How to build trust on video calls

For financial professionals only

The key ingredients for a positive client-adviser relationship can be harder to foster online, and in a year where physical meetings have largely been replaced with virtual ones, we asked behavioural scientist and Founder of the Behaviour Change People consultancy Dr Laura Haynes for her advice on how to build trust on video calls.

In the post-Covid era, client expectations around contact with their financial advisers are changing. Of the 10,000 clients and 2000 fund investors surveyed by Boring Money, “nearly two-thirds (63%) feel more positive about video calls (e.g. Skype, Zoom, Facetime) as a way of communicating with their adviser”. Clients reportedly expect more frequent contact, often via shorter, ad hoc updates.

This marks a change from the years where the majority of clients were happy with an annual review of their financial plan, usually face-to-face with their adviser.

First, the good news: research shows that total strangers build trust via video-only communications to almost the same level as face-to-face interaction. The slight catch is that establishing trust over video appears to take longer, primarily because the exchange of information necessary to build trust is different. Communication is often more formal, with less spontaneous turn-taking that can generate a connection between speakers, and people receive far less non-verbal information about each other. Follow these 5 simple tips to maximise the amount of reassuring information you communicate to your clients during a video call.

1. Position yourself well

Establishing a positive presence on a video call starts with people being able to see you and your surroundings well. If you’re using a laptop camera for your video, position it on a pile of books to elevate it. A camera view slightly higher than your eyeline is best, positioned away from you to create a view of your shoulders and your background surrounding you. This will spare your clients from having to look at your skin pores and/or nostrils, which some may interpret as a lack of care or attention to detail.

Give some thought to your backdrop as well – you may not have much choice about desk location when working from home but rotating your position can often improve what the client sees. If you can, create some interest and warmth behind you (books, plants, art, furniture).

2. Establish eye contact

Mutual eye-contact is an important ingredient for building trust, but harder to establish over a video call. However, it’s something advisers can actively take the lead on establishing. You can actively seek out your client’s gaze and indicate your engagement with them when they reciprocate eye contact – nodding and smiling can help here. If you’re speaking via video to more than one client in the room, be sure to engage both participants, even if one person does most of the talking.

3. Take notes with care

Traditional note taking using pen and paper or a keyboard can distract your gaze from clients. We recommend not typing on the same laptop you’re using for your camera (to avoid a nostril view) and avoid typing on a loud keyboard which can be annoying. Handwritten notes can be the best option but take care not to spend too much time looking away from your screen/camera.

4. Incorporate gestures

We convey far less non-verbal information over video calls than we do face-to-face, making it harder to build trust. This can be partly overcome by ensuring your body is well positioned within the camera view so clients can see your shoulders and the tops of your arms when you gesture. We also recommend slightly exaggerating your non-verbal behaviour in order to signal your engagement in the interaction. This could include hand gestures, nodding and smiling.

5. Use positive, reflective speech

Interactions over video are often more formal, partly because people try to avoid speaking over each other or navigate a slight delay. Despite these issues, we suggest signalling agreement and engagement more frequently in conversation. This includes indicating understanding and assent e.g. “sure”, “yes, I see” as the client delivers what could otherwise feel like a monologue. Actively reflecting back words and patterns of speech used by your client can also help foster a connection (e.g. “as you said…”, using the same turns of phrase).

You can also download our mini guide summarising Laura’s top tips to print out and keep on your desk!

This article is for financial professionals only. Any information contained within is of a general nature and should not be construed as a form of personal recommendation or financial advice. Nor is the information to be considered an offer or solicitation to deal in any financial instrument or to engage in any investment service or activity. Parmenion accepts no duty of care or liability for loss arising from any person acting, or refraining from acting, as a result of any information contained within this article. All investment carries risk. The value of investments, and the income from them, can go down as well as up and investors may get back less than they put in. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns.  

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