Anyone can become an advisor - but not everyone can become trusted.
Trust is the holy grail of all great client relationships. As tax professionals, we know that the quality and depth of our client relationships is the foundation for a successful career, and how we show up for them will determine our future.
In an industry where suspicion and distrust can abound, the phrase you want to hear from all of your clients is: 'you're the advisor I can trust.'
Becoming a pillar of trust
Did you know that professionals only like their clients 20-30% of the time? The rest of the time, they conduct business without an emotional attachment. That means most of us could do with spending some time working on our' trust factor.'
According to the book The Trusted Advisor, by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford, a trusted advisor is some who:
"is capable of totally and completely devoting himself, his caring and his attention to the client."
However, it's not just about 'doing the right thing'. Trust is a currency that is earned over a period of time.
In the book, the authors define several aspects of building trust that will set you apart from the rest.
Building trust in a client is essentially about building their confidence in you. The more confidence they have in you to handle their affairs wisely, the more trusted you'll become across your field.
How can tax professionals dispense advice that will be trusted?
Being trusted is about being helpful. It is about being a pillar of service to others, so we need to meet clients where they are at emotionally:
"Since clients are often anxious and uncertain, they are, above all, looking for someone who will provide reassurance, calm their fears and inspire confidence."
In the book, they outline the attributes of a trusted advisor:
- They focus on the client rather than themselves.
- They listen without prejudging and interrupting.
- They have curiosity, inquiring without guessing an answer.
- They see their client as an equal
- They subordinate their ego to get the job done.
- They believe that a focus on solving the problem is more important than technical know-how.
- They continuously find ways to be of greater service.
- They have an intrinsic motivation to do the right thing and focus on it next.
- They view methodologies as a means to an end and aren't afraid to change the rulebook.
- They seek out personal contact with clients and take risks to get the job done well.
According to the David Maister, there's also a five-step way to ensure clients trust your advice on every issue, "engagement, listening, framing the problem, sketching an alternative solution and formulating an acceptable plan."
Language is also important. Instead of explaining something in black and white, frame your advice with 'softer' language, presenting a couple of suggestions as to your plan of action.
Successful, trusted advisors consider how clients will respond, taking into account their considerations, the company politics and their emotions. They anticipate their needs and take steps to accommodate them.
It's also helpful to be clear when there are knowledge gaps in your practice. Trying to be omnipotent and know everything doesn't serve the client; being human is where the kernels of trust can grow.
Showing a willingness to rethink the plan and to change what isn't working is also a critical factor in success.
How can you become more of a trusted advisor? It starts with measuring where you are now.
Try reflecting on your client relationships. This can be each week, each month, and each year. What went well? Were there any communication challenges? How can you overcome them?
Remember, becoming trusted is a process that grows over time. As the "Trusted Advisor" states:
"Learning to focus on the other (person) isn't an instantaneous decision: it's a lifelong learning experience!"
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