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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 start the process and build a relationship much faster. This relationship can then be the foundation upon which your long-term working relationship is built. How do you quickly connect with someone you just met?
When it comes down to it, your customer wants more to know that you have heard and understood what they are saying. The quickest way to prove you’re on the same page is to repeat what they said. There are a few good ways to do this.
Related: If you want your clients to truly value you, you need to be their trusted advisor. See how.
In reflection, you pick out a few key words your customer has said and use them in your response. For example, let’s say your client wants to expand their business and sub in different cities. They might say, “I feel like we’re stuck where we are. I hear there are great markets in Chicago and St. Louis, and I want to explore that.”
You might answer, “I’ve heard the same thing about Chicago and St. Louis. If you’re feeling stagnant, then it’s probably time to explore those options and see what new opportunities you can find.”
It seems simple, but it’s a proven technique for promoting a link. This was proven in a study conducted in the Netherlands with waiters in restaurants. It found that when servers repeated a customer’s order back to them before bringing it to the kitchen, they earned nearly twice as much in tips, on average, than when they didn’t repeat it. Reflecting a customer’s needs back to them shows that you understand what they want and are on the same page.
Reflecting is a great technique for shorter conversations, but the longer you talk, the more noticeable it will be if you’re repeating the same things your client is saying. That’s where paraphrasing comes in.
Paraphrasing is similar to reflecting, except that instead of picking out key words and repeating them, you restate the client’s key ideas in your own words. This helps show them that you are listening and understand what they are saying.
It’s more effective if you phrase it as a question. So your customer says, “I don’t want to spend a lot of money, but I want something that will last me a while.”
You might answer, “Well, if I understand you correctly, you want something reasonably priced but not of poor quality that you won’t need to replace right away?”
Phrasing it as a question shows that you are actively participating in the conversation. You don’t tell the customer what they want. You listen and make sure you’re on the same page. This makes them feel heard and shows them that their opinion is valued, which leads me to the next method of developing relationships with your customers.
Related: The 7 Stages of Customer Relationship Management
3. Identify and acknowledge your customers’ emotions
If your customer is angry or frustrated, your first instinct will likely be to push them away from those feelings. You don’t want angry customers. you want happy, satisfied customers. However, trying to direct or maneuver a customer’s emotions to a specific place can seem insensitive and uncaring. Instead, if you want to build a relationship with your customer, it’s important to identify those feelings, acknowledge them, and validate them.
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 coming from. It means intentional listening to understand values, needs and what they really say. Buddhists have a saying, “I hold space,” which means the same thing. It’s about being truly present in the moment.
Having a simple conversation with someone can sometimes reveal what a person really needs if you have the patience to just observe them. Watch their body language. their behavior can tell you all you need to know. And it also meets them where they are, in a way.
Dealing with customers and their emotions requires a delicate hand. If you make them feel like they aren’t allowed to feel a certain way, they may resent you. Instead, you have to meet them where they are. If someone is happy, celebrate that happiness with them. If someone is angry, let them be angry for a while and show that you understand why they are angry. This will help your customers feel seen and help you better connect with them.
5. Identify the root of their feelings
When determining your customers’ emotions, it’s important to try to understand what’s causing them as well. If it’s someone brand new that you’ve had little or no interaction with before, and they’re angry right out of the gate, then you’re probably not the cause of their anger.
Maybe they’re frustrated with the problem they’ve come to you to solve. Maybe they spent a long time waiting before you got to them or had trouble parking as they pulled up to see you. If you talk to them for a while, non-judgmentally, they might open up and tell you what’s going on, or at least provide clues you can use to get the gist of it.
Once you identify their feelings, you need to validate them — even before you identify the cause. You can use a few phrases to show that you are interested. However, there are also some pitfalls to avoid.
Related: The 5 Secrets of a Validating Apology
“I’m sorry you’re angry” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” may sound condescending to some people. Like when people apologize by saying, “I’m sorry if you were offended.” It puts the onus on the one being apologized to rather than on you as the one asking for the apology. Instead, try, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or “I can see how frustrating that would be.”
Once they’ve had a chance to get their feelings out, your next step is to make things right. Not fix their feelings, but fix the root cause, whatever it is. If it’s something your company has done, ask how you can fix it. If it’s the problem they’ve come to your company to solve, show exactly how your company can help them. If it’s something out of your control, offer them something you can control: a glass of water, words of encouragement, a minute to catch their breath, etc.
You can quickly create an authentic connection by showing your customer that you understand and empathize with them. Then, once you make that connection, it can lead to not just a good sale but a multi-year business relationship.
They may even recommend you to their friends as someone they can trust and rely on to help them with their needs. It doesn’t take much effort to connect with customers this way, but the potential benefits can be exponential.