone to talk with distance-based clients? Were your clients receptive to using the technology? Have you ever met with a prospective client via video?