Crisis Communications: When Your Clients are Facing the Unknown

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Crisis Communications: When Your Clients are Facing the UnknownCritical illness, death, injury and even a layoff or early retirement are often uncharted territory for people until they are experienced first-hand. These life events are often unplanned and unexpected, and in many cases, require life-changing decisions to be made almost immediately. This is nothing short of a personal crisis for those experiencing it, and dealing with a “crisis” adds another layer of complication and emotion.

As a trusted advisor, you’re likely one of the first people a client would turn to when experiencing such an event. And you need to be prepared to guide them. Communication is key to build unrelenting trust with your clients—particularly in times of personal crisis and when facing the unknown. I, like many of you likely have to, have experienced first-hand the uncharted territory that comes with a family member receiving a devastating diagnosis. In my case, we were left asking “what now?” Having a first-hand perspective of both extremes, from the “status quo” to “the best” care in the country, there are remarkable differences that should be noted and applied to your financial planning practice.

So, how can you deliver a “best in class” experience to your financial services clients when they’re facing the unknown? You need to be a voice of comfort and a source of strength when these situations arise and provide proactive communications to help guide them through their personal crisis whenever possible. When planning your approach to crisis communications, here are three guidelines to follow.

1. Don’t assume they know as much as you do. In your perspective, telling them to do something or that you’re going to do something on their behalf may make perfect sense. It’s the right thing to do, so why not just do it! But, not telling them why you’re making this recommendation, and the various steps that need to take place to get this recommendation in place is a mistake.

Let’s put this in financial terms. Say your client unexpectedly lost their job and you say, “Let’s take some money out of the market and put it in a bank account.” The recommendation is a good one, but to your client they may question why. From their perspective, this is the time when they need the most growth. The market is doing well, they don’t have a job and need the ROI, so why would their advisor recommend they make less? Without explaining the “why” for the recommended course of action, the client will always be left wondering if you truly have their best interest at heart. So, when working with a client experiencing the unknown, slow down, start at the beginning, explain the next steps thoroughly and why, and then open it up for questions.

2. Be prepared. First, don’t come to an appointment without reviewing why someone has requested it. You can’t “wing” everything, and trying to do so when someone is experiencing a personal crisis only shows you don’t care. If a crisis is looming, you’ll want to know the details in advance. If someone is requesting time with you separate from your normal meetings, be sure to train your team to ask the right questions to identify the reason for the request ahead of time. Be prepared to discuss their situation.

Second, something just happened, and they’re coming to you with the “now what” question. When facing the unknown, people need guidance, but emotions cause them to forget to ask the right questions when in the moment. Be prepared with materials for the common forms of crises your clients may experience. Having professional materials for every aspect of a crisis or unknown situation will further solidify your value and importance as a partner.

Consider the client whose spouse was just diagnosed with cancer, as an example. She comes to you to find out if they can afford the best care, discuss their estate plan, insurance – whatever it may be. When these types of situations arise, having checklists, booklets or other instructional information about key things to consider when a healthcare crisis strikes and the clear steps to take is an invaluable resource and can provide them a sense of relief in an otherwise extremely challenging time.

3. Have some bedside manners. What may seem to be the most obvious of all, sadly isn’t always a consideration. How you say something is as important as what you’re actually saying. You can’t afford to retire…you will run out of money. Your kids will never go to college because you didn’t save enough. Simple etiquette and communication tactics can make all the difference. Whether verbally communicating or in writing, try delivering information like this:

  • Share the good, then the bad: The good news is you have saved enough for Johnny to go to college debt-free for 2 years without impacting your retirement plans. Thereafter there are a lot of low-interest student loans that he can apply for to finish the last 2 years. And we can walk you through how to do it.
  • Give them the problem immediately followed by the solution: Bob, if you were to retire today with your savings and Social Security, you have about two-thirds of what you’ll need to maintain the lifestyle you want. So, scaling back (your hopes and dreams for retirement) is an option, but I also have some different solutions for you to consider to help get you where you want to go (back to point 2: be prepared).

If you struggle with the delivery of information, materials for these common occurrences could be a good option to help guide you and a client through these difficult conversations.

Communication is key during times of crisis. Provide knowledge and support. Knowledge is power. Knowledge reassures. Knowledge is knowing that no matter what happens or the ultimate outcome of their personal crisis, you were able to inform your client, and they were able to make the best possible decision for the situation as a result. That’s piece of mind, and giving that to someone is priceless.

For help in creating proactive communication pieces and strategies to help your clients through the unknown, contact AdvisorPR at (866) 888-5333 or email us at

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