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Creating Great Expectations

The lack of clearly understood expectations is the source of all sorts of strife in relationships, the cause of most conflicts, and the beginning of poor performance. In an adviser-client relationship unset expectations undermine the confidence your client has in you. If you don’t take the trouble to set realistic expectations – for them AND for yourself — then it won’t be long before unrealistic fantasies start to arise for you and your team drift into burn-out.

Here are three key strategies for successfully setting a client’s expectations…

1. Set the scene

Explain the reasons a brief conversation like this is a good idea. For example, it can sound like this:

“For you to extract all the value this relationship has to offer, let’s talk about how we will work best together so you can accomplish the results you want.”

2. What you expect of me

Assuming there’s no arm-wrestle about that, you can now invite your client to tell you what they want from you. It’s possible they’ve not given the matter a lot of thought, now’s the opportunity for them to do that thinking. Encourage them to keep going as you write down these gold nuggets.

Once they’ve exhausted what’s on their mind, here’s where you can take their breath away: “That’s great, I appreciate that. Can I make some suggestions?

This is your opportunity to showcase your values, your level of organisation and experience, your commitment to ‘have their back’. It also paves the way for the next step, where you get to set some ground rules for their behaviour too.

Suggestions you make are totally up to you – it could be about what they should be entitled to in terms of…

  • performance standards (for example, call-back turnaround times),
  • accountability (such as “we believe you’re entitled to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even when it’s ugly or it makes us unpopular – our role is to have your back”),
  • company priorities (for instance “if there’s an insurance claim, we are at call – that’s always our number one priority”)

Before having a conversation like this, ask yourself what would a savvy, no-nonsense, commercially and financially successful – but reasonable — client expect of an adviser? There’s some gold in those answers.

3. What I expect of you

You’ve now created an ‘obligation vacuum’ – it’s your turn to ‘make it mutual’ by setting some ground rules for them to agree to. It can sound like this:

“We’re going to need to agree on a couple of things from you so we can do our job …”

It could be about anything that takes your fancy, such as…

  • performance standards (for example, “we don’t get you to fill in forms unless absolutely necessary, so anything we do give you we want attended to fully and returned promptly, does that sound reasonable?”),
  • accountability (such as “our job is to hold everyone on your team (including you!) accountable to do the work your goals require — so you can have reasons or excuses but not both, is that fair?”),
  • personal values (for instance “please interact with my team as though you were interacting with me, are you okay with that?” or “we need you to pay us on time, every time – is that going to be possible?”).

Take some time to reflect on your best clients, the ones you enjoy working with the most. How do they behave? What is it that makes the relationship so productive and satisfying? Aim for those.

Notice how you ask your client each time to confirm that this is acceptable. Sure, it’s not a legal contract, but unless there is some sort of explicit agreement from the client to honour what has just been exchanged then you are losing the opportunity to have a conversation like this, when it might be called for:

“Client, with love in my heart and a smile on my face: remember when we talked about this? We agreed on this and I need to hold you to that. So tell me, when can you get that to us, seeing as you’ve committed to me that you would?”

I’m serious about what I do

That’s the reason the ‘Expectations Conversation’ is one of the most valuable tools in your kit. It can be pulled out of your toolkit and put into action any time, but it is particularly effective early in the relationship. The expectations conversation makes life much easier down the road.

Your Questions Answered

The Expectations Conversation is one of the key areas for which our members requested expert guidance and resources, and is expanded more fully in PIFA’s eCourse for Financial Advisers, “The Path to Professionalism”.

We’re about to launch a new version of the eCourse and would love to hear what YOU specifically want to see included. Where are you experiencing the biggest challenges? Where would you like to see the greatest growth in your business? Simply email us at – and you’ll be the first to know when the new eCourse launches.