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Passion, People and Principles

Earning Trust when there’s too little time

post # 399 — July 6, 2007 — a Client Relations post

Most of us want to be caring trusted advisors, showing an interest in our clients’ affairs and staying current on what’ on their mind.

But there are only so many hours in a day, and many of us have more than a handful of clients to take care of at once.

So what can you do to earn and deserve trust (and a relationship) if you only have a limited amount of time?

The first point I’d make is to ensure that, in the limited few interactions you can afford the time for, you succeed as coming across as sympathetic and understanding. I don’t necessarily want a lot more of my doctor’s time when I see him or her, I just want to be treated a certain way when we are together.

Second, Getting in contact before I’m needed. (“I’m going to be away: is there anything I can take care of for youbefore I go?”) This is one case where seeking permission (to be unavailable) is better than seeking forgiveness.

I don’t know if the metaphor applies, but the situation reminds me of struggling to be a good parent or marriage partner. You can’t always give the other person all the time they want from you, but there must be ways to maximize the impact of the time you do have.

I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on good practice, since I think building and sustaining relationships with limited time is a common challenge.


Jason Sanders said:

Another way to gain trust is to project confidence. Letting your client know that you will take care of them will build trust. Using your medical analogy, I would much rather have a doctor tell me everything will be alright than to discuss the details of my medical condition. A family illness has brought me in touch with far too many doctors. The best ones keep a lot of information to themselves while expressing confidence in their ability to heal. After a time, you begin to understand that the best ones hold information back purposefully, but you also begin to realize that it is sometimes better NOT to know the details. Their confidence, and ultimately the results build trust, which can become a very deep bond.

When you tell a client you will take care of them, you begin to calm any fears they might have and provide the foundation for trust. Now go deliver on that promise!

posted on July 6, 2007

Duncan Bucknell said:

I think another important thing to do is to take great care in the commitments you make, and then doing all that possible can to meet them. Then, in the rare times that you can’t, communicating openly about it as soon as possible and with the client’s best interest at heart (of course!).

‘Of course’ – right? Actually many people will push out deadlines rather than offering something which may be better for the client – a list of other people to talk to first.

StressLimitDesign proved their worth (priceless) when I first approached them to help me on my website, by saying not for 11 months, sorry, we won’t commit unless we can meet the deadlines. They offered some names of other people at the same time.

I waited a year, and, of course, it was more than well worth it.

posted on July 6, 2007

Vikram Rajan said:

Since all my clients are experts in their field, it’s usually their personal brand Character (and Communications) I help hone. Surely we have to be competent, but we earn trust and loyalty through our “bedside manners.”

All of your professional comments are worthwhile. But also sharing a bit of our personal lives… e.g., our hobbies, our vacation pictures, questions/updates on kids… help to develop a relationship that is beyond the quid pro quo of day-to-day practice.

posted on July 6, 2007

peter vajda said:

In my experience, indicating through your behavioral communication ( verbal and non-verbal), emotional communication, and subliminal communication (intentionality, values) that the other is (and thus feels) welcomed, appreciated and liked.

You mention marriage. There are many who are “in love” in their marriage (or relationships) but not very much “in like” (which, actually, is often more challenging than “love”). In these, there is often an issue around trust (often unspoken-the elephant in the room).

posted on July 6, 2007

peter vajda said:

In my experience, through one’s behavioral communication (verbal and non-verbal), emotional communication (how we experience one another) and subliminal communication (values and intentionality), making the other feel welcomed, appreciated and liked contributes to trust. Being relationship oriented vs. being task oriented.

You mention marriage. Often in marriages (and other relationships) the challenge is liking the other, not “loving.” In these, where “liking” (really, liking!) is absent or minimal, there is often a trust issue (but plays out as the elephant in the room).

posted on July 6, 2007

Glen Cooper said:

I am new to blogging, but not to working with clients.

My comment on this topic is that we might want to follow a teaching model with clients, even though not always effective or appropriate in every case.

To teach as we go, to teach our client how to help us and themselves, to engage them in a collaborative effort, I find, addresses their frustrations. It empowers them and transforms the client/professional relationship.

When a client understands where you are taking them, and why and how, they will often withstand the hardships of the journey much better. They (and we!) are usually frustrated at the beginning of, and many times during, our relationship with them. To identify and address those frustrations with a mutual plan is our goal.

I am a business broker in Maine. We follow what I have called an “Agenda Setting Model” for selling to prospects, then working with them as clients. We set the agendas of each contact in collaboration with the prospect or client. In those meetings or phone calls, we agree upon action steps we will each take. In each subsequent contact, we review our mutual agenda to see what we agreed upon before, discuss whether or not it happended as we had planned, and then re-consider our mutual actions as we go forward.

This does not gurantee success either in the relationship or the effort we are undertaking together, but it does give us a collaborative, empowering way of handling the failures on each side.

This is, of course, done with humor, caring, honesty and lots of “bedside manners” required of both sides. It is a structure we train our brokers to teach clients in and around the small talk and friendly sharing that also must be a part of the client/professionhal relationship.

Hope this gives someone a new idea.

I am a 26-year veteran business broker and appraiser, but a newly-minted teacher for business brokers in professional practice management, one of the courses offered by our professional association. I am just now reading the David Maister books and other materials in preparation for my first time role as instructor of this course, offered in Dallas in November. Wish me luck.

posted on July 8, 2007

David (Maister) said:

We do wish you luck, Glen, we do!

posted on July 8, 2007

Bryan I. Schwartz said:

David, I am not sure we are on the right track here. There are great contributions on the “art” of client service that the participants are using but little emphasis on the science. I really believe that in order to achieve real client success, the art can be too inconsistent for delivery of “Wow” service to quote Tom Peters over the course of time.

So here is the challenge. Can anyone recite the top 5 repeatable client service initiatives? What is the science that you engage in and can teach to others to develop a consistency in service. It has been said that Heintz ketchup tastes the same every time someone squeezes a bottle? How do you get the genie out of the bottle in service firms, from a scientific standpoint?

posted on July 9, 2007

Glen Cooper said:

5 top repeatable client service initiatives? A science? I am eager to read the responses. I wish it were a science. I’m afraid it’s mostly an art that takes a lot of practice to practice!

But, if I were to challenge myself, not yet having read but one of the David Maister books, I would go with what I know from studying Michael Gerber’s E-Myth and adapting it to our circumstances. It has also been years since I read Tom Peters, so my apologies if I am forgetting that Tom laid out a list of these.

Our top five client service intiatives are these (if I had to write them in 5 steps, not necessarily followed in any order):

1) Make a list of client frustrations. And OUR frustrations, too, as providers. This is really part of a more complicated first step I call “Choose Our Market,” but I’m editing here. The larger step also involves a lot of in-depth soul searching and SWOT analyses of self, firm, immediate market and larger opportunities.

In our case, as general business brokers, our seller clients’ top 5 frustrations are that they 1) don’t know what their business is worth, 2) don’t know how to protect their confidentiality when they considered selling, 3) have no idea how to market their business, 4) have no idea how to screen and qualify buyer prospects, and 5) and have no idea how to negotiate and get to a closing (a successful sale).

2) Prepare to address those frustrations with a promise. A promise to our clients and to ourselves. It has to be a promise that transforms the client’s AND our experience. It has to address a major frustration (at least one) in the market. It has to be uplifting and ethical. It has to be something our competitors don’t think we can do, yet it has to be practical, possible, affordable.

In our case, we promise that we will bring our developed “systems, teamwork and track record” to the service of our clients. We have developed systems to address the frustrations of the business selling process. We have assembled an accessible team of experts working together collaboratively. We have a considerable track record with the many contacts (banks, lawyers, CPAs, business specialists) that such a long track record allows us to apply to each new situation for our clients.

3) Develop systems to deliver that promise. Whatever service we are promising, we have to be specific in “how we do it here.” In our case, we have valuation systems, confidentiality systems, marketing systems, screening and qualifying systems and negotiation and closing systems to describe, and even teach, to our clients.

4) Develop systems for finding and acquiring the “right” clients. These are the lead generation and lead conversion systems of our business. These are the direct marketing and mass marketing efforts. These include everyting from how the office looks to the script-writing for our telemarketers to agenda-setting for our client meetings.

5) Develop systems to keep the promise by writing it down and preparing to teach it. These are the goal setting systems, the policy handbook systems and the broker training systems. These are also the systems to change the promise when it needs changing, and to fix the systems when they need to be fixed. Everyone who works for us or with us must be taught the hows and whys of our methodologies.

To a great extent, I have molded my answer to fit the desire for 5 initiatives. One can structure them in a variety of ways to make them more, or fewer, in number.

While the above is still mostly art in its detailed delivery, at least those steps are logical steps that can be repeated by various practitioners, under various circumstances, and still work to improve client service.

Isn’t that what we mean when we talk about scientific? Repeatable under similar circumstances with similar results? Not as predictable as the taste of Heinz ketchup, of course, but maybe more like Lenscrafters “glasses in about an hour” or FedEx “when it absolutely has to get there overnight.”

I’m always interested in feedback, so fire away if I am too far off-base here.

posted on July 9, 2007

Eric Boehme said:

David, the metaphor applies in my humble opinion. As a parent of 4, soon to be 5, and a husband, I often feel like I am struggling to spend enough quality time with all of them. The key for me has been the quality of the time, not the quantity. So I would think the same applies to our clients/customers.

They want our best and they do not take into consideration our time challenges.

posted on July 9, 2007

Stuart Cross said:

David, the things that I focus on as best I can are to…..

  • Only promise what I can deliver – and if I can’t deliver, phone them, now!
  • Look at issues from my client’s point of view, not my own – what are their objectives? what does success look like for them?

  • Communicate and give a little often, rather than a lot, infrequently (this is where blogs, newsletters can be helpful)
  • Don’t expect too much in return (this is the one I find hardest!)
  • Be polite, say thank you, treat others as you would wish to be treated, treat everyone the same – all of this is at one level a cliche, but at another is, to my mind, the heart of trust

Hope this helps. Stuart

posted on July 10, 2007

Scott McArthur said:

I’m very interested in this and it made me think – what does “Trusted Advisor” mean for the development of consultants?

posted on July 11, 2007

Charlie said:

Another way would be providing them with simple yet specific answers to their questions. Some companies leave a shadow of doubt in their customer’s minds whenever they repond to a question.

posted on July 13, 2007

Irene said:

I think clear and meaningful explanations would be appropriate during orientations and meetings to save time.

posted on July 16, 2007

Martin Calle said:

David, I haven’t been to your site in some time but I always enjoy it.

The best way to earn trust when time is scarce is to not try to sell something. Go the opposite direction of what you are expected to say. This will leave people with the impression that you are not a mercenary and that you are working in their best interest. The motto here is that when you help others get what they want, you get what you want. And what they don’t want is pressure.

Technically, this is called “indifference.” It IS one of the factors of impulse. It is the most powerful and most difficult to master. But once mastered it works like a Jedi mind trick. The other three factors of impulse are fear of loss, greed or jonesing, and sense of urgency. They go by the anacronym FIGS.

posted on August 29, 2007