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Four Tips for Building Trust in an Uncertain World

Earning trust is not a one-time deal. Here’s how to keep clients trusting you throughout your relationship with them.

I begin with a true story: When the husband of a long-term client couple died, the advisor maintained a close relationship with the widow. He sent her cards and called regularly. She confided in him. They began making changes to the portfolio and other financial decisions when she felt ready.  

After about 18 months, the widow sadly told him she could no longer trust several people she previously believed were trustworthy, and that people really do take advantage of widows. He replied that he certainly hoped he remained in the category of “trustworthy” and would always do whatever he could to serve her interests. Two weeks later, she left a message that she was switching to an advisor with whom a widowed friend of hers had worked for years, and she asked for all of her data and information. Despite his repeated attempts, she never communicated with him again. 

Tips to Tick Up the “Trust Meter”

While some situations like the above are unavoidable, the advisor could have done one major thing differently—something you can do with your clients—is to ask more thoughtful questions. Imagine, for instance, this scenario:  

  1. She sadly recounts her loss of trust, and he leans forward with interest. This creates a positive psychological effect. Then he asks: “How do you know who you can trust and who you can’t? What are your criteria for trustworthiness?”
  2. As she answers, he asks for examples, which undoubtedly elicits stories of betrayals. He offers brief and genuine sympathetic responses. He may shake his head in dismay or say things like “It’s so wrong when that happens” or “That must have been hard.” But then he immediately turns the focus back to her by saying, “Tell me more.”  
  3. As she continues to talk, he takes brief notes and attempts to distill her stories into definable criteria. He clarifies by asking, “What I hear you saying is … is that accurate, or how is it different? Help me understand clearly.” Eventually, when he reads his rendition of her top criteria for trustworthiness, she nods her head and says “Exactly.” 
  4. Then he takes one further step: “Thank you for sharing that. I believe I understand you better now. And I’d like to bring this to bear on our professional relationship with each other. Given your criteria, do you see where I could improve? What bothers you about our interactions, and what do you wish I would do differently? If you aren’t ready to answer right now, that’s OK. You can think about it and I’ll call next week to get your input. I’m always trying to improve, and your answers could help me with all my other valued clients as well. I know that earning trust is not a one-time deal, and I want to earn your trust over and over again.” 

If she willingly gives input, there is a greater chance that her trust level remains high. If she hesitates or says “I’ll think about it,” perhaps her trust is not as complete as the advisor assumed, or perhaps in her own mind she has already made the decision to leave. Regardless, by reacting this way to her concerns, the widow knows his goal is to understand her as a person rather than to defend himself (something she probably heard from any number of people who then proceeded to take advantage of her). This is the best way to tick up the “trust meter” in her mind.  

The best part: You don’t need to be in a similar situation to use this strategy. In fact, these types of questions are a valuable addition to your next review meeting. For instance, “I know trust is not earned just once and I try to earn my clients’ trust over and over again. I’m wondering whether you can help me out with that. Overall, how do you judge whether you can trust a professional service provider?”  

Listen, invite stories and clarify until you can review the client’s criteria aloud and get full consent. Then ask for input on your specific relationship, so you can improve how you relate.  

In this process, your client will feel valued, heard and appreciated. At the same time, you get indispensable information about how to best serve that client and retain their business in an uncertain and doubt-filled environment.  

The bottom line: You have nothing to lose by asking. You have potentially a client to lose if you don’t. 

Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professions in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the transitions and losses of life. 

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