Your clients are your business so it stands to reason that part of being a successful business person is building a healthy relationship.
Our associations are a two-way street where building, maintaining and strengthening our relationship is important. Frustration leads to disconnect. Preservation of relationships is good business sense and helps foster respect and the provision of referrals and even future business potential with the same client(s).
A solid relationship means a much more enjoyable process and is an essential component to success whether from a personal or professional perspective. The Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you. Maintain perspective by placing yourself in your client’s shoes.
The Foundation for Client Relationship Building
- Contract: Establish a clear and concise contract with your client. It is essential to any service provider/client relationship that a clear and concise awareness with each client is established to ensure that they understand what your role is and is not. Setting out a clear set of key service touch points is essential – define agreed upon services in advance and pinpoint any relevant limitations as to the extent of the services provided. A contract protects the interests of both parties and should automatically improve your relationship.
- Get to know each other: Discover each other’s interests.
- Ask Questions: Asking questions develops greater understanding and avoids problems later on; do not make assumptions. Ensure that clients are part of the process through their own observations.
- Be Decisive: As the service provider, carefully and objectively weigh the various elements and scope of the work being considered; decide what is within your level of expertise and which areas extend beyond what you are comfortable with. Be honest about not having the qualification for a requested service…willing to say no when it is prudent to do so. Saying yes to those elements of the project that are comfortable will ensure that your client’s overall challenges are made easier, less complicated. The more services you can package the greater your overall value to the client will be.
- Problem Solving: Invariably, challenges arise over the course of a contract; the unexpected occurs or becomes evident. We are hired to solve problems and the more issues we can resolve the better the experience will be for you and your client. As concerns arise, alert your client to those issues to seek their input. Offer to help resolve those issues. By virtue of the terms of the contractual agreement in place, you may already have a degree of flexibility to resolve such issues automatically, being careful, of course, where any additional cost factor is imminent.
- Clearly Defined Role: Our value to our clients is enhanced the more we are able to help them solve problems but our role in the relationship must be clearly defined. Maintain professional boundaries that we are careful not to overstep so that the ongoing business relationship is not compromised.
- Stay On Point: Maintain focus on the contract and all relevant deliverables and timelines. Doing so helps to solidify the relationship. Deliver what has been promised and then some. When the client has a sense of getting even more than was expected your relationship is all the stronger. That extra attention has to be tangible.
- Initiative & Flexibility: There is often more than one way to approach services and related problems. Position yourself as a learner, open to new ways of addressing challenges. Each different project may have similarities in the process yet also present a number of variables that dynamics of the new client relationship will necessitate a different approach to resolving. Be mindful of such variances, explore them and be prepared to review them with your client in order that mutual agreement to solutions is obtained.
- Work on Your Relationship: As with personal relationships, the business relationship with a client requires an ongoing process of development and enhancement. Avoidance of issues and enhancement of your relationship can be costly not only in terms of each other’s perspective but also whether you have a future business relationship.
- Honesty & Integrity: Refrain from overstating the truth about your product or services. Be completely honest about those services that your business cannot provide for your client and they will appreciate that honesty; a strong foundation for a lasting relationship is developed as a result.
- Remember That Clients are People: Be sure to focus on early conversations with your clients; their name, likes and dislikes, interests, things that your client has shared that are distinctive to them as a person. Be conscious of indicators through conversation that will help you serve the client’s needs.
- Be Courteous, Professional, Friendly: How many times have you felt frustrated when you asked a clerk or manager about a product or service and their response was rude, assuming and standoffish. Do not allow a background negative issue to cloud your potential to help a potential new client. They had nothing to do with your past or present issues.
- Negative Body Language: People will sense or outright recognize how you feel being around them. Maintain a professional and open posture when conversing; avoid crossing legs and arms, slouching, yawning, rolling of eyes, muttering as though irritated. Smile and maintain eye contact to assure your client that you are fully interested and engaged in their needs and that you want to help them resolve their need or problem. Because every person’s situation is in some way different or unique, treat them as such. Be yourself, be attentive and ask questions relevant to what the new client is saying. Don’t try to fast-track your conversation. Make a genuine connection and the rest will fall into place as it should.
Recognizing the Value of Each Client
Developing solid footing with new clients and maintaining that relationship is critical to sustaining a healthy and growing business. We want to ensure the successful completion of every single client project and, where applicable, pave the wave for a healthy and ongoing relationship into subsequent projects or ongoing services.
Keeping Your Client Informed: Clients expect that they are kept well-informed throughout the process of their project services. They don’t want to be left in the dark, receive ambiguous reports that leave them unclear as to the project status or any issues that arise. Effective communications are essential to a strong working relationship. This has to be your top priority in serving your clients well. Provide regular updates and advise them regarding issues that arise.
Be Resourceful: Share information with your client that they will deem useful. Always seek ways to add value to the client services specific to each client’s own needs. On the other hand, avoid superfluous detail, irrelevant issues, gossip and stay clear of providing offers that you know will be of no interest to them. If you come across as opportunistic your clients will resist and develop a negative perspective of your motivations.
Anticipate Problems: Promptly advise your client when problematic issues arise that could compromise or otherwise negatively affect the project you have been hired to do on their behalf. Never attempt to sweep such problems under the rug and hope they will somehow quietly disappear. Being evasive with a client can be seen as defensive or unaccountable and may seriously compromise your relationship.
Recognize Client Loyalty: When fortunate to have established a long-term relationship with a client, recognize that ongoing business association as truly valued and exceptional. Never take such a valued relationship for granted and assume that will always be the case. Honor that exceptional relationship through client rewards; special attention and client benefits such as discounts or other benefits not extended to other clients. Develop new ways to extend your appreciation and thanks for their continued and valued association.
Realize that as your client relationship continues to nurture and grow, mutual respect and appreciation becomes the trusting binder that solidifies a relationship. You will become, in essence, a partner to their enterprise, an ambassador to their cause. Your relationship will continue to grow and their level of comfort recommending you to associates and business or industry partners will be more and more forthcoming.
Address Client Concerns Objectively: Be sure that you are aware of client concerns raised either about project process or direct concerns they have regarding your approach to a project issue. Don’t skate around the issue, don’t become defensive and don’t pass off your client’s concern(s) as irrelevant or insignificant to the success of their project. Examine client issues from their perspective as well as your own.
As an industry professional you have been approached by your client, or they have been referred to you, for the expert services you have to offer. You are indeed an industry professional and as such have a responsibility to your clients and to yourself to not only fulfill all aspects of your contract with them but to maintain your own professional integrity in the process.
Decision to Continue vs. Discontinue a Client Relationship
Decision Whether to Sever a Client Relationship: This is one area of being a business owner that can be especially difficult to deal with; on one hand, you may have an issue with your client’s perspective on a given concern with your services to them, while on the other hand, you may be putting off the inevitable solution. If you feel strongly that your client’s concern about any issue is not justified and more a matter of a perceptional issue, how long do you continue to fend off a major confrontation?
There are two sides to every issue of course; your client’s primary concern is to please absolutely everyone on this earth who may be a potential customer of their own. On the other hand, you, as the servicing business professional, approach client issues on the basis of which solution is best for your client. There are times when a client issue just will not go away for whatever reason. You have done your utmost to meet and exceed their expectations yet there is a perceived lingering issue that your client just cannot get past.
At some point as a business professional, you have to either come to a clear resolution to the problem at hand, failing which, after all reasonable attempts to find resolve are exhausted, you have to make a decision; to continue or discontinue your relationship with that client. The client needs to understand the extent of the impact their issue would have in terms of their overall project objectives and if their concern would appear ill-conceived in any way, perhaps closing off the relationship would better serve each party to the contract.
Such is the day no business professional wants to experience and it means the loss of business of a valued client yet to belabor an issue unnecessarily by either party is disruptive to the forward progress or continuity of the project. The consistent flow of the project is altered and the service provider/client relationship is perhaps irreparably compromised. At what point does one or the other party (or both mutually) decide that you are deadlocked over an unfortunate issue that defies reasonable solution to each party’s satisfaction? At some point, sooner than later, a decision has to be made.
When a Client Relationship Ends, Let it Go: Above all else, as a business professional, establish good business practices and principals, make carefully considered business decisions and stand by those decisions. Don’t waffle back and forth in attempts to regain a wayward client relationship. If either party to the contract steps away, then accept that decision and respectfully let it go.
As a business professional, you cannot become defensive or aggressive at a point of difference of opinion or perspective. Be flexible, be reasonable and accountable, but when the relationship is failing and would appear unsolvable, respect the other party and sever the relationship. Be courteous and appreciative even in this event because you never know when a former client will approach you again after a passage of time to reflect and reassess. “Don’t burn your bridges” by shooting arrows of frustration and anger.
“We build too many walls
and not enough bridges.”
Photo c/o Michael Dam, Unsplash.com
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© Don MacIver 2017; All Rights Reserved