Kimberly Law AICI CIP, Personal Image Consultant and founder of Personal Impact Image Management was interviewed by Margo Johne for an article called 1st Impressions, which appeared in the November 2004 issue of Forum Magazine, The magazine for Financial Advisors.
By: Margo Johne
Cultivating an image that leaves a positive impression the first and every time you meet a client requires a combination of good manners, a sound knowledge of business etiquette and careful attention to wardrobe and grooming. To help those who want to use first impressions to beat out the competition, FORUM asked image and etiquette consultants, as well as financial advisors, to share their tips on how to build a credible and professional image.
Sometime in the 1980s, when the Big Apple’s crime rate was at its peak and being a New Yorker meant, to most people, being rude and unfriendly, a city politician came up with a bright idea: Why not get New York cabbies to show up for work in tuxedos? The rationale behind this thinking was that, as New York’s most ubiquitous representatives, taxi drivers could help improve the city’s reputation by projecting a genteel image.
The sartorial experiment was short lived and its impact on tourism was never quantified. But the well dressed drivers noted two things: Wearing a tuxedo brought out their good manners and seemed to make customers treat them with more respect.
“It is one of the basic facts of human interaction: People will treat you according to how you look, how you act and how you speak,” says Diane Craig, president of Image International, a business etiquette and image consulting firm in Toronto. “In business, the image you project can mean the difference between success and failure. And when you’re in a market where products and services are essentially the same, image can become a competitive tool.”
“That first impression counts for everything,” says Janice Schwarz, a Toronto author who has nine advisors looking after her finances. “Within five minutes of meeting my advisors, I made the decision as to whether or not I could trust them with my investments.”
THE INITIAL CONTACT
You’re on the phone with a woman whose name was passed on to you by a new client. You introduce yourself and your company, and then proceed to tell her that she had been referred to you by her cousin, Mr. So and so. What should you do next?
“The proper etiquette is always to ask if this is a convenient time for the person to speak with you,” says Craig, a graduate of the Washington School of Protocol and a member of the International Association of Protocol Consultants.
“If they say yes, engage in some small talk you have to start with that before asking to set up an appointment to meet.”
Cameron Bailey, an insurance broker with Camcan Financial in Toronto, adheres to a hard and fast rule when making that initial call. “Never give a prospective customer a sales pitch over the phone,” he says. “The objective of that first call is to make an appointment. So you ask for the appointment and you stay with that.”
That initial phone call may lead to nowhere but voice mail, so to avoid rambling, Craig suggests preparing a message that starts with your name, the company you’re with and your phone number. After you’ve given this information, you may state the reason for your call and, if applicable, the name of the person who referred you.
“Be sure to speak slowly and clearly, and spell your name if it’s not easy to understand,” says Craig. “Also, state the time when you can be reached or ask them to leave you a time where it’s convenient for them to be contacted.”
MEETING A CLIENT
You’re sitting behind your desk in your office when your assistant ushers in a client. What’s the first thing you should do?
If you said stand and walk to the front of your desk to shake your client’s hand, give yourself a door prize. Craig says it’s a no no to shake hands from behind a desk or across a table. And unless a physical condition prevents you from standing, never shake hands when you’re sitting down.
Observing good manners and etiquette is just as important when you’re meeting clients in their homes. Punctuality, says Craig, is a must. “But do not arrive at someone’s home 10 minutes early,” she warns.
“In an office environment, you can arrive early and sit in the reception area. But in someone’s home, it’s just as bad to be 10 minutes early as it is to be 10 minutes late.”
If a client asks if you want something to eat or drink, Craig says a gracious response and one that would not impose on your client – would be to welcome a glass of water.
Always ask permission before using a tabletop for writing or to set down documents, says Craig. And if you’re going to use a laptop, don’t ask to plug it in make sure your battery is charged adequately.
Anything you hand out or show to the client business cards, brochures, even the file folder you keep in your briefcase to organize your client’s documents should be clean and free of creases.
Bailey at Camcan Financial adds one more thing to the list: a clean and tidy car. “If you pull into a driveway with a dirty car or where the back seat is all piled up with papers and old coffee cups, your clients will see you as uncouth and unkempt and they’re not going to want to deal with you,” he says.
Annamarie Haapala, president of A. Haapala Financial in Dawson Creek, B.C., says advisors need to be sensitive to local practices. Many of Haapala’s clients are farmers. When she visits them in their homes, she bypasses the front door and knocks instead on the side door.
“When you go to a farm, you’re walking on dirt or mud and the front door usually opens right into the living room,” she says. “So to avoid stepping your dirty shoes on the floor in the living room, you enter through the side where there’s usually a mud room.”
Whether she’s in the country or in the city, in her office or in a client’s home, the one thing Haapala will never do is ask for permission to smoke. Even when her clients light up, Haapala won’t. “The clients who know me really well and know that I smoke will actually ask me if I’ve quit,” she says.
THE BUSINESS LUNCH
You’re in a nice Italian restaurant and the waiter has just seated you and your client. When is it appropriate
Most etiquette guides recommend getting down to business after you’ve finished your meal and the waiter has brought you your coffee and desserts. While she agrees with this general rule, Craig says some clients may not have the time to stay for an extended lunch.
In this case, Craig says it’s all right to start discussing business after you and your client have placed your orders and the bread has been served. You can continue talking through the meal but she stresses the need to pace yourself.
“Remember that while you’re talking, the other person is eating. So if you talk the entire time, the other person will be finished eating and your plate will be full. The trick is to ask the other person questions and let them answer so you can eat while they talk. Then let them eat while you talk. Just keep going back and forth so that you both finish eating at the same time.”
Craig advises against ordering alcohol during a business lunch but says you should play the generous host and ask your guests if they want a glass of wine with their meal. If they accept your offer, Craig recommends that you mirror their action by ordering an alcoholic drink as well. “If you don’t want any alcohol, just order a spritzer and then don’t drink it,” she says. “The good thing is that people at lunch are drinking less and less these days.”
PULLING IT ALL TOGETHER: DRESSING FOR SUCCESS
You’re at home getting ready to go to your office and meet a client for the first time. What fashion choices should you make today?
“A good suit,” says Kimberly Law, an image consultant with Personal Impact in Burnaby, B.C., “just gives you that professional, credible image, and it’s a must when you’re working with corporate clients.”
Toronto author Janice Schwarz agrees with Law. Schwarz says her nine advisors are always dressed in classically styled suits, but she likes the fact that the suits don’t look overly expensive or fashion forward.
“My advisors don’t come across as too avant garde or too GQ, because I personally would not like that,” says Schwarz. “People want their financial advisors to look like they’re conservative with money.
If you’re wearing the latest and greatest, you’re probably also looking at high risk investments for my money.”
Certain colours can also convey a risk tolerant personality. Craig at Image International says it’s probably best to stay away from outfits in bright colours like fuschia or lime green at least until you’ve gained your client’s confidence. If you really can’t live without bright colours, then Craig suggests using them sparingly as accessories.
For more casual clientele, both Craig and Law say it’s OK to throw on the business casual, but keep in mind that this relatively new wardrobe category should be a bridge between traditional office wear and weekend wear. So no T-shirts, frayed hems or revealing lots of skin even on the hottest days of the year. “Instead of a suit, you may want to opt for a more relaxed jacket. If you prefer to go without a jacket, then be sure to wear a shirt with a collar,” says Law.
Whether you’re suiting up or going business casual, your choices in shoes and clothing should always be marked by quality. Craig says special attention should be paid to the quality of fabric and the cut of a garment.
A discerning eye should also be cast on prints and patterns. “Smaller patterns, like tweeds, can create a strobe light effect that can be very distracting,” says Craig. “And speaking of prints, stay away from the Mickey Mouse tie.”
Refining your image takes time and effort, says Craig, and it’s a lifelong learning process that must make room from time to time for new trends and different cultures. But even as the rules of etiquette and wardrobe continue to evolve, the basic principle on which manners are founded will remain as they have for centuries.
“Good manners are really all about having respect and consideration for the other person,” says Craig. “If you can keep that in mind when you’re interacting with people and try to treat everyone with the same respect and consideration that you would like them to show you, then you’ve already mastered the most important lesson in etiquette.”
With permission from™ Advocis and CLU are trademarks of The Financial Advisors Association of Canada
Copyright © 2004 The Financial Advisors Association of Canada.