3 practical tips for managing clients during a crisis

Sara Gilbert

Business Strategist & Mindset Coach, Strategist Business Development


With a slow re-opening of the economy in effect for the foreseeable future, many Advisors are looking for virtual communication strategies that can help maintain and nurture their client relationships. To this end, business strategist and frequent media contributor Sara Gilbert offers practical advice to help you stay connected, and keep your practice thriving in any environment.

Deliver leadership when – and where – it counts

A core principle of behavioural science states that when individuals enter “crisis mode,” their minds retreat to instinct and emotion. For Advisors trying to navigate the COVID-19 situation, this suggests it would be helpful to re-orient your communication approach around support and reassurance – in addition to data and information – as a means of establishing yourself as leader.

Bear in mind that every narrative has a villain, and in past economic downturns this has typically been the market. As an investment professional, you may also face negative perceptions in response to a significant decline in asset prices. However, the COVID-19 crisis focuses on a different villain – a pandemic – which puts you and your clients in the same boat. And because humans naturally seek leaders in times of crisis, you can view the current moment as an opportunity to provide increased guidance to your fellow Canadians.

Video taps into a greater number of physical senses, allowing youto influence the viewer’s brain and command more of their attention.

Below are 3 useful ideas you can use to get started.

1. Use video content to establish trust

Although emails are great for conveying information, people read them with an internal voice. So, if the client is feeling fearful, what’s intended as helpful advice may sound alarming in their head, and as a result any attempt to reassure them will be more challenging than it would have been in person. By contrast, video taps into a greater number of physical senses, allowing you to influence the viewer’s brain and command more of their attention.

Ask yourself: Why do sitting U.S. presidents hold a televised State of the Union Address when they could just as easily issue a press release? The answer goes back to behavioural science, which finds that visuals are better than text for appealing to instinct and emotion.

Start your video outreach by holding one-on-one calls with each of the families you serve. You can move down the list according to account segmentation, or, conversely, you can arrange the call order based on which clients you think require greater reassurance about what’s going on in the market. Once you have covered the entire book, you should carve out a weekly time slot in your calendar for a regular “State of the Union” (SOTU) webinar. Although this may feel like a big commitment at first, having a pre-set time for clients to hear you speak provides tremendous comfort, security and continued support.

Clients are not seeking perfection; they simply want to feel confidence in your ability to navigate the changing landscape.

2. Bring normality back to clients’ lives

As virtual meetings become more common, the best practice for interruptions – dogs barking, slow broadband, cross-talk – is to embrace them with empathy and authenticity. Clients are not seeking perfection; they simply want to feel confidence in your ability to navigate the changing landscape. So rather than feeling flustered by the inevitable noise, allow your humanity to show through and they will reward it.  

You can also use the new dynamic to revisit deeper conversations about their financial goals and aspirations, what they want from their retirement years and how they define success, both personally and professionally. And, as you normally do, take a personal interest. For example, to help them pass the time indoors, try offering ideas to cope with isolation – for example, if you’re talking to an entrepreneur whose business is temporarily closed, deliver occasional book recommendations, recipes or gardening tips.

Ultimately the goal is to reduce some of the stress brought on by the current situation. Should you need to pinpoint how your clients are feeling at this moment, in the interests of nudging them back toward normality, you should consult the Abraham-Hicks Emotional Guidance Scale, which offers 22 different outlooks ranging from joy and appreciation, to fear and powerlessness. 

The emotional guidance scale by Abraham-Hicks

  1. Joy/Appreciation/Empowered/Freedom/Love
  2. Passion
  3. Enthusiasm/Eagerness/Happiness
  4. Positive Expectation/Belief
  5. Optimism
  6. Hopefulness
  7. Satisfaction – Contentment
  8. Boredom
  9. Pessimism
  10. Frustration/Irritation/Impatience
  11. Overwhelment
  12. Disappointment
  13. Doubt
  14. Worry
  15. Blame
  16. Discouragement
  17. Anger
  18. Revenge
  19. Hatred/Rage
  20. Jealousy
  21. Insecurity/Guilt/Unworthiness
  22. Fear/Grief/Depression/Despair/Powerlessness

3. Reduce resistance with specific language

In some instance the gulf between you and your clients may be too wide, and it may be challenging to convey information and provide reassurance. For example, if they are at Doubt (13) and you are at Optimism (5), you will need to close the “emotion gap” through carefully chosen language that’s designed to create alignment, agreement – and action.

I receive several Advisor emails each day, and one in particular caught my attention as an example of poor crisis communications. The email began with two words, “Don’t panic,” which immediately had the opposite effect to which they had intended. The trouble with using negatively phrased statements – don’ts rather than dos – is that the human brain is wired for positive instruction; we respond better to directives that send us toward a goal compared with those that tell us NOT to act. 

So, as you begin to refine your message, consider the following approaches as best practices:

  • Omission – The human brain can only intake seven new pieces of information at a time. With this in mind, it may be necessary to emphasize certain aspects and exclude others.
  • Generalization – If there are any sensitivities, you can take the conversation to a higher altitude where conclusions can be drawn from very little information.
  • Distortion – To make your message more engaging, use descriptions of an imagined future that clients would like to see happen in real life. 

Tips for fostering engagement

My philosophy in marketing and communications is to create, leverage and repeat. Instead of moving on to something new after you finish a client piece, focus on promoting the current content and boosting engagement across different channels.

For instance, your weekly State of the Union video could be parcelled into bite-size clips for LinkedIn and other social media. Or, if you have been receiving similar questions or comments from multiple clients, perhaps it makes sense to crop out the relevant answer and post it on the website, where it’s easy to find. It’s not about doing more – the goal is to be more intentional with your output. To that end, here is a brief end-to-end overview of the webinar process:

  1. Send email – In advance of the webinar, share a simple note with the relevant details (time, date and conference ID details) and invite clients to join a few minutes early.
  2. Test audio/video – Set your camera at eye level in a location with adequate light, and ensure participants who join the call automatically have their mics and cameras off.
  3. Plan agenda – While it’s acceptable to write talking points for each agenda item, you should in general avoid detailed scripts in order to maintain your authenticity.
  4. Make repeatable – The most important point is for the SOTU webinars to become part of your clients’ weekly routine. As such, choose a time and day which suits your schedule, and allows you to maintain a high level of energy throughout the recording.
  5. Send playback – Assuming some clients will be unable to attend, follow-up the meeting with a short recap, reminder of next week’s webinar, and then link to a playback video.

I am a firm believer that if you show up for clients when times are tough, they will remember you’re there when times are good.


The idea behind the SOTU webinars is to streamline your workflow so that you can be a true leader during these challenging times. I know many Advisors are currently working 14-hour days to keep up with their email inbox, and that seems unsustainable if the pandemic continues through the summer. Remember to protect yourself from overwork and over-consumption of news, because depleting your internal resources can inhibit your ability to add long-term value.

Finally, I want to underscore the difference between information and communication. This is a time which requires greater focus on the emotion side of the equation, especially for clients with sensitivity to the changing environment. I am a firm believer that if you show up for clients when times are tough, they will remember you’re there when times are good.

For a deeper dive on managing clients’ emotions through a crisis, please attend our BMO Global Asset Management webinar featuring Sara Gilbert, business strategist and certified coach.

Managing your clients through crisis – how to step into your role as their trusted advisor

Monday, May 25, 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm ET


Any statement that necessarily depends on future events may be a forward-looking statement. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of performance. They involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Although such statements are based on assumptions that are believed to be reasonable, there can be no assurance that actual results will not differ materially from expectations. Investors are cautioned not to rely unduly on any forward-looking statements. In connection with any forward-looking statements, investors should carefully consider the areas of risk described in the most recent simplified prospectus.

This article is for information purposes. The information contained herein is not, and should not be construed as, investment, tax or legal advice to any party. Investments should be evaluated relative to the individual’s investment objectives and professional advice should be obtained with respect to any circumstance.

BMO Global Asset Management is a brand name that comprises BMO Asset Management Inc., BMO Investments Inc., BMO Asset Management Corp., BMO Asset Management Limited and BMO’s specialized investment management firms.

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