One thing I have learned after more than three decades as a marketing communications consultant and business coach is that robust client relationships take time, even years, to build. They are the result of efforts to build trust through delivering value.
One client recently received a compliment, which for him justifies the long hours he spends as a portfolio manager working to ensure his clients' financial well-being. His client told him: "If anything unexpected should happen to me, I want you to be the first person my wife calls."
Here are ten tips to consider to create client relationships built on trust.
- Put yourself in the client's position so you can be empathetic when he or she makes a request that at first may seem burdensome and out of left field. With few exceptions, there is no such thing as a trivial client request.
- As a service provider, clients also appreciate you encouraging them to rethink a decision you feel may not be in their best interests. Few clients want to deal with an order taker or "yes" person. If you feel it best to follow through with their request, ensure you have clearly expressed your justified concern about the outcome.
- Your accessibility and receptiveness can influence their decision to continue to work with you in the event of a change in their circumstances -- business or personal.
- If the relationship with the client is on shaky ground for any reason, determine why. If the fault lies with you or your team, tell your client you are reviewing your processes to ensure the relationship thrives once again. If the problem is with them, suggest ways that you can work with them to deliver the results they deserve and expect. In either case, suggest a face-to-face meeting, never a phone call or email exchange. If he or she is a valued client, travel to meet them to fully communicate with them.
- Your relationship with a client begins well before contracts or agreements are signed. For example, a lawyer I know traveled to Asia to meet a new client in an airport boardroom. The lawyer was "on the ground" for less than one hour but respected his client's wish that before the client signed a large retainer, he wanted to meet him face-to-face.
- If you present your services as supported by a qualified and committed team, ensure the client gets to meet and work with your team members. Your ability to delegate appropriate assignments builds client and team confidence in your leadership skills. Avoid taking all the credit for positive outcomes but don't be afraid to fully accept thanks for a job well done
- Depending on your business focus, clients may be a good source of referrals. Before even thinking of asking them for leads or testimonials, ask them how you can help them build their business. Do everything you can to deliver on your promises when it comes to referring them to qualified prospects who meet their ideal referral description. Rather than asking for referrals, suggest to clients that part of your job entails being available to the client's colleagues, family and clients for a conversation, should they be seeking general advice within your professional scope
- While Emotional Intelligence is increasingly important in job candidate selection, good fit should also be viewed as a tangible asset. Sensing whether or not you and your client (or client's organization) will be a good fit at the outset of your conversations will save both of you time and avoid disappointment. Your gut instinct developed over time is a great indicator of how the relationship will play out.
- You can quickly determine the fine line between too much socializing and personal versus business talk. Go slowly. A financial advisor I know invited her new client and his partner to her cottage for a couples' weekend. They accepted the invitation, but did not fully relax as they did not know the financial advisor and wondered if it would be a weekend focused on relaxation or financial literacy. (The advisor later admitted that she had erred in inviting the two introverts to her cottage, which renewed their trust in her.) Instead of storming the social barricades, the advisor would have been better off starting with a dinner invitation to a restaurant the client knows well. As in blossoming romantic relationships, rushing things could scare off the object of your (business) affections.
- As professionals, we are in business to be paid by our clients for services rendered (unless we are working on a pro bono basis.) Disputes or misunderstandings over money can be the death knell in even the most established client relationship if receivables are left to grow and with it, resentment of the client or his or her organization. Be clear about terms of payment at the outset of the relationship and be firm about flagging late payments. This is all about managing expectations. The client needs to understand that you expect them to pay on time and you are wise to ensure that expectation does not change. Your business will do better and your clients will maintain their respect for you.