by Steve Adubato, PhD

What does it mean to be a “trusted adviser”? It could mean a consultant, confidant, aide, or a coach. Trusted advisers can be lawyers, experts in personal finance, architects, realtors or those who can help you through a crisis.

The traits of a trusted adviser center largely on being an excellent communicator and other special talents and insight that offer tremendous value to clients and customers. Regardless of your profession, or whether you use the actual title or not, the following are some of the keys to being a superior “trusted adviser”:

Responsiveness. When a client or customer reaches out, you need to be there for them. Technology has made it easier to be more responsive and to communicate faster so there is no excuse for letting an e-mail, text or phone message go unanswered. A great trusted adviser understands that the person on the other end is reaching out and the sooner you respond and let them know you are there, the more you communicate a reassuring message.
Being candid and truthful. Too many people who call themselves “trusted advisers” tell clients and customers what they think they WANT to hear, as opposed to what they NEED to hear. In fact, occasionally playing this role requires communicating in a fashion that is painfully honest. It can make a client uncomfortable, however, it is better that he or she hears it from you (which then allows for the development of a strategic plan or response) as opposed to waiting until it’s too late and your back is against the wall.
Being proactive. Being a great trusted adviser means not waiting for your client or customer to reach out for advice. If you are on your game and aware of what’s going on in the marketplace, or in the particular industry or arena of your client, sometimes YOU should be the one reaching out because you identify an opportunity, problem or issue. Too often, lawyers, financial advisers or others who serve in a trusted adviser role assume that everything is fine because their client is not reaching out and asking for help. That’s the wrong approach. Rather, sometimes you need to initiate the communication to let them know you are thinking about THEM instead of trying to fly beneath the radar.
Admitting your mistakes with no excuses, caveats or finger pointing. A trusted adviser must own the situation when things go wrong. You can gain more trust and respect by simply accepting responsibility and working to fix a situation. It’s an opportunity, if you choose to see it that way.
Be accessible and available. Give clients your cell and home number and communicate clearly that they can and should call you during “off hours” if they feel they need to ask you for advice or have a tough decision to make.
Shut off the meter. Don’t charge for everything you do. Sometimes, trusted advisers should simply do something because it is the right thing to do, like supporting charitable causes important to their customers or offering their services pro bono to non-profits that are doing an important community service but can’t afford to pay the corporate “rate card”.
Finally, trusted advisers are secure enough to know they don’t have all the answers, which is why, when they don’t have the answer, they identify another trusted adviser or expert who does. This clearly communicates to the client or customer that what is most important is resolving his or her situation and not trying to come off as a “Jack of all trades”.