I first met my friend Anna at a yoga retreat in Goa about seven years ago. Slowly we became really close friends. Common values, common interests, wine and yoga love… As an only child, I feel like life gave me the biggest present in my 30’s, a big sister like Anna, who always has my back… But Anna’s magic goes beyond our personal relationship and the fact that we get along wonderfully well.
Anna is the most altruistic, giving, helping, loving, accepting, supportive person that I have ever met. She actually plans her diary around doing good. Shopping for her elderly neighbour, making pizza for charity; taking care of her friends’ children; teaching, tutoring, helping small businesses; looking after animals… She is the rock of her family, a great support to her community, neighbourhood and an amazing caregiver for all living creatures – including me, my kid, my dog, my plants and even my sourdough!
You get the picture.
This story is actually not about her, but about Jack the “majestically gorgeous” labradoodle that Anna and her family adopted a year ago! Jack, (due to his poodle origins) has the curliest, lamb-like coat ever. He is like a fluff ball when not groomed, a giant four-legged cloud.
If you are a dog owner, you will know that one thing that all dog owners missed during the lockdown was the ability to take their pooch for grooming. Most dogs got all matted, scruffy or worse, and had to walk around with atrocious looks because of their owners, who were totally inexperienced at grooming.
Poor Jack was in this category. As soon as the groomers were open, Anna brought him to the shop.
“The usual,” she said and left to grab a coffee with me while Jack was getting pampered. Two hours later, we returned to the shop together and there was Jack, sitting in the corner, looking like a shaved lamb with a rat’s tail! I tried hard to hide my surprise but burst into laughter… Anna was literally speechless, shocked… almost in tears. The dog was shaved! Almost to the skin. The groomer, totally calm and oblivious explained how matted he was, and she just had to shave it all off! “£70 please,” she said.
Anna paid the bill, but left upset and angry…
The fact is that Jack was totally matted and there was absolutely nothing to do but to shave him completely. The groomer was right, but something was wrong with the process, which made a sweet and understanding person like Anna upset and angry with the service… and the groomer herself.
What was it that made Anna feel that upset?
When I asked her, the answer was dead simple:
“They could have called me to get my permission, they could have at least apologised and seemed a bit concerned. They made me feel like I was fool to be shocked.”
She felt let down, she felt uncared for. The catch is, the grooming lady was not the one Anna usually had. This girl was new to Anna and she hadn’t gained enough trust yet to make a simple decision on behalf of Anna. So, she needed to manage Anna’s expectations and communicate with her better and inform her… Now, she had lost all her trust… most likely even the business had lost her trust.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, the foundation of efficient client relationship management is simple: build trust-based relationships. It is trust that will get you promoted to a higher level of control and decision-making with – or sometimes on behalf of – your client, which makes the entire process simpler.
As a micro-business owner or solopreneur, your aim is to build the doctor and patient relationship. Have you ever heard a patient (unless they are doctors themselves) discussing with their heart surgeon which procedure to use on their open by-pass surgery? No. Why? Because there is a 100% trust in that relationship. Here the trust is given directly to the profession and to the system that ensures that the surgeon has had enough training to know what they are doing.
Unfortunately, for entrepreneurs who are in the slow growth service sectors, titles and education might not be as powerful as doctors and lawyers.
So, what do we do?
The formula of the trust-based relationship to gain efficiency in your client relationship management is:
Trust = (Care x Accountability)Effective communication
Let’s open this up.
We should start with getting the terminology right:
TRUST: What I mean by trust in a client-relationship scenario is the level of confidence that your clients have in your ability to guide them in their decision-making process. The good sign of trust is when you get the following type questions “what do you think I should do?”, “which one do you think I should buy?” or “What would you do if you were me?”
CARE: The care component of a client relationship encompasses all the ways in which you make your client feel understood and looked after.
There are three aspects in a client relationship where you can prove that you care about them:
- Ensure strong mutual understanding. This needs to happen at the beginning of the relationship, during the discovery phase. As a lot of sales books mention, the sales process starts at the very first hello. Ensuring mutual understanding has two dimensions – one, making sure that you understand your clients’ expectations from the offer as well as from the relationship, but also and more importantly, that you manage those expectations and explain the process of pre-sales, sales and post sales. If both parties understand all the steps, terms and conditions of the relationship explicitly, you will already begin to build trust.
- Demonstrate reliability. Simple. Do what you say you will do, be on time, follow-up.
- Human connection. I am all for boundaries and control in client relationships but at the end of the day, as a solopreneur or micro-business owner, 90% of what you sell is you. Your product or service is only 10%. They buy you… So, you owe to your clients “you”. I have 3 rules:
- Make the time that they spend with you an enjoyable experience,
- Offer some flexibility This does not mean be accessible and available 24/7, but make sure you are there to support them when they are in a tough place.
- Show gratefulness. Your clients trust you… they deserve a little thank you here and there.
- Be accountable: There is nothing more disgraceful than not taking accountability as a business owner. When I face this situation as a client, my trust levels sink right away. What do you think? My philosophy on this is: as a business owner we always have some level of responsibility whatever happens in the business or with a client. Even when the client is not clear with what they want, it is always our responsibility to either get more information or flag that they are not clear before beginning the collaboration. And an accountable, responsible business owner can always keep that relation of trust even when there is a mistake.
- Communicate effectively: Stats show that only 7% of meaning is communicated through words, the remaining 38% is communicated through voice and 55% through body language. Effective communication skills allow you to gain the superpowers of decrypting and using the 93% of the communication tools in an accurate way. My top 3 list of super powers are:
- Empathy: this power gives you the ability to go below the surface and see the deeper end of the iceberg,
- Active listening: the ability to hear what is not said (like mind-reading)
- Asking great questions: this power gives you to transform unspoken language to clear words, and ignite clarity in your client’s thought process.
The good news is, we can develop and perfect all of these skills and qualities. The even better news is that just by being exposed to these concepts you’ve already done more than half of the work… You have opened new pathways in your mind about communication.