5 Tips to Improve Rapport with your Clients


As a mortgage and protection adviser, you’ll spend a good amount of your time speaking with clients, whether that’s face to face, over the phone, or via a Zoom meeting.


Spending time with clients is often the part of the job that advisers enjoy most (I’ve yet to meet an adviser who said it was paperwork!).


This element of human contact – along with the flexibility, work-life balance, and ability to have more control over your time – is one of the reasons that many people become mortgage brokers in the first place.


To have productive and successful client meetings that are engaging, revealing, and build trust, one of the skills you will need is the ability to build rapport.


And with many people worried about their mortgage payments and their financial situation during this cost of living crisis, being able to build and maintain rapport is more important than ever.


It’s always good to refresh your knowledge from time to time, so in this blog, I’m going to share a few tips to help you brush up on your rapport building skills.



What is rapport?


Rapport can be defined as a harmonious relationship that allows for a greater understanding of ideas and better communication.


When you have good rapport with a client, communication feels effortless. Both you and your client feel at ease with each other.


Without good rapport, client meetings can be a struggle. It can feel as if you’re talking at cross purposes, and the atmosphere in the room or on the call can just feel “off.”



Why is rapport important?


Rapport leads to better, more productive relationships with your clients. Meetings run more smoothly, allowing you to properly identify your client’s needs and take the first steps towards finding the right solutions.


Rapport promotes effective communication and builds trust, which are vitally important elements of providing mortgage and protection advice. Your client has to be able to trust you enough to talk about their personal situation – which can be uncomfortable at times, especially if the client has bad credit and is embarrassed about it. They also have trust your advice.


None of this is possible without good rapport.



Is rapport building natural – or can it be learned?


Some people are more natural at building rapport than others. We all know that one person who is very easy to talk to, who you just feel comfortable with. Conversation just seems to flow and they make you feel at ease. Something just “clicks” with them.


Other people might have to work at it.


But the good news is that building rapport is something that can be learned – and improved.



Tips to improve rapport


Rapport can be built by following some simple steps. If you’re not a natural, then it might take some conscious effort initially, but with practise, it will become second nature.


1 – Watch your body language


Our body language, and the way we say things, can be just as important as what we say.


You might have come across what is known as the 7/38/55 rule, which states that we interpret communication in the following ways:

  • We take 7% from what is said – the spoken words.
  • We take 38% from the speaker’s tone, or the sound of their voice.
  • We take 55% from their body language.

These numbers can be traced back to a study that was published in 1967 by a professor of psychology called Albert Mehrabian.


But Mehrabian’s findings have been misinterpreted over time.


Mehrabian’s study was focused on what happens when there is a mismatch between what someone says and their tone or body language, when that person was talking specifically about feelings or attitudes.


Mehrabian found that when there is this mismatch, people rely on non-verbal communication such as body language and tone of voice when trying to work out what the person really means.


For example, if someone says, “Yeah, that’s fine,” but they sound nervous, lower their eyes, round their shoulders, and look anxious, their body language and tone of voice will say more about what they really mean than their actual words.


Mehrabian himself made it clear that his findings did not apply to every type of communication, but somehow that message was lost. Over time, the 7/38/55 rule has become a kind of accepted knowledge in the world of sales, coaching, and interpersonal skills training.


That doesn’t mean that Mehrabian’s research should be written off. Non-verbal communication is very important, and is a vital component of all human interaction.


And Mehrabian’s findings are very useful for strengthening your client meetings – you should aim to avoid the mismatch he talks about, by making sure your words match your tone and your body language.


So what is non-verbal communication, and how can you make the most of it in your client meetings?


You should pay attention to the following areas:

  • Keep your posture open and naturally upright (there’s no need to be ramrod straight). Keep your head up and shoulders back and avoid rounding your shoulders or slumping. Good posture can make you appear confident and capable – which will help your clients feel more at ease with you, and more confident in trusting you with their mortgage.
  • Eye contact. We naturally make and break eye contact during the course of a conversation. There’s no “right” amount of time to hold eye contact, but you should be aware of the effects of having too little or too much. Too little can appear distracted, lacking in interest, or even untrustworthy. Too much can be off-putting, intimidating, or creepy. So instead, focus on when to maintain eye contact. The most appropriate times for maintaining steady eye contact are when your client is disclosing important information, discussing uncomfortable or emotional subjects (such as problem debt, or life changes like a bereavement or divorce), or when you are providing your advice and explaining how your recommended financial products work.
  • Facial expression. Similar to eye contact, we naturally make a variety of different expressions when talking to another person and some people are more expressive than others. A smile at the right time or a look of sincerity or understanding can do wonders for rapport. On the other hand, an eye roll, or a smirk at the wrong time can damage your efforts and take a lot of work to repair.
  • Nodding and non-verbal cues. Nodding is a small, but powerful gesture – it shows your client that you are paying attention and it acts as an encouragement for them to say more. Non-verbal cues is a term to describe all those little sounds you make during conversation – “hmm”, “uh-huh” – that show you have heard and understood.
  • Tone and speed of voice. Your tone and speed of voice can enhance your words and give weight to your message, especially when providing advice or explaining the benefits of a protection policy. Don’t try and force a change in your natural voice – instead, focus on speaking at a pace that is both natural to you and appropriate for the situation, the topics being discussed, and the audience. If you relax and don’t rush through conversations, your tone and speed will take care of themselves, and will be more sincere.
  • Personal appearance. This may not seem to relate to communication, but clients can make assumptions based on your personal appearance, and these assumptions can either enhance or detract from what you actually say. It goes without saying that you should always turn up to client meetings looking clean and presentable, but even personal accessories like pens and notebooks can make a difference and portray an image of professionalism and capability to your client. That doesn’t mean that you have to have the most expensive suits or stationery items, but paying attention to the little details can make a big difference.


2 – Make sure you listen actively


Active listening is a key component of rapport building. Like most people, when they speak, your clients want to be heard and feel as if they have been listened to.


But our own brains can get in the way of our ability to actively listen.


The average English-speaking person can speak at a rate of roughly 150 words per minute… but our brains can process around 450 words in the same amount of time.


As we can process what someone is saying quicker than they can say it, our brains tend to use that spare capacity to formulate responses, to think ahead and anticipate what the speaker might say next, or to come up with solutions to the problems they are describing. We can even think about unrelated matters, such as what’s on television that night, or what to have for dinner.


This can distract us from listening properly. It can make it easy to miss something, too – if you’re too busy thinking about a solution to “X”, you might miss your client telling you that they have a problem with “Y”.


The way to deal with this is to stay in the moment and consciously listen to what your client is saying. Although you won’t be able to completely stop yourself from assessing which products the client will qualify for (that’s a natural thing to do if you are an experienced adviser) be aware of it. Keep your mind on just collecting the hard and soft facts as much as possible.


Paraphrase and repeat back what your client has said to you – not only does this show your client that you have heard them, but it also helps to embed the information in your own mind.  Take notes where needed – making notes can also help you to focus on what you are hearing.


There’s no easy way to listen actively – it takes conscious effort, skill and practise. Active listening can be hard work – but that’s why it’s called active listening!





3 – Ask questions (but not just about their application)


Asking questions doesn’t just help you to complete the fact find, it’s a natural part of making conversation and showing an interest in the person you’re talking to.


Not every question has to be related to their mortgage application or their protection needs. Simple questions about how their kids are getting on at school, their recent holiday, their favourite sports team, their hobbies and interests, or even just how their day has gone will build rapport and make the appointment seem more like a friendly conversation.


Remembering those little facts about them – like the names of their children, or the fact that their spouse plays guitar in a band – can mean a lot to your clients and show that you see them as more than just another appointment.


Questions will also put your clients at ease when they are talking about more difficult subjects, such as how problem debt has built up.


Which leads us on to…


4 – Show empathy and find common ground


Have you heard the saying, “People like people like themselves”?


We all have a natural tendency to want to spend time with people who are like us. This is why it’s often easier to build rapport with people who share our values and outlook, and have similar experiences and interests.


Finding common ground with your clients can be done by making small talk about sports, hobbies, activities, family, or even the latest show everyone is binge-watching on Netflix. But don’t just ask questions about these topics – you need to reveal some information and answer a few questions yourself.


Sometimes, clients can forget that mortgage brokers have mortgages themselves – so reminding them that you were once in their position can be another way of building rapport through common ground.


Empathy is another powerful tool. But it’s not just about having had a similar experience – it’s about having felt a similar way yourself, or having an understanding of how a particular experience makes your client feel.


You may have struggled to put together the deposit for your first home, and been frustrated at having to put every spare penny aside for this purpose. You may have had trouble with credit cards in the past, and perhaps built up some debt that caused you a few sleepless nights. Revealing this to your client can make them feel better about their situation, and make them feel more confident in your ability to find them a solution.



5 – Be authentic


My final tip for building rapport is short and sweet. It’s also the most important tip, which is why I’ve saved it for last.


Be yourself.


Just as some people are naturally better at building rapport than others, some people are naturally more witty, charming, compassionate, or talkative.


If you’re not one of these people, then resist the temptation to try and be something you’re not – putting on a false front will just make you appear insincere.


Just be your authentic self, and apply the other four tips – body language, active listening, asking questions and showing empathy. That will be more than enough to build good rapport.



Over to you


I hope this blog has been a useful refresher for your rapport-building skills (or even taught you something new). I hope you put these tips to good use during your next client meeting.


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Dominic McDonnell