One of the essential responsibilities for any client service professional is to build strong and meaningful client relationships. A strong relationship creates trust, goodwill, and a positive outlook on the part of the client when they assess performance as well as decide whether to renew or expand the services you and your company provide. It also makes it difficult for a client to terminate a relationship if they like and trust the people that they are dealing with on a regular basis. Especially in competitive industries, the building, maintaining, and deepening of these relationships will be critical to the long term success of an organization.
Nevertheless, in many instances, the relationship itself is the single most difficult aspect of managing an account. Like all human relationships, client relationships require thought and energy. There are bound to be some disagreements and it is often unpleasant and stressful to be continuously judged on performance. It is therefore crucial that those providing services understand what behaviors and qualities they should develop in themselves in order to build great relationships with their clients. Below are some of the ones I have found to be the most useful in creating relationships with long-term, satisfied clients:
Out of all the qualities you should convey, authenticity is the most important and everything else should be subject to this. In other words, do not try to convey any other quality below if it is inauthentic. If a client, or anyone else for that matter, perceives you as trying too hard at best, or disingenuous at worst, you will undermine your own credibility and trustworthiness.
Be yourself and draw upon different aspects of your personality as the situation and the people you are developing a relationship with require. You can act in very different ways in different scenarios while still being completely authentic and true to your personality and values.
Nothing elicits positive feelings in other people like showing a genuine interest in who they are and what they do. Ask questions. Understand their business, the role that they play, their industry they compete in, and above all, they themselves as individuals. Communicating that understanding back to them naturally and in subtle ways goes a long way to establishing a strong bond.
Take Their Perspective
Perspective taking is the ability to perceive a situation or understand a concept from another person’s point of view. This will allow you to know your audience and speak about what matters to them. It will also allow you to anticipate and address their questions and concerns before they ask, which in turn, builds their confidence and trust in you.
Be The Expert
It is important for both you and your client to understand that you are the subject matter expert. While the clients determine their business goals (and that can often be done with your assistance and input) the strategy to meet those goals should be determined and executed by you and your team. Your written and verbal communication should always be characterized by clarity and conciseness.
People feel drawn to those who engage with them in a positive and energetic way. Make sure that you speak with an appropriate level of intonation and inflection as opposed to speaking in a subdued and flat tone. Similarly, energy can be felt by clients when their requests or questions are responded to in a timely manner. Finally, be proactive when making decisions, acting on those decisions, and communicating results to your clients.
Build Personal Rapport
Perhaps nothing is more powerful than simply connecting with clients on a personal and emotional level. It would be hard to overstate the positive impact you can have on your relationships by continuously showing your clients humility, respect, friendliness, and warmth.
Clearly set and manage expectations as well as err on the side of over-communicating in order to keep your client informed as to both progress and next steps. Defining deliverables and timetables with honesty and transparency is the best way to mitigate any issues that may give rise to conflict.
Every service professional knows from experience that conflict with some clients is inevitable. Being able to resolve conflict is imperative to preserve the relationship as well as to avoid the undue amount of stress a fraught relationship can cause. The following can help disagreements from blossoming into conflicts or, even worse, toxic relationships:
- Understand the other person’s point of view: Once conflict has arisen or has the potential to arise, make a genuine effort to acknowledge the other person’s viewpoint. Restating it ensures that you indeed understand and are making the effort to. This does not mean, however, that you should apologize when an apology is not warranted as that is hollow and inauthentic.
- Ensure that they understand your viewpoint: Speak with openness and candor but also with patience and diplomacy. Articulate your view in the context of what is in their best interest and shared goals. It is also important not to get caught up in your own sense of “rightness,” where you dismiss the other person’s concerns as trivial or flat-out wrong.
- Manage your emotions: Be mindful, and understand why you are reacting in a certain way. Being defensive or taking things personally only conveys that you are more focused on your own feelings as opposed to what the other person needs.
Make Every Interaction Count
As you build relationships, bring intention to be your best self in every interaction and reflect on who your best self would be. Start with the end in mind and what kind of relationship you wish to build. Finally, think about what your client would want to see in you. What behaviors and qualities would you want to see in yourself if you were them?
Ultimately, a good client relationship should be thought of as an end in itself and not merely a means to an end. Though the monetary benefits of a strong relationship are obvious, sales, renewals, and upsells are simply a measure of how well you are servicing your client. Building a relationship is the most important aspect of that and doing that well can truly be one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.