Developing Trust with the Client

    1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from AudibleWhether we’re talking about sales or simply service delivery, one of the biggest keys to success in consulting is about the Develop trust with the relationships we build with our clients and prospective clients.  And just like in our personal lives, the only way to build a strong and productive relationship is by developing trust.  In this week’s podcast, we discuss why that is so important and how to develop a strong trusting relationship with our clients.

    1. Why is trust so important in a client relationship?
      1. Think about trust in your personal life.  Whether it’s with a friend or your significant other.
      2. When you first met this person, you probably hadn’t built up any trust.  But maybe they were introduced to you by a trusted friend.
      3. That’s a good start.  That friend’s trust may transfer some initial trust to this new acquaintance, but most people will want to develop their own opinion.
      4. So let’s say you’re set up with a blind date with a friend.  OK, I trust my friend so I’ll lend a little trust to this person.
      5. You go on the date and like the person and agree to another date.  And gradually, over time you let your guard down with this person.
      6. But it doesn’t happen overnight.  You need to get to know someone.  And the more you get to know them, the more you’ll develop that trust.
      7. In more of a business scenario, let’s compare this to a situation I had once.  I needed to hire a handyman to install an attic fan in my house.  It was the first time I had used this guy so I just had him do a small job.
      8. After he left, I noticed he’d partially put his foot through the drywall ceiling right at the top of the stairs.
      9. I called him back and asked if he’d come back and fix it.  He said he’d try to stop over the next few days.  A week went by and I didn’t hear anything back.    After that, whenever I called, it went to voice mail and he never returned my calls.
      10. He wasn’t interested in developing a long term relationship with me by making good on a mistake he made.  And I’ve told my friends and neighbors about my experience to avoid them getting burned the same way.
      11. There are consultants like that too.  They contract to do work with a client and when things go wrong that will cost them time and money to correct, they’re unwilling to use their own resources to fix it.  They finish the project and leave a bad taste with their client.
      12. If they don’t get repeat business, they go out and try to find another client.  They end up undercutting their competitors to get the business and it becomes a repetitive process.
      13. Evidently, there is enough business out there for handymen that they don’t need repeat business or referrals, but consulting is much different.  The consultants who don’t treat their clients well enough to get repeat business and referrals won’t last too long.
      14. They end up spending too much time, money and resources trying to find new business.
      15. Many people don’t realize that it costs much more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one.
      16. I think that demonstrates the value of trust.
    2. How do you develop trust with a new client?
      1. You start to do it before they’re a client.  Like the blind date scenario I just described, hopefully you can get a previous client with whom you’ve already developed some trust that will set you up with a referral.
      2. But you also want to prove it to them yourself.  Whether you meet them through networking or you live in the same neighborhood or play golf with one of their directors, you start developing trust as soon as you meet them.
      3. What’s most important here is what you don’t do more than what you do.  Many people start by talking all about themselves.  They tout the services their firm offers and how wonderful they are in an effort to sell this new friend some services.
      4. Instead, they should take an interest in this new acquaintance.  The most important thing is to listen.  Find out what their real problems are and why they think these problems are occurring.
      5. Then you start helping them solve their problems.  You might provide them some free advice or find them someone that can solve their problem for them.
      6. The more honest you are and the more you show them that you are interested in helping them rather than just trying to make money off of them, the more they are going to trust you with their company.
    3. So it sounds like it’s about relationships.
      1. That’s exactly it.  When you’re set up with that blind date, you start developing a relationship with them.  As you get to know them, if they don’t show up for a date or you catch them in a lie, you begin to think the other person is only in the relationship for themself. And in that case it’s hard to develop trust.
    4. Doesn’t it go both ways?
      1. I believe it does.  The customer usually has more power in a relationship, but I also think it’s just as important for the consultant to trust the client.
      2. I was in a situation a few years ago where my firm had been working with a client for a couple of years and had built up a lot of trust with them.  We had had some problems early in the relationship and went over and above to right the wrong.  We worked a lot of hours created a lot of goodwill with them.
      3. After developing a lot of trust with them, they invited us to propose on another project.  We were happy to be included until they told us it would be an online “reverse auction”, in which all of the bidders would place bids for the project until there was only one left.  The lowest bidder won.
      4. After working hard to earn this client’s trust, the client made it clear to us that they were only interested in a transactional relationship and not a long-term one.
      5. If your team doesn’t trust your client, you’re not going to get them to provide their best level of service.
      6. Patrick Lencioni is the author of many books on consulting and leadership.  He says that having a bad client is worse than having no client at all.  Because it prevents you from finding other good clients.  It’s also unlikely that you’ll get a good reference from them and it destroys your culture.
      7. I really believe this.  Trust needs to be a two-way street between the client and consultant.  Again, it’s a personal relationship; you both have to be there for each other.
    5. How do you regain trust
      1. In a job I had a few years ago, we had a vendor who hosted our web content.  We had been with them for a number of years and had always had service problems with them.  They would bring the site down for maintenance without much warning and they would try to charge us for fixes to their software.
      2. When our contract came up, we started soliciting proposals from their competitors and our vendor was suddenly very attentive to our needs.  They wanted the chance to submit a proposal and win us back.
      3. I remember talking to a woman that had dealt with them for a while and she said, “It’s like the boyfriend who always cheated on you and is now hurt that you want to date someone else”.
      4. Like any relationship, it depends on what the offender has done.  Everyone makes mistakes and if you have no tolerance for mistakes, you’ll never end up trusting anyone.
      5. On the other hand, there are some breaches of trust that someone may not ever get over.  If you’re blatantly betrayed by someone; let’s say a firm breaches your trust by breaking confidentiality rules or secretly worked with one of your competitors when you had an agreement not to do that.
      6. In a case like that it might be difficult, if not impossible to regain that trust.
      7. But if someone makes a mistake and makes up for it, they’re on the right track.  If you hurt a friend’s feelings, you apologize and try to show you’re that you’re trustworthy.  But it’s all in how show that trust.
      8. I’ve always thought that there are two parts to an apology.  The first half is showing them that you regret what you did.  But the second part is showing that you won’t let it happen again. And that takes a little longer to prove.
    6. How long does it take to gain a clients trust?
      1. Once you betray a trust, I don’t think you’re ever done.  You are continually showing the person or your client that it won’t happen again.
      2. Even if you’ve never breached their trust, it’s important not to get a false sense of security.  We used to have a saying that you’re only as good as your last project.
      3. That kept us in the mindset that we’re always trying to prove ourselves and proving our trustworthiness to the client.
    7. Have you seen business relationships fail because of a lack of trust?
      1. Unfortunately no.  I say that it’s unfortunate because I’ve seen so many business relationships that have limited trust and they continue to limp along.
      2. Maybe it’s the old theory of staying with the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t know.
      3. But to me it’s sort of like a married couple that fights all the time and stays together because of the kids.
      4. What they end up doing is making life miserable for all involved.
      5. The example I used a few minutes ago about the client that held the reverse auction.  They destroyed any trust that had been built up between us.  The firm I worked for should have walked away – or at a minimum, declined to participate in the reverse auction.  If we had made it clear that we didn’t want to do business like that, or have a relationship like that, I think we could have made a strong statement about our expectation of trust.
      6. Instead, we participated in the auction and gave in to them.
      7. We continued a relationship with them that kind of limped along.  Neither of us had much trust with each other and everybody suffered as a whole over time.
      8. There are of course situations where a firm acts so untrustworthy that the client never does business with them again.  That’s fine.  If the firm doesn’t learn from that and figure out how to develop trust, they’ll eventually go out of business.  That’s just business Darwinism.
      9. But I think the most damage comes from the firms that perpetuate the untrustworthy relationships and cause all the stakeholders involved to suffer.
    8. We talk a lot about honesty.  There’s often a tendency to hide bad news from a client.  How does a consultant know when to be guarded and when they should be brutally honest?
      1. That can be tough.  I prefer to be as transparent as possible.  When things go wrong, the client should know about it.
      2. Issues come up every day that you can fix and not bother the client with.  You can expose every little thing that happens but you end up annoying the client at some point.
      3. You need to have some kind of filter for the small issues that you handle and the larger ones that they should be aware of.
      4. But the decision should be made based on whether the client needs to be bothered with it, rather than a matter of keeping information from them.
      5. If you have an issue that you handle and decide not to tell the client, you should be prepared to discuss it if they learn about it and ask about it.
      6. It’s important to make them aware that you weren’t keeping information from them.
    9. How do you get the honesty and trust into the culture of your firm?
      1. It starts in the hiring process.  You want to hire people that you feel you can trust.  It requires humility and the confidence to expose one’s self.
      2. But it’s a constant effort. It requires you to repeatedly tell them.  They say that if you tell people something once and they remember 10% of it a week later.
      3. So it becomes like a marketing campaign. That’s why you see commercials aired over and over; to drill it into people and repeatedly tell your people how important it is.
      4. But you also have to live it.  You of course have to be trustworthy yourself in your day to day dealings.  And then you have to reinforce how important it is.  You have to reinforce with your expectations and your incentives.
      5. If you don’t let your team know every chance that you get, about the importance of being trustworthy with your clients, they won’t know how important it is to you.
      6. I mentioned Patrick Lencioni earlier in this podcast.  He wrote “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. The very first dysfunction is the absence of trust.  As a leader, you have to instill trust within your own team before they can develop it with their clients.
      7. So trust has to be pervasive internally if it’s ever going to have a chance of existing with your clients.
    10.  Any final thoughts about developing trust with the client?
      1. Trust is one of those soft skills that many managers just don’t want to deal with.  They’d rather just focus on the money and getting the job done.
      2. But they don’t realize that in the long run, they can end up making more money if they have a happy client that will trust them to do the job over and over instead of just having transactional relationships where they have to prove themselves with ever job.

    Next week’s topic: Controlling your emotions in consulting

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