Building a Rapport with Your Customers

The concept and practice of building a rapport with your customers is really quite straightforward. It is very much what is called ‘Golden Rule Selling’ in the book Game Plan. Treat your customers exactly how you want to be treated if your roles were reversed. Regardless of what you are buying, you want someone that listens to you; understands what you are saying; discusses options with you; clarify’s expectations; follows through; is genuine; and, maintains contact. It does not matter if you are selling a deli sandwich or a complex financial instrument, to build a good relationship you need to follow these basic steps. By the way, you also need a product that meets the expectations you establish with your customer.

Listen: Everyone wants to be heard. They want you to pay attention and not be distracted. They want you to listen to their individual needs- whether it is the type of cheese for their sandwich or whether it is to purchase insurance to cover their business- they want you to listen to their individual desires.

Understand: Throughout the listening process, everybody, in every situation wants you to indicate that you understand what they are telling you. In some cases that may mean repeating what they said, in other instances it may mean asking clarifying questions. Either way it is an indication that you are listening and understand what they desire.

Discuss: Often times, because you are the expert in the field (sandwich artist, insurance professional, dry cleaning guru, etc.) you may want or need to discuss options your customer may not have considered. Or you may recognize that you cannot do exactly what they want, but have options for them that will meet the majority of their needs. This requires a positive dialogue around what your client wants to accomplish and the best options you have to help them meet or exceed their expectations.

Clarify Expectations & Process: Once you believe they have clearly stated their desires, and you have reviewed option to meet those desires, you need to review with your client what you heard, what is going to happen next, when you will meet their needs, and what their role and responsibility is in the process.

Follow Through: Now you must deliver. If you cannot deliver as you had committed, tell them immediately and tell them what to expect next. No one likes surprises.

Be Genuine: If you do not act genuine, if you act as if you are only going through the motions- they will know. Your ability to build a relationship and repeat business will suffer if you are not genuine and truly interested.

Maintain Contact: This may be the hardest part of building a relationship. You need to figure out how to keep the customer coming back if you are involved in transactional sales- like selling a sandwich. (Give them a coupon for their second visit). If you are in a business where you have been intrusted to do them a service (like insurance protection), you need to reach out periodically to make sure they are satisfied and that their needs have not changed.

The benefits of building repeat customers in a transactional business, or building a relationship in a business where you are held out as an expert capable of better understanding needs and tending to them, can be very rewarding personally and financially. As you interview potential employees for customer facing positions, think through the skill sets and talents necessary to build lasting customer relationships. It can make a significant difference in your business. Building rapport with your client base depends on you being genuine, consistent and truly interested in serving their needs on an ongoing basis.

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