How important to your business are your communication skills? Communication is not only key in business it is big business. Have you perused a bookstore lately? In any main category, you will find "communication" as a subcategory. Not just because it sells, but also because it is key to success in any type of relationship, including that of the broker to the lender and the broker to the client. Whether you are in commercial or residential lending, or specializing in multi-family dwellings, large entertainment venues or in hard-money loans and factoring, all specialties in the world of lending have one major thing in common, they all have a client! I can hear your brain working now ... "Yeah, communication is important, but I communicate fine." But do you? Have you surveyed your past clients? Have you lost business in the past due to a misunderstanding? Does anyone ever tell you that you are confusing? Most of us have lost business due to one or all of the above reasons! Losing business does not create success, but learning from it does!
Excellence in any area does not come from saying, "Yeah, yeah," and sloughing off the idea of improvement in the area of communication, so please don't take it personally. Even if, as a professional broker with a proven track record, you feel you know what you're doing all the time and you're one of the rare ones who is quick as a bunny to hop on the phone and get back with your clients, that does not mean they all understand you! What happens when you don't speak the same language as your client? I'm not talking about your client being Hispanic and you being German. I'm talking about the language of the lending world. Let's put it another way. If I shook your hand and said to you, "The composite particles with even numbers of fermion constituents are also now called bosons. Can you please let me have a copy of the antiquark and boson equation paperwork?" What would you say? Most people reading this would say, "Pardon me?" or a loud, "Huh?" because that is not their language. That is the language of ... love. (No, just joking.) That is the language of quantum physics. So, if you are an avid reader of a trade magazine for physicists, then you had no problem understanding my statement. But if you are a broker, a lender or a banker, you are probably wondering what in the world a boson is! Get my point?
Whose job is it to make sure your client understands your language? Let's make you the customer in a very simplified situation at a drive-thru. Have you ever found yourself in one of those aggravating situations sitting and waiting to hear, "May I take your order please?" Here you are, waiting to make your delicious purchase of a combo meal when the following happens: silence. So you say, "Hello?" and what you hear back sounds something akin to the sound a cow would make if you asked it to sing a chorus from La Boheme. Does that sound familiar? You can't get your message across because the speaker is broken and you have no idea if the person at the other end is receiving your order or understanding just what you want. And just as importantly, you have no idea what that cow at the other end is truly offering you because it all sounds like La Boheme mixed with some unknown mumbo jumbo language you have never heard before! Where, oh, where is your combo meal? That's all you really wanted, right? But what inevitably happens as you pull around to the window is you realize that somehow, in all that miscommunication going on, you didn't actually order the tasty cheeseburger and shake, instead you ordered a plain chicken sandwich with no bun, water and a side salad. That, my friends, is communication horror at the drive-thru.
Are you running your office like a drive-thru? And more importantly, are you communicating with your clients like you're a cow singing through a bad speaker? Okay, crazy as that analogy may seem, you now get my point. What's most important is that we figure out how to fix the problem and/or prevent it from happening in our very own business deals with our current and future clients. Communicating at your client's level in his language is key to each business, and here are several ways to begin doing so:
-First off, what does your marketing communicate? That's right marketing! Your first means of communication to most of your current or future clients will come directly from your marketing. Do your marketing efforts pose an image of your business as one that prefers to work with a particular client? Does it get across the fact that you might specialize? Specializing in a particular niche can quickly assist you in being able to effectively communicate properly. For example, if you specialize in hard money loans, but you lean all your marketing efforts toward residential lending, then you are naturally going to get clients who are expecting residential lingo when they enter the door. But, if you communicate well through your marketing that you are specializing in hard money loans, then more of your business will come from those expecting hard money language.
-Learn your personal strengths and weaknesses as a communicator. What does your demeanor on the phone or in person say to a customer? What does your phone staff, your phone message, business card and callback policy communicate to your clients? Are you too busy to make callbacks? Then make it a clearly understood policy that a client needs to set a phone appointment. Don't leave them wondering about communication from you. Are you cold and aloof over the phone? Then deal in person as much as possible. Be clear and concise when it comes to your phone and personal etiquette when dealing with people. Even if your language isn't quite the same as theirs, if you have their respect, then you will indeed have a greater chance of obtaining their business even if it is harder to understand you.
-Break it down! What does that mean? No, I'm not starting a rap song here ... I'm talking about your language - the lingo of the lending world. If you have a professional business client in your office that is in the business of establishing beauty salons across the Midwest, do not assume that they automatically know the lending jargon. Just because someone is in a business suit with a briefcase does not mean he will speak your language. Intelligent and professional does not automatically mean he will be able to translate your language into beauty shop business lingo. Breaking down some of your basic terminology for a client can be key to making sure you're both on the same page throughout the deal. Do not assume that he already knows what PFS (Personal Financial Services), DTI (debt-to-income ratio) and LTV (loan-to-value ratio) are. To the average person, they sound like a secret bureau of the federal government! Break down all the acronyms, definitions and lending jargon for your client knowing that not everyone has the background to understand or even remember every bit of commercial lending knowledge that is thrown at them.
-Pay attention to your client. Watch his body language, eye contact and tone of voice when communicating, because his response to you can give away whether or not he understands what you are saying. Some clients might be put off by your lack of willingness or ability to break things down for them. It can be intimidating having someone throw names and terminology at you as if you should automatically understand it, so pay attention.
-Lastly, I encourage you to be responsive! How? If you see that communication is becoming a problem with your clients, then frequently ask simplified follow up questions that will assist them or that will help you to conclude whether or not they indeed are understanding you, such as: "Mr. Smith, is there any part of the agreement that seems fuzzy to you?" or "Mrs. Jones, do you need clarification on any part of the paperwork we just went over?" It's easy to ask leading questions without being offensive. If need be, add a touch of humor to your questioning. Lead with, "Well, since I haven't met my quota on papercuts for the day, let's just double check the paperwork and see if there is anything else we can go over that will make the process easier for us all."
Too often in the midst of a deal, we can set our eyes on the prize and forget the steps in getting there. As we rush, we may spoil the desired end result. Take the time to ready yourself for adequate and proper communication with a client by attempting to speak their language and translate yours! Doing so will make your client a satisfied one!
Kellene Bishop serves as president of Beehive Commercial Lending as well as the director of training for Commercial Career which specializes in training residential loan officers in all aspects of commercial lending, with an additional emphasis on successful marketing tactics. She may be reached at [email protected].