Working remotely podcast

Samantha Duncan and Stephan Nandadasa from our Account Management Unit and Fiona Hanrahan from our Intermediary Development and Technical team discuss best practice hints and tips to help you when you’re working from home.

Listen to Fiona, Samantha and Stephan discuss an overall strategy to help you make sure you contact the right clients, at the right time, with the right message and some hints and tips to help you before calling a client, during the call and after the call.

[Fiona]

Hello everyone and thanks for listening to our podcast today, aimed at helping financial advisers identify best practice when working remotely.

While we all have to do this as a matter of necessity at the moment, it's quite likely this experience will impact the way we work going forward - so lessons learned now could prove invaluable in the future.

My name is Fiona Hanrahan. I'm a Pensions Intermediary Development and Technical Manager with Royal London and I'm joined today by Samantha Duncan and Stephan Nandadasa who are Account Managers in our Account Management Unit.

Sam is on the pensions side and Stephan is on the protection side.

I'll be asking questions of Sam and Stephan as we go through this podcast to draw on their detailed knowledge of conducting person to person business meetings, via a non-face to face medium.

They will be able to provide valuable insight, as this is not new to them. The Account Management Unit conduct all their business remotely via telephone, conference software, email and post. So while the rest of us are coming to grips with this new way of working, Sam and Stephan have been honing their skills and learning what works and what doesn't for a number of years now.

So while we hope this will provide you with some insight into best practice, please note there are no hard and fast rules around this. Some of the things we discuss will work for you and some won't. Nobody is suggesting you need to take every one of these suggestions on board to make a success of remote working.

However, hearing a range of best practices can help you build a more robust and sustainable model now and into the future.

In order to make it easier for everyone to follow, we've broken this podcast up into a number of categories, which we'll deal with in turn.

The first section is looking at an overall strategy to ensure you’re contacting the right clients at the right time, with the right message. From there, we'll move on to the call or meeting itself. We'll look at the pre meeting, during the meeting and then post meeting actions, and then we'll cover off some miscellaneous points that don't fit neatly elsewhere.

So without further ado, Sam and Stephan, thank you so much for joining us.

[Sam]

You're welcome.

[Stephan]

Thanks Fiona. Nice to be here.

[Fiona]

Thank you - so the first question therefore, I'm going to give to Sam.

Sam, what would be your three top strategy tips for advisers thinking about how they should begin dealing with their clients remotely?

[Sam]

Thanks Fiona and hi everyone.

My first tip is to segment your client bank so you can target different groups or individuals with different messages, delivered perhaps by different mediums.

There are many ways to segment your client bank, so it's important to keep a clear focus on what you're trying to achieve. For example, if you predominantly have pension clients, you might split the client bank into those far from retirement, those approaching retirement, those in retirement taking an income and those in retirement not taking an income.

You may have already done some of this in light of MiFID II.

It's helpful as you'll want to tailor the message to the objectives of the client, so segmenting your clients based on their objectives makes it a lot easier to deliver a consistent message to the consistent, sorry, to the section of your client bank for whom it’s relevant.

My second tip is to decide what your message is going to be.

Remember, for many people, this is a worrying time. They’re out of their comfort zone, their world has been turned upside down and they have much more time to dwell on things, which often isn't ideal when there's an abundance of bad news about.

So try your best to keep it positive and practical. Don't be a reporter or an amplifier of bad news, unless there is something practical you want the client to do in light of that news.

Also remember, you can use relevant external contents that you didn't create, provided you've checked the accuracy and you have permission to use it.

This could be helpful for example, when general market updates or broad generic commentary from an industry expert is suitable.

Keep this to a minimum though, as primarily, your clients will want to hear from you.

My third tip, although it might sound pretty basic, is to write a to do list.

I find it works best for me to write out a list of tasks at the start of each day that I’m highly unlikely to be able to finish.

Furthermore, my to do actions are quite granular -  single tasks I can cross off once I've done them.

In an environment where we're all worried about our ability to remain productive, evidence on the page or the screen of what you've achieved already today can be great to keep you motivated.

However, it may just be that despite your best efforts, you cannot achieve some of the tasks. So having a long list of actions aids productivity and allows you to move swiftly on to the next task in hand.

[Fiona]

Thank you Sam. There's some excellent tips there. So the same question then to Stephan.  What are your top three strategy tips for advisers dealing with clients remotely?

[Stephan]

Hi Fiona and hi everyone that’s listening.

Yeah well, my first tip would be to create structure in your day. So consider getting up and starting work at the same time you would if you were going into the office.

Keep your normal routine. If you're going to be doing video calls, make sure you dress appropriately of course. And as well as looking better, it's likely to put you in the right mindset to work, which can be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.

Set a start time, set a lunch break and set a time you're going to finish. I’ve spoken to many self-employed people who regularly work from home and they always tell me the same thing - it's not the starting that's the problem, it’s actually the stopping.

So getting up and travelling into the office, while a bit of a bind at times, it also helps to create a clear distinction between what work time is and what it isn't.

So as soon as home becomes your place of work, that clear distinction is removed and the urge to do that one last thing can sometimes see you still sitting there an hour later, just doing that one last thing.

So have a clear start time, a set lunch time and a set finishing time and try to stick to these. Now you won't always succeed, but you will more often than if you don't have this plan in place.

Within this, I think it's also important to plan the calls or meetings in the day, bearing in mind a few key points.  So one, most people will struggle doing the same thing all day for days on end, so you may want to select blocks of time for meetings and a block of time for admin and other things.

Number two, you need time between meetings. So ensure that when booking meetings, that you set a timeframe for the meeting and then stick to that. You don't want to keep the next person waiting or rush off one call onto another.

Lastly, it's important to remember that you're not a robot. If you were at work, you'd be interacting with people, perhaps moving between meetings or occasionally chatting with colleagues.

There's a strong chance you either won't be doing this or if you’re isolating, or at best you'll be doing much less of it certainly. So take many breaks, perhaps five minutes every hour to get up, stretch your legs and grab a coffee and a breath of fresh air before you start again. Otherwise, you just run the risk of burnout.

My second tip is to explore technology options. Now how I.T. savvy are the bulk of your client bank and how effectively could you upscale those who aren't?

There are a lot of video conferencing tools out there and many of them are quite simple for a client to set up on their P.C. or tablet. Often just by clicking on the link you’ve sent them.

Over the last fortnight, I must have received 20 emails offering webinar or video conferencing support, generally with a free option available. This podcast isn't looking at which video conferencing tool is best, but a few that I'm aware of include Microsoft teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom and Skype for business.

Now don't misunderstand, it's still okay to use the telephone or a letter if that’s what the client would prefer. But if you can offer alternatives and make these easy for the client to access, it can add real value to the interaction.

I know I've heard a lot of noise in the trade press that the legacy of Coronavirus could be a substantial shift in working patterns, even after the threat has passed. So what I'm saying is time invested now in developing your web communication functionality really may reap long term benefits, not just during this crisis but permanently.

My third tip is to make full use of the help that's on offer in the market. Now this could be the offers of free video conferencing software I’ve just mentioned. It could be guides or podcasts like this one. It might even be tips from elsewhere in the industry which help you minimise the disruption to running your business.

Speak to the providers you deal with to see what support they have to offer. Speak with your sales consultants - it's quite likely they're still speaking with a number of other advisers in the same position as you and they'll be hearing best practice and innovative ideas regularly. So they are actually a great source of information.

Many providers will have made tweaks to their rules and processes to help advisers get through this period and some of these may have significant benefits to your clients. So be sure you're aware of what's available.

[Fiona]

Thank you to both of you there, there are some really interesting points.

Now moving on to consider preparing for the meeting or call itself, let's call it the pre meet. Back to Samantha please. What suggestions do you have for advisers preparing for a remote call or meeting with a client, especially if this is quite new to the adviser or the client, or even both?

[Sam]

Yeah. Try to keep your process for arranging meetings as similar to usual as possible.

The exception to this may be if you generally arrange your meetings via email and there's a practical reason for this.

If you're going to use technology to conduct the meeting, it may be easier to arrange the meeting via a phone call so you can discuss how comfortable the client is using this technology. Also if they already have a system that they use, whether you could also use that same system.

Once that's established, try to keep the process as familiar as possible. If you issue a reminder the day before with a call or an email, just continue to do that.

Definitely issue an agenda in advance of the meeting, stating the purpose of that meeting, the topics to be covered and asking the client if there's anything they'd specifically like added to the agenda and the length of time the meeting will last.

Do your best to stick to the meeting duration agreed for the sake of the client, yourself and the client of your next meeting scheduled in.

With regards to preparing for the meeting itself, my top tip is to definitely practice, practice, practice. If you're not used to conducting meetings online, it's likely to feel a little bit foreign initially. So you definitely need to practice it.

Perhaps practice sending someone - a colleague, a spouse, maybe even a friendly client - a link to install the software in a detailed email, with all the steps clearly spelled out and then practice talking them through this on the phone.

If you've decided to use a particular piece of software, spend some time on the provider site as there's likely to be a lot of helpful hints and tips. If any clients are unfamiliar with video conferencing software, and many definitely will be, consider building five minutes into the beginning of the call to ensure they're comfortable with most of the functionality they're likely to need.

Run through things like the web chat - it's a really great way to get quick messages to the other person if the audio drops out, which can happen. How to mute and unmute yourself. How to identify if you're on mute. It may send obvious, but trust me, it does happen. How to change the volume. Once again sounding obvious, but if you're not that tech savvy, it may not be. And how to turn on and off the webcam if relevant.

Also how to maximise the screen and this is particularly relevant if you're going to share your own screen. We don't want your client peering at a minimised box that's only perhaps a quarter of the size of their actual screen.

[Fiona]

Thank you Sam, that's really helpful. Stephan, do you have anything you want to add to the pre meet suggestions?

[Stephan]

Yeah, maybe a few practical tips to add. So make sure superfluous internet devices are switched off, one.

You may even have to ask family members to not use the internet during your video calls or at least not things that use a lot of bandwidth, like complex video games or streaming video.

Make sure the dog is fed of course and walked and outside or in another room. Otherwise you know it's going to start barking as soon as your call begins.

Have a contingency plan as well. People are likely to understand that these are strange times and much of what we're doing is new to everyone. So explaining in the outset what will happen if the technology fails, how you'll try to fix it, how long you'll try to fix it for - no client wants to sit and wait for 20 minutes with occasional text saying nearly there and what will happen if it can't be fixed.

Having a telephone option as a backup is also very important so ensure the client has a mobile to hand. Now you might not want to continue with the mobile, but it does actually allow you to discuss alternative arrangements if need be.

Immediately before the call ensure you have any documents etc. you want to share with the client, loaded and sitting as an open item in the tray at the bottom of your screen. The meeting will definitely run more smoothly if you're not keeping clients waiting while you search online for things.

[Fiona]

OK. That's brilliant. Lots of food for thought there. Thank you. So now let's look at the call or meeting itself. So back to Sam again, what tips do you have for anyone whilst on the call itself?

[Sam]

I think now Fiona, more importantly than ever, it’s important to start with a more social conversation. The technology may feel foreign and people are worried, so not jumping straight to business immediately may help.

Ask them what's concerning them, how they are, family issues and how they're coping with isolation.

As we've seen on TV, with more video conferences happening, it's important to think about the position of the camera, what you're wearing and how you look. Ensure you have the camera eye level, so you're not looking down on your clients and they're not looking up at you at an unflattering angle.

You will have addressed this during the practice, practice, practice in the pre call stage.

Use a headset if possible. It does make it easier to hear and to be heard and it leaves both hands free for typing. Suggest your client does the same if possible. If they have kids, a gaming headset borrowed from their little ones can actually work quite well.

Have an email ready to go to the client. If you don't use it, it's easy enough to cancel after the meeting, but it's handy to have set up in case you need to send something to the client quickly during the call.

Re-establish the agenda and the reason for the call early on, state what you want to cover, check anything they want to cover and approximately how long you expect the call to take. Again, just try to stick to this, particularly if you have other calls scheduled in the diary for that day.

You don't want to keep the next client waiting or even finishing one call, with no time to prep for the next.

Stop regularly to ask the client a question, even if this is just a check that the sound and the video quality is ok, that they're not missing parts of what you say and that the experience is working for them.

In a recent best practice session on webinar I saw, the facilitator said it was optimal to ask the audience a question or give them a task every four minutes to keep them engaged. In a one to one or two person call that will probably happen organically, but be aware, if you feel you've been talking to them for an extended period of time, that you will need to check that you've not really kind of lost them.

While sharing your screen can be a great way to illustrate things to clients, you also need to keep them focused on what you're saying. So share your screen when necessary, but don’t have an endless string of documents popping up because they'll read those, rather than listening to you.

Lastly, discuss any electronic forms that you'd be sending to the client for completion. They may not be, I mean it actually might be an ideal to update the client’s details via an online fact find and it's also a good opportunity for the client to re-complete an online attitude to risk questionnaire.

At the end of the meeting, reconfirm what you and your client have agreed to do and set up the next meeting, if one is required.

[Fiona]

Thank you again Sam and to Stephan, what recommendations do you have post call?

[Stephan]

Well the first thing to say is, what do you usually do and how do you usually do it? I don't imagine you get the client into the office for a post meeting debrief, you probably send something out by post or email, so you need to do that.  

Thank the client for their time and confirm the date of the next meeting. Be clear about any actions you will take post meeting and any actions you expect the client to undertake, with a clear timeframe for these things to be done.

Ask how they found the virtual meeting experience and what improvements, if any, could be made if isolation lasts for a while and you would need to do this again before things get back to normal.

For clients who generally have issues with attending meetings in person, ask them if this will actually be a preferable way of conducting future meetings.

Always diarise to chase up any e-documents, medical questionnaires you’ve left with the client as well.

Take the chance with the post call or call contact to reassure your client that you're here to help and support them throughout this troubling time and that you and the providers you work with have the technological capability to keep supporting them, for as long as this lasts.

[Fiona]

Thank you again Stephan. So let me just summarise where we’re up to.

We've looked at an overall strategy to ensure you’re contacting the right clients, at the right time, with the right message. We've considered what you could do prior to calling a client, during the call and after the call.

So now we're going to ask our expert remote workers Sam and Stephan if they have any other hints and tips which may help you. So Sam, let's start with you again. Do you have any more hints and tips we've not covered yet?

[Sam]

Yeah, really just relating back to planning your day, segmenting your client bank and time management, these are all key aspects for me.

Using time management principles, list everything that you need to do and clients that you need to contact and keep both short term and long term plans.

It's a good idea if you're trying to manage lots of tasks to prioritise these. Consider urgent and important tasks to non urgent and unimportant and then obviously everything in between.

When considering contact, do you have a generic message relevant to your whole or significant sections of your client bank? You could bulk mail or email all of these clients. Perhaps you could create a company newsletter or as we are doing here, run a generic podcast or webinar for your clients.

I also always find it useful to have a loose script with key points highlighted to help me remember exactly what I want to say on a call. And this also helps me deliver a real consistent message, so it's perhaps worth considering this.
Also a couple of quick points around using technology. Connect your laptop to your router whenever possible. Solid objects such as walls and floors can significantly affect the call quality, the signal quality and household compliances or appliances such as microwaves and ovens can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal.

I realise this isn't always easy when you're having to work at your kitchen table, as I am now, but if possible avoid working near these items and try to remain close to your Wi-Fi router.

Also a small thing if you're sharing your screen with a client and you stop sharing it, the lag can be 5 to 10 seconds, so you’ll want to let them know this in advance so that you can reassure the client that this is normal.

[Fiona]

That's great Sam. Thank you. Stephan, is there anything you want to add?

[Stephan]

Yeah, I think it's important to deliver positive merchant messages and think about how you can deliver them. So can a revised cash flow model demonstrate plans are still on track? Can a recent interest rate cut mean there's potential for better mortgage deals on the horizon? Is there a lower charge pension or investment product you could move the client to? You can't control investment returns, but you may be able to offer the client lower charges in this turbulent time.

And remember it's still ok to look for business opportunities. Other things you may want to try and include, change your phone message to be upbeat, makes such a big difference. Have a good news section on your website. Remind your clients you're there for them every step of the way. That reassurance can be invaluable. Create a community on your website. So for example, a quiz or something similar to get people together.

[Fiona]

Thank you so much to Sam and Stephan for their comments today.

I hope you find their tips useful when you're adapting to your new ways of working.

Please speak to your usual point of contact at Royal London if you're looking for any further help.

Now this concludes our podcast today.

Please take care and I hope to speak to you again very soon.

This website is intended for financial advisers only and shouldn't be relied upon by any other person. If you are not an adviser please visit royallondon.com.

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