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Building a good relationship with a client, built on mutual trust and respect, can take a long time. However, there are ways to kickstart the process and create a rapport far more quickly. That rapport can then be the foundation on which your years-long working relationship is based. How do you connect quickly with someone you’ve just met?
When it comes down to it, your client wants most to know that you’ve heard and understood what they’re saying to you. The quickest way to demonstrate that you’re on the same page is to reiterate what they’ve said. There are a few good ways to do that.
In reflecting, you pick a few critical words your client has said and use them in your reply. For instance, say your client wants to expand their business and branch out to different cities. They might say to you, “I feel like we’re stagnating where we are. I hear there are great markets in Chicago and St. Louis, and I want to explore that.”
You might reply, “I’ve heard the same thing about Chicago and St. Louis. If you feel you’re stagnating, then the time has probably come to explore those options and see what new opportunities you can find.”
It seems simple, but it’s a proven technique for fostering a connection. This was demonstrated in a study conducted in Holland with waitstaff at restaurants. It was found that when servers repeated a customer’s order back to them before bringing it to the kitchen, they earned nearly twice as much in tips, on average, than when they didn’t repeat it. Reflecting a client’s needs back to them shows that you understand what they want and are on the same page.
Reflecting is an excellent technique for shorter conversations, but the longer you talk, the more noticeable it becomes if you’re repeating the same things your client is saying back to them. That’s where paraphrasing comes in.
Paraphrasing is similar to reflecting, except instead of picking out keywords and repeating them, you restate the client’s basic ideas in your own words. This helps to show them that you’ve been listening and understand what they’re saying.
It’s most effective if you phrase it as a question. So, your client says, “I don’t want to spend too much money, but I do want something that’s going to last me a while.”
You might respond, “So, if I understand you correctly, you want something reasonably priced but not of poor quality that you won’t have to replace right away?”
Phrasing it as a question shows that you’re actively engaged in the conversation. You’re not telling the client what they want. You’re listening and making sure that you’re on the same page. This makes them feel heard and shows them that their opinion is valued, which brings me to the next method of developing a rapport with your clients.
3. Identify and acknowledge your clients’ emotions
If your client is angry or frustrated, your first instinct will likely steer them away from those emotions. You don’t want angry clients; you want happy, satisfied clients. However, trying to steer or maneuver a client’s feelings to a specific place can seem insensitive and unempathetic. Instead, if you want to build a rapport with your client, it’s important to identify those emotions, acknowledge them and validate them.
4. Meeting people where they are
Meeting someone “where they are” means bridging the gap between your own expectations and where the other person is coming from. It means intentionally listening to understand their values, needs and what they are really saying. Buddhists have a saying, “holding the space,” which means the same thing. It’s about being truly present in the moment.
Having a simple chat with someone can sometimes reveal what a person really needs if you have the patience to just observe them. Be mindful of their body language; their behavior may tell you everything you need to know. And it’s also meeting them where they are, in a way.
Dealing with clients and their emotions requires a delicate hand. If you make them feel like they’re not allowed to feel a certain way, they can come to resent you. Instead, you need to meet them where they are. If someone is happy, celebrate that happiness with them. If someone is angry, let them be angry for a little bit and show that you understand why they’re angry. This will help your clients to feel seen and help you connect with them better.
5. Identify the root of their emotions
In identifying your clients’ emotions, it’s essential to try to understand what’s causing them as well. If it’s someone brand new you’ve had little or no interaction with before, and they’re angry right out of the gate, then you’re likely not the cause of their anger.
Maybe they’re frustrated by the problem they’ve come to you to solve. Maybe they spent a long time on hold before you got to them or they had difficulty parking on their way up to see you. If you talk to them for a bit, without judgment, they might open up and tell you what’s happening or at least provide clues you can use to get the gist.
Once you’ve identified their emotions, you need to validate them — even before identifying the cause. You can use a few phrases to help show you care. However, there are also a few pitfalls to avoid.
“I’m sorry you’re angry” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” can sound condescending to some people. Like when people apologize by saying, “I’m sorry if you were offended.” It puts the onus on the one being apologized to rather than you as the one making the apology. Instead, try, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or “I can see how that would be frustrating.”
Once they’ve had a chance to get their emotions out, your next step is to fix things. Not fix their emotions, but fix the root cause, whatever it may be. If it’s something your company has done, ask how you can rectify it. If it’s about the problem they’ve come to your company to solve, show the exactly how your company can help them. If it’s something outside your control, offer them something you can control: a glass of water, words of encouragement, a minute to catch their breath, etc.
You can quickly build an authentic connection by showing your client that you understand them and empathizing with them. Then once you’ve built that connection, it can lead not just to one good sale but a years-long professional relationship.
They may even recommend you to their friends as someone who can be trusted and depended on to help them with their needs. It doesn’t take much effort to connect with clients in this way, but the potential benefits can be exponential.