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Building a good relationship with a customer, based on mutual trust and respect, can take a long time. However, there are ways to kickstart the process and build rapport much faster. That understanding can then be the foundation upon which your long-standing working relationship is built. How do you quickly connect with someone you just met?
When it comes down to it, your customer wants to know that you’ve heard and understood what they’re saying to you. The quickest way to show you’re on the same wavelength is to repeat what they’ve said. There are a few good ways to do that.
Related: If you want your customers to really value you, be their trusted advisor. Here’s how.
When reflecting, choose a few critical words your client said and use them in your answer. Let’s say your client wants to expand their business and expand to different cities. They might say to you, “I feel like we’re stagnant where we are right now. I’ve heard 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 like you’re stagnant, it’s probably time to explore those options and see what new opportunities you can find.”
It seems simple, but it is a proven technique for building a bond. This was demonstrated in a study conducted in the Netherlands among wait staff in restaurants. It turned out that when servers repeated a customer’s order before bringing it to the kitchen, they almost twice as much average in tips than if they didn’t repeat. Giving back to them a customer’s needs shows that you understand what they want and that you are on the same page.
Reflection is an excellent technique for shorter conversations, but the longer you talk, the more you’ll notice when you repeat the same things your client says back. That’s where paraphrasing comes in.
Paraphrasing is similar to reflecting, except that instead of choosing key words and repeating them, you are repeating the client’s basic ideas in your own words. This helps show them that you’ve listened and understand what they’re saying.
It’s most effective when phrased as a question. So your client says, “I don’t want to spend too much money, but I do want something that will last me a long time.”
You might reply, “So if I understand you correctly, you want something reasonably priced but not of poor quality that you don’t need to replace right away?”
Phrasing it as a question shows that you are actively involved in the conversation. You don’t tell the customer what he wants. You listen and make sure you’re on the same page. This makes them feel heard and shows that their opinion is valued, which brings me to the next method of building a connection with your customers.
Related: The 7 Stages of Customer Relationship Management
3. Identify and acknowledge your clients’ emotions
If your client is angry or frustrated, your first instinct is likely to steer them away from those emotions. You don’t want angry customers; you want happy, satisfied customers. However, it may seem callous and unempathetic to direct or maneuver a client’s feelings to a certain place. Instead, if you want to bond with your client, it’s important to identify, acknowledge, and validate those emotions.
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 from. It means intentionally listening to their values, needs and what they understand really say. Buddhists have a saying, “hold space,” which means the same thing. It’s about being truly present in the moment.
A simple conversation with someone can sometimes reveal what someone really needs if you have the patience to just observe them. Be aware of their body language; their behavior can tell you everything you need to know. And it’s also, in a way, meeting them where they are.
Dealing with customers and their emotions requires a delicate hand. Making them feel like they shouldn’t feel a certain way can make them resent you. Instead, you have to meet them where they are. If someone is happy, celebrate that happiness with that person. If someone is angry, let them be angry for a moment and show that you understand why they are angry. This will make your customers feel seen and you can better connect with them.
5. Identify the source of their emotions
When identifying your clients’ emotions, it is essential to also try to understand what triggers them. If it’s someone brand new that you’ve had little or no interaction with, and they’re instantly angry, you’re probably not the cause of their anger.
Perhaps they are frustrated with the problem they came to you to solve. They may have been on hold for a long time before you got to them or had trouble parking on the way to you. If you talk to them for a while, without judgment, they can open up and tell you what’s happening or at least give clues you can use to get the gist.
Once you’ve identified their emotions, you need to validate them – even before you identify the cause. You can use a few sentences to show that you care. However, there are also some pitfalls to avoid.
Related: The 5 Secrets of a Valid Apology
“I’m sorry you’re angry” or “I’m sorry you feel this way” can seem condescending to some people. Like when people apologize by saying, “I’m sorry if you were offended.” It puts the responsibility on the one to whom the apology is being made, rather than on you as the one making the apology. Try instead, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or “I can understand how frustrating that would be.”
Once they’ve had a chance to express their emotions, your next step is to work things out. Don’t resolve their emotions, resolve the cause, whatever it may be. If it’s something your company has done, ask how you can make it right. When it comes to the problem they came to your company to solve, show them exactly how your company can help them. If it’s something you can’t control, offer them something you can control: a glass of water, words of encouragement, a minute to catch your breath, etc.
You quickly build an authentic bond by showing your client that you understand and empathize with him. Once you build that connection, it can lead not only to one good sale, but to a professional relationship that lasts for years to come.
They may even recommend you to their friends as someone who can be trusted and relied upon to help them with their needs. It doesn’t take much effort to engage with customers this way, but the potential benefits can be exponential.