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Tips for Communicating with Older Clients

9 min read

By 2038, it’s projected that more than 30 per cent of New Brunswick’s population will be over the age of 65 (Statistics Canada, Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories). If your client base is aging, it’s important to consider how to best meet their needs. Clients who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances may also have unique needs. These unique needs may require a different client service approach.

Here’s a few tips to help you communicate with older clients and those who may be in a vulnerable circumstance. 

Ask how to best communicate.

Many financial companies conduct a majority of their business online. Clients are encouraged to select online billing options and download the latest app to make account changes. This may leave adults who do not have access to, experience with, or the ability or desire to use technology at a disadvantage. Ask your clients their preferred method of communication and respect their request. Older clients or those in a vulnerable circumstance may prefer meeting in person instead of speaking over the phone. They may also prefer to receive important documents through registered mail rather than email.

Actively listen.

Active listening encourages your client to share important information and helps you better understand their needs. Nods of encouragement, smiling and simple words of acknowledgement are all easy ways to show you are engaged and listening carefully to the conversation.  

Communicate clearly.

Speak slowly, clearly, and loudly (but do not yell) and avoid industry jargon that may be difficult for your client to understand. Sitting in a manner to promote eye-contact may improve understanding for some clients. However, consider that eye-contact may make some clients uncomfortable or be considered culturally impolite. It is a good idea to ask your client what they find most comfortable in terms of communication. Ask your client what time is best to contact them. They may wish to communicate at a certain time of the day, such as in the morning when they are freshly rested, or shortly after taking a particular medication. Make an effort to ensure your clients needs are met. 

Allow extra time.

Explain items in full and allow your client time to fully process information. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence. A relaxed atmosphere will help your client feel comfortable to ask questions. Ensure you block enough time for their appointment so they have your complete attention and don’t feel rushed. If your client seems distracted or is acting out of the norm, consider rebooking the appointment for a later date.

Be patient.

Clients may communicate their needs in different ways; be patient and respectful. Keep in mind that your client may need to reiterate parts of your discussion and ask you to repeat information more than once. Be patient if your client needs time or wishes to discuss the information with a trusted friend, family member or legal representative before making a decision. 

Talk directly to your client.

Presume your client has capacity and will act as your main point of contact even if they bring an individual such as a family member, caregiver, friend or legal representative to the appointment, unless advised otherwise. If your client requests you speak to the person with them instead, respect their choice but be aware of possible signs of abuse, especially financial abuse. If the person with your client is demanding, overpowering, or not considerate of your client’s right to speak, or if you suspect they may be financially exploiting your client, it may be best to ask your client to meet alone or follow up with your client over the phone or via mail at a later date.  

Know that you can make a big difference in the lives of your clients.

Older adults and those experiencing vulnerable circumstances can feel isolated in their everyday lives.  Providing your clients with a comfortable atmosphere and opportunity to talk openly creates a welcoming environment, encourages information sharing and allows you to best serve them. 

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