Courting Your Clients: 9 Essential Skills and Traits You Need to Nourish Superior Client Relationships

Courting Your Clients: 9 Essential Skills and Traits You Need to Nourish Superior Client Relationships

by Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Customer Service Helping Client

Getty Images

“Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.”

-Stanley Marcus, former Chairman of the Board of Neiman Marcus –

Last night I got together with some friends for dinner after work. All of us had had stressful days at work and were looking to wind down before heading home. Each of us deals with clients directly during the course of the day, which was the cause for the frustration and stress.

Amid the variety of scenarios that my friends vented (everywhere from well-worn returns at my friend’s clothing boutique to contentious parent-teacher conferences), the tie that binds these stories together is the understanding that my friends have of what it means to serve clients.

I posed the question, “What image comes to mind when you hear the term Customer Service?” The responses, like gunfire, punctuated the energy in the air,

“Scullery Maid!” retorted the corporate accounts department manager.

“Babysitter!” the coffee shop owner interjected.

“Door mat!” uttered the boutique owner.

“Pain-in-the-A.R.S.E.!” confirmed the head of the legal department at a local shopping mall. We had some fun recounting stories of our worst encounters with clients, transitioning to our best encounters to be certain that we ended on a positive note.

I must admit that the whole concept of seeing customers as an excruciating evil that must be endured as part of the cost of doing business has always been a foreign concept to me. Even during the most exasperating exchanges in my earliest days as an official member of the Working World, I always felt that a client was upset because I had failed to hear what the client truly was saying/asking/needing or that I failed in my ability to communicate the solution (or reasons for a lack thereof) effectively to a client who couldn’t hear me. I quickly developed a set of skills and nurtured a few personality traits to tap into in order to make sure I could eliminate every barrier to a great working relationship that I could.

These nine essentials have never failed me. I, on the other hand, have failed when I have chosen not to employ these nine essentials. I have listed them below in the order in which they naturally flow. This natural order is also useful in knowing how to prioritize your learning and training needs. The first two are personality traits that you may develop even if you do not possess them naturally. The remaining seven are skills that anyone can master with commitment.

  1. A Contemplative Nature

    – or the habit of analyzing situations with the aim of making improvements for the future. In order to improve the relationships you have with your customers or clients, you have to take some time each day to review each of your interactions with your customers or clients. If you do not look back, replaying the exchange in your mind, you will never see what worked well and what did not work at all. If you do not look for the strengths and weaknesses in your relationships, you cannot make anything better, stronger. Remember, the Bionic Man was the result of a complete disaster, a rebuilding and strengthening of an apparently hopeless case. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the reference, I have included the opening sequence to the 1970’s television show.)

  2. A Passion for Solving Puzzles

    – or the habit of searching for the best solution rather than the easiest or the first solution that presents itself. I find, from my experiences on both sides of the customer service experience, that people respond well when they can see that you are working with them to solve their problem. By laying all the pieces of the solution on the table and working with the customer to put them together properly, the customer or client walks away certain that they have the full picture, that all the pieces are in place, and that this particular puzzle is complete. They also walk away confident that they have a companion, someone they can trust to champion their cause, someone they can rely on to help them through the difficult times rather than someone they have to fight with to get the help promised to them.

  3. Consciousness

    – or the habit of taking the lens off you and focusing on the people around you. There are many common sayings illustrating this concept – “Before you judge someone, walk a mile in his shoes”, “Wake up and smell the roses/coffee/manure”, “Everything is not about you” (Meryl Brooks in Two Weeks Notice). Once we stop thinking only of ourselves in any given situation, we open our eyes to the person in front of us. We begin asking questions that help us understand the sources of what a person feels, why they feel that way, and how it affects his or her behavior. Knowing the root cause of the behavior allows us to know what to do to change things, to be effective.

  4. Compassion

    – or the habit of caring. The more conscious you become about the people around you, the more you begin to care about them. When a customer or client is involved, your compassion goes a long way to developing a healthy working relationship, that in turn develops a long-term, loyal client. Demonstrating compassion towards another person is far easier, takes less energy and effort, than treating him or her with annoyance or disdain. Increasing the level of compassion you have for your customers or clients actually increases your feelings of having contributed something positive to the world, which helps you enjoy more the work you do. At the end of the day, who doesn’t want to feel better about the work they do?

  5. Effective Communication Skills

    – or the ability to receive a message correctly and to transmit clearly your message. You can never have too much training in this one area. The more effective you are in sending and receiving messages, the less chance there is that you will misunderstand or be misunderstood, which creates a deep connection with your customers, your clients. The more people on your team who consciously develop effective communication skills, the more superior your service level will be.

  6. Highly-developed Listening Skills

    – or the ability to get at the heart of the matter. Listening involves more than just sound reverberating against your eardrum. Listening effectively, involves interpreting correctly what a person says and does not say, choices of words and phrases, tone, and a host of other components. Again, you can never have too much training in this area.

  7. Fluency in Non-verbal Communication

    – or the ability to interpret and transmit clear, correct messages without uttering a word. Although this is an integral component of effective communication, it is a highly specialized component requiring special attention. I have found repeatedly that the non-verbal clues my clients send have been the key to getting at the core issue, therefore the key to the best solution. Once again, I say, “you can never have too much training in this area.”

  8. Change Management Training

    – or the ability to help a customer or client navigate the multiple changes involved in the current problem he or she is experiencing. Most people do not realize that when a problem arises, it necessitates change – be it the immediate change in how a task is completed via a Work-around or a complete shut-down of operations – because your customer or client is now missing a piece (or several pieces) to the puzzle. Whether a customer comes to us for a new dress for a friend’s wedding, or a client approaches us to overhaul their company culture, our customers and clients come to us to provide a solution to their problem. We need to understand how this change effects the client – what emotions it triggers, what the client is afraid of, what natural stages a person goes through when faced with change – in order to be able to guide the client, as a human being, through the process in as stress-free and effective manner as possible. A great book to start with is Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter.

  9. Leadership Training

    – or the ability to lead the customer or client through the communication process to a mutually beneficial end. Of the multitude of people I encounter, a rare few understand that it is the job of the business owner, Customer Service Representative, Sales Representative, or anyone who deals with internal or external clients in the course of the workday to take the lead in the customer experience. Clients look to us as the expert, the professional, the parental figure who will make everything better. It is our job to make sure we can be that figure for our customers and clients. (This is a great video to spotlight basic difficulties and misconceptions about leadership.)

Each of these skills is powerful by themselves. Think about how super-charged your customer and client relationships will be when you develop all of them and use them together every time you work with each customer, each client. In the words of Robert Half, “When the customer comes first, the customer will last.”

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

Making Your Move: 5 Approaches That Will Ruin Your Chances with a Prospective Client (& What to Do About It)

Making Your Move: 5 Approaches That Will Ruin Your Chances with a Prospective Client (& What to Do About It)

by Cathleen Elise Rossiter

“If you respect the customer as a human being, and truly honor their right to be treated fairly and honestly, everything else is much easier” – Doug Smith –

 465352043As a consumer, I have seen a great many approaches to courting my business. In my thirty-two years in the field of Customer Service, I have seen a great many more. Most of these approaches leave me speechless – well, actually, once I pick my jaw up off the floor, they leave me in desperate need of a soapbox from which to expostulate.

Courting clients, like courting a sweetheart, is a delicate art – one that requires finesse and attention to detail. Above all courting clients requires respect. Let’s look at the five sales approaches that companies use most. These approaches top my list of the worst techniques to enticing clients to purchase your product or service for the simple reason that they are meant to provoke a quick sale with little regard for developing a true and lasting relationship with the buyer.

  1. Screaming and Excessive Hype (the marketing equivalent of a beat-down) – Think about your days in grammar school. Did you ever pay attention to the teachers who screamed at you or spent the class time pounding the information into your brain? By the end of class, your brain was suffering from an intellectual concussion, swelling beyond the confines of your skull, numb from the pain of the beating. You hated that class and the teacher who inflicted the suffering. As a business owner, what would make your potential clients feel any differently about you, or what you offer, if you approach the sale with this Old School Teaching mentality?
  2. Patronizing or Belittling those without your product or service – This tactic always reminds me of the bully who tries to make himself or herself look better or feel important by talking down to or making fun of those they deem vulnerable. To those with this mentality, work at making the vulnerable feel more so, thereby in acute need of the bully’s services. Again, the victim resents the bully, continually looking for ways to avoid him or her and get away as soon as possible. How loyal will any clients be to your company and product who are gained by being bullied into buying?

  3. Begging or Desperation – This one should be obvious yet I see far too many business owners resorting to this approach. Think of all the scenarios in which you encounter people begging something from you – a c0-worker for gas money/lunch money/a date, an irresponsible neighbor for another night of babysitting to go clubbing, a stranger on the street for a handout, a friend’s brother for a sympathy sale of the steak knives he peddles door-to-door. Unless you are Mother Theresa or Princess Diana, your instinctual response is to runaway as fast and as far as possible. Sometimes both parties are uncomfortable with the situation. Oftentimes only the person of whom the resources are requested is the one feeling awkward, cornered, trapped, helpless. Not only does this approach set skin to crawling, as a business owner, it eradicates all credibility and professionalism, labeling you and your company as incompetent and clueless.

  4. Taking – This one is particularly irksome to me, as a consumer and a business owner because it leaves me feeling used and abused. The most prevalent form of this approach is the misused automated e-mail and newsletter. I receive endless e-mails filled with sales pitches faintly disguised as friendly, personal notes to me intended to solve my problems (or in Office Speak, to add value to my life). The only thing these e-mails do is to w.a.s.t.e. m.y. t.i.m.e. period. If someone is bold enough to blatantly disrespect me by bloating my inbox with demands for me to “Buy Now” because “This Limited Time Offer” “Ends TONIGHT” so “Don’t (be a loser and) Miss Out”, I have no qualms about filtering these e-mails directly to the trash where they belong.  

  5. Elitism or Discounting/Dismissing/Judging a potential client by appearances – I am always reminded of the scene in the movie Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts’ character goes shopping, the classic example of what not to do. Watch the clip. It speaks for itself.

If you employ any of these tactics, you may be interested to know that:

  • 30 % of your business’ success lies in the success of your relationships with your clients.
  • It costs more than seven times as much to attract a new client than it does to keep a current client.
  • There is a significant difference in the lifetime value of your Average customers and your Above Average Customers. [This article will enlighten you. Make certain that you are sitting down, as I know you will be quite surprised.]

By relying on The Dreaded Five, as I like to call them, you literally are reaching into your corporate coffers and handing wads of cash to your competitors. If you want to eliminate the extra stress of having to slave away constantly for little return, you need to look at the client acquisition process differently. The best way I have found to do this is by mastering The 3 Cs of Superior Client Relations – Consciousness, Compassion, and Communication.

Taking note of the core element that each of The Dreaded Five have in common is the complete lack of respect for the potential client as a human being. People who are drawn to these approaches generally view their audience as Targets, Spend, Prospects – all impersonal terms, terms for things and theories.

Removing the person from the message is the same as trying to talk to a cement block. Cement blocks have no need of what you offer.

  • Rather than screaming sales messages at your audience, try starting a conversation with them and listening to what they say.
  • Rather than talking down to your audience as if they are morons or three-year-olds, try talking with them as respected members of the community, as adults with a different point of view.
  • Rather than begging anyone and everyone for business, try focusing on educating those who would most benefit from your product or service about the pieces of the puzzle that they are missing and what they are missing out on by not having these pieces.
  • Rather than constantly demanding something from your potential clients, try giving with not thought to what you will receive in return.

This month, take stock of your sales approaches. What type of relationship with your would-be clients are you setting up with these approaches? Are you creating relationships filled with apprehension and animosity that won’t last long, or are you initiating nurturing relationships that will last far into the future? The next time you make your move, if you approach it properly, you will be assured of a second look, a date with your ideal client, because your potential client will know that you are in it for the long haul.

 

2016 Copyright - Cathleen Elise

The Unseen Value of Superior Client Relations

The Unseen Value of Superior Client Relationships

By Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

How often, as a client, have you experienced the sense of disconnection with the particular company you happen to be dealing with at a particular moment? How often do you become frustrated when you just can’t seem to get the company’s representative to deal with you on a personal level, to break away from the official script and listen to what you are asking? How often, as a business owner, do you apply these experiences to the way your company provides service to its clients? 

Man Using Credit Card Online

More times than I care to mention, I have been in the same position and experienced the same frustrations. Oftentimes I just bear it (grinning never entering into the equation) thinking that there is no point in taking my business elsewhere as “they’re all the same”, biding my time until someone else comes along with a better offer that will make the lousy treatment somewhat worthwhile.

I am no shrinking violet, however. I have no qualms about taking my business to a competitor who will treat me properly; with the respect I deserve (reporting my dissatisfaction to the Better Business Bureau, et al). I am the client who silently slips away, because experience has taught me that:

if someone will not listen when they have my attention, they will not listen when they’ve lost it. A company that will not treat me with the respect I deserve 1.) will not notice that I have taken my business elsewhere, and 2.) will not care why.

Experiences such as these have made me keenly aware of the level of service I provide to everyone I meet. As business owners, it is ever more critical to pay close attention to the service provided by one’s company.  It is critical that, as business owners, we continually place ourselves in the shoes of our clients in order to keep a loyal client base by paying attention to, and meeting, their individual needs. As noted in an article in Spoken Communication (http://blog.spoken.com/2010/10/cost-of-acquiring-a-new-customer-6-to-7-times-more-than-keeping-exisiting.html), the financial benefits alone are incentive enough to build strong, working relationships with each client. The most staggering statistic of the bunch was the phenomenal increase in profits that come from increasing client retention by as little as five percent – a five to ninety-five percent increase in profits.

According to the article referenced above, it costs up to seven times more to attract a new client than it does simply to hold onto a current client. Client Acquisition Cost = Total Acquisition Expenses /Total New Clients. In order for you to get a clear picture of how valuable your current clients are to you, look at your Client Acquisition Costs in relation to how much revenue each new client brings in and how long new clients generally stay with your company. Now compare that to the revenue your existing clients bring in (not forgetting the value of their Word of Mouth advertising and referrals) as well as their longevity with your company and the amount of money spent on retaining them. In today’s economic environment, how much sense does it make to throw money out the window chasing possibilities rather than keeping the same money in the bank maintaining tangible assets? This is not to say that attracting new clients is unnecessary, as that would be foolish. This is merely to demonstrate how easy it is to overlook the true value of the clients your company has already acquired. Look at your own numbers  and see how much you could actually be doing to build your business with the savings.

A key to superior client relationships is the motivation behind the relationship. If the motivation is strictly financial (and, clearly, this is a strong motivator), the authenticity of the relationship will be lost and the lack thereof will be immediately noticeable to one’s clients. Another critical factor in establishing and maintaining superior client relationships is that the motivation, desire, and initiative in doing so comes from the very heights of the company and filters down through every person in every department.  In this way, the authenticity of the relationship is maintained at every point of contact, building confidence and trust with each client. Confidence and trust are key components of client loyalty, which as we have just learned, is a truly valuable asset.

Sit. Stay. Fetch. Making Clients Beg for Treats

Dog in Meadow

Sit. Stay. Fetch. Making Clients Beg for Treats

By Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

“It is a truism to say that the dog is largely what his master makes of him: he can be savage and dangerous, untrustworthy, cringing and fearful; or he can be faithful and loyal, courageous and the best of companions and allies.” – Sir Ranulph Fiennes

The day finally arrived. You know, the one you wait for with the anticipation of Santa for December 26th. What is this most anticipated day?  It is the day I can finally claim my free birthday item. Yours might be from an accessories store, a hardware store, a local restaurant. Mine is from my beloved coffee shop and I had all I could do not to camp out overnight to make certain that I started my birthday off on the right foot.

As the line slalomed its polite yet frenetic way through the designated course to the counter, I double-checked the e-mail on my phone to be certain that I followed the instructions.

“Bring your registered card or mobile app to the store to redeem your reward”.

Registered card in hand? Check!

Balance on card? Low, but check!

Desired Birthday Coffee memorized and ready to order? Check!

Card handed to cashier? Check!

Imagine my surprise when the cashier requested further payment for my free Birthday Beverage. My card balance was now $0.00 and I was being charged for a gift my coffee shop said they gave me. When I asked the cashier about it, showing her the e-mail, she said that I should have told her beforehand, then moved me along and took the next person in line.

The e-mail informing me of the birthday gift made no mention of my need to inform the cashier. In fact, the e-mail implied that the only way to receive my gift was to use my card and that because my card was registered, all I had to do was present my card at the counter and everything would be taken care of. Eventually, I straightened it out and received my birthday gift, though not after having to jump through hoops and beg for my treat.

What started out as a nice surprise, turned into an ordeal that tainted my day and my relationship with a business I have been loyal to thus far. The next time you offer your clients a gift, keep the following things in mind:

  1. Be clear as to the details of your offer.
  2. Test and review your offer until you are certain that your message will be understood as intended.
  3. Train your staff thoroughly on the details of the offer/gift and empower them to correct misunderstandings as they happen.
  4. Make your offer/gift easy to redeem. The less your clients have to do to receive the gift you’re giving them, the happier they will be. To keep things in perspective, imagine how your family or best friend would react and feel if you made them do what you are making your clients do to receive a wedding present, birthday, or anniversary gift.

In the rush and the struggle to find new ways to reach out to your clients, thank them, and reward them for their loyalty, it is easy to lose sight of the basics enumerated above. Of course, there are also the technical aspects of sales tracking and other business considerations that have a say in the final offer and how you administer it. To create the most effective promotions, you need to find the right balance between your business needs or restrictions and treating your clients like the Human Beings they are. Remember, your clients are not dogs. Do not make them beg for treats. If you treat your clients well, they will reflect that treatment back to you and your company.

Copyright © 2014 – Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

All rights reserved. It is strictly prohibited to copy, redistribute, republish or modify any materials or software contained on the cerossiterpcs.com website or in subsequent support without the prior written consent of Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS.

The Rossiter Report – Volume 3: Number 3 – “Crossing the Line in Getting to Yes””

The Rossiter Report – Volume 3; Number 3

By Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

“Crossing the Line in Getting to Yes”

Kitten trying to get at a goldfish

“What part of No don’t you understand? “

As our understanding of the marketing process deepens and we hone our approach to helping our clients unlock what they truly want and need, business owners are bombarded with experts telling them that a customer’s “no” is really an invitation to proceed with the sales pitch; that a potential client doesn’t really know his or her own mind (or the state of his or her budget) so it is up to the business owner to push past the rejection and lead a prospect to acceptance – to “yes”. I hope that some small part of those of you who are reading this is recoiling and feeling uncomfortable. Why would I hope this for you when helping someone to a better way is a good thing? Perhaps the following recounting of an experience I just had while trying to run errands at the mall will help.

It was a typically clichéd gloriously sunny mid-winter day. I was happy, energized, and excited in my productivity as I emerged into the main corridor of the mall through the revolving doors and headed towards my appointment at the tech store. After having traversed barely 100 feet, a well-dressed young man approached me, product in hand, (making direct eye contact and holding it) and asked me for a moment of my time. As I have experienced this approach before and truly did not have the time to spend, or the desire to purchase this particular product, I politely declined stating that I did not have the time. The young man nodded acquiescence, smiling the smile of one who has heard this line before as I breezed past him on my way to my appointment. I was relieved at the apparent success I had won and was feeling rather triumphant in my newly gained skill at deflecting unwanted attention.

My relief and triumphal pride were short-lived. Realizing that I had to pass the same kiosk on the way out of the mall, I armed myself with the same response and firmness of delivery that I had utilized earlier. As I approached the kiosk, the same young man locked his gaze on me and proceeded on the same tack as before, this time with a similarly fortified firmness as I. In response to my honest deflection stating the lack of time in my schedule, the young man took hold of my hand, proceeded to examine my newly acquired manicure, slathering his product all over my hand destroying my manicure in the process (which I had done for an appointment with a client following the completion of my errands). My attempts to take my hand away were rebuffed firmly yet with a smile as he continued his sales pitch in the face of my increasingly firm objections and rejection. When he had finished, allowing me to go on my way without a sale, I could feel nothing but repugnance at having been forced to comply with the salesman’s demands against my express wishes to the contrary. There are several words for this type of behavior, depending on the type of demand made – extortion, coercion, rape, etc. PLEASE NOTE: all of these terms describe criminal behavior. Do not let this scenario become part of your sales or service repertoire.

With the pressure to improve one’s Bottom Line continually, it is easy to see how easy it is to grasp desperately for the sale. Under this pressure, it is easy to cross the fine line between guiding a potential purchaser and mugging that same person for the money in his wallet. To keep things in perspective, keep these things in mind:

  • It is a fatal mistake to think of your potential clients as Prospects. The instant you take the humanity out of the interaction, is the instant you shut down your ability to have a relationship with anyone who purchases from you. Miners go prospecting for cold, hard, inanimate objects. Although these inanimate objects are valuable, once they are obtained, they are forgotten in the quest for another similar or better object. The Prospector misses out on the satisfaction that the Gem Cutter experiences in getting to know the raw stone well enough to be able to gently yet precisely chip away the pieces that detract from the stone’s true beauty. The Prospector, having sold his nugget to the highest bidder, completely misses out on the joy of painstakingly polishing away the cloudiness to reveal only brilliant light reflecting off all the newly revealed facets. The tragedy of the Prospector is that he never becomes part of bringing his acquisition to life. He misses out on experiencing the fullness of a relationship with his discovery; he is on a never-ending search for lifeless nuggets rather than on a continual journey to discover more light and life from each nugget.

My experience has shown me that the businesses with the most vibrant Bottom Lines capable of sustaining themselves are those who choose, through their sales process, to be Gem Cutters searching for the rough jewel to nurture into brilliance. By focusing your sales attention on developing an honest, genuine relationship with each client and potential client through consistently applying the Three C’s of Superlative Service (TM) (Consciousness, Compassion, and Communication), you transition from the role of Prospector into the role of Gem Cutter, searching deep into the heart of each person who has come to you as the solution to his or her problem. The deeper you look into the rough stone that is your client (or potential client), the more thoroughly you will be able to solve the problem presented. Moreover, you will uncover new ways in which you may serve him or her, thereby increasing his or her value to you as well as your value to him or her.

The prospector’s job is an important one because without his efforts, the rough gem would remain buried. The critical steps here are to prospect with the heart of a Gem Cutter then transition into the role of Gem Cutter once the Prospector’s job is completed.

  • When faced with rejection (be it in the form of, “I can’t afford it,”, “I don’t have the time,”, etc.) and the potential client hasn’t hung up or walked away (as I should have done with the manicure-in-a-bottle situation), ask for permission to contact him or her at an agreed upon time that is more convenient. If you are still faced with rejection, gauge the situation to determine if setting the conversation further out (a month or so) would be acceptable. If rejection is still the order of the day, apologize for delaying him or her and send your still potential client off with wishes for a wonderful day. Anything more than this creates a sense of having been attacked and violated (as I felt by the manicure-in-a-bottle man). As soon as you make a potential client or client feel attacked or violated, you have lost them, possibly forever, doing everything in his or her power to escape.
  • When listening to advice on how to attract more clients and initiate more sales, pay attention to the following:

o    What sort of language does the author/speaker use to refer to clients? Is it cold, distant, and dehumanizing or filled with dignity, respect, and humanity?

o    How does the author’s/speaker’s approach make YOU feel? Does it leave you feeling calm and energized or does it leave you clamoring for a good scrub-down and full of stress? This is also how your potential clients and existing clients will feel.

o    Does the author’s/speaker’s approach fill you with pride and excitement about meeting potential clients and converting them into purchasing fans , or are you filled with dread and loathing at the thought of another contact in the manner advised?

If the sales advice you are entertaining does not make you feel like a respected Human Being, then it will not make your potential clients or existing clients feel any other way. If the approach feels wrong, it is wrong for you. The best sales happen when you are authentic (true to who you are), genuine in your desire to help solve the problem, and connected to the person you are trying to help (the Three C’s of Superlative Service (TM) in a nutshell). With these thoughts in the forefront of every client interaction, you will never have to worry about crossing the line again.

 

 

Copyright © 2014 – Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS

All rights reserved. It is strictly prohibited to copy, redistribute, republish or modify any materials or software contained on the cerossiterpcs.com website or in subsequent support without the prior written consent of Cathleen E. Rossiter, PCS.