The 4-Step Coach Approach to Client Service
Before CPA financial planners can provide expert counsel to clients, they first must get to know them in a very meaningful way. The process involves asking self-reflective questions and something I like to call the “coach approach” to client discovery.
The coach approach is a cooperative process, or a two-way street, and comes from material published by motivational expert Michael Pantalon. A good planner (the coach) guides and motivates, imparting knowledge along the way, but the client must also have some skin in the game with a commitment to executing the plan. After all, a basketball player could be coached to improve his game, but the player must commit to practice, and ultimately perform, before any real progress can be made.
Here are four steps to the “coach approach”:
Step 1: Ask Simple Questions
When we go through discovery, we’re coaching clients to become more aware of what’s important to them. We do this through one-on-one meetings where we identify the areas to explore. With the coach approach, we go one step further by asking self-reflective questions, which lead to answers that can help us coach the client.
Here are some examples:
- What’s most important to you?
- What would it take to attain it?
- What steps can you take to put that in place?
- How soon can it be done?
- Once those questions are answered, would you like me to follow up with you in the timeframe you indicate to see if you, in fact, did take those actions?
These are simple questions with some surprising outcomes. For example, when I went through discovery with a married couple, I asked the wife, “What’s missing in your life?” She thought about it, paused, and said, “a dog.” The look on her husband’s face was priceless because I knew he had just bought her a Mercedes. He probably was thinking, I could have just purchased her a dog!
Step 2: Show Respect & Listen
When asking these questions, demonstrate respect for the client and be a good listener. Acknowledge that the client is the foremost expert on his or her own life, and listen for triggers to help you create the financial plan. Be open minded and nurturing to each client’s personal situation.
Step 3: Implementation
Now is the time to offer realistic options, working with your clients to create step-by-step plans.
Begin by discussing the choices for investing based on tax planning and diversification. Assess their risk to determine their insurance needs. See how your client is spending money, and work on budgeting strategies and debt management. Most of all, work together to come up with some realistic goals. This is different for each client and is often affected by priorities and current life stage. For example, they may be ready to retire and sail the world, or instead, save for their kids’ college education.
Every client has such different needs and goals that each one will have a different plan and strategy. That’s why listening, cooperating and coaching is so important.
Step 4: Accountability & Encouragement
Reflect back on the five simple questions in step one. Asking “how” and “what” triggers possibilities and focuses on the positive. The questions above may seem simple on the surface, but they are quite powerful and go a long way toward building a strong and successful relationship with your clients. Having that accountability and offering encouragement along the way establishes a process that helps clients attain results.
A Collaborative Solution
The coach approach is just one way to look at financial planning; the best approach is one that works for you and for your clients. Regardless what you do, make it a collaborative process. Your clients will respect and respond more readily, and your services and solutions will get them the results they need.
Mark Astrinos, CPA/PFS, Vista Wealth Management, LLC. Mark is a wealth advisor at an RIA located in the heart of the Silicon Valley. A Registered Life Planner®, he is passionate about helping clients find a healthy balance between money and life. Along with Jean-Luc Bourdon, CPA/PFS, he recently presented “Gaining Confidence and Building Rapport in Client Meetings” for members of the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning Section. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coach's whistle courtesy of Shutterstock.