This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Whether you work in a business-to-business or a business-to-consumers environment, if you are in a client services industry, your clients are your lifeblood. When approaching new clients or working with longstanding ones, mutual trust is essential for the relationship to succeed. It is important for businesses to build trust quickly at the beginning of a client relationship, but also to maintain the same level of trust for longstanding customers.
Here are 10 ways to build and maintain trust within your growing client base.
1. Choose your clients carefully.
Don't take on "just anyone" as a client. The more discerning you are in your client selection process the more profitable you will be and the fewer hours you will spend in the long run. This can be tough advice to follow in a competitive environment, but it will pay off down the road.
2. Discuss the fee structure upfront.
Explain to your clients how it works. Being immediately transparent about your fees indicates that you are less likely to withhold information the client needs to know.
3. Feel confident about your fee structure.
Excellent work on your part will bring tangible benefits to your clients that will cover your fees many times over.
4. Be clear about the terms of your engagement.
Formalize the terms and conditions of the services you will be providing to your client. This will include your client's role as well as yours to ensure a successful relationship.
5. Establish a performance review structure.
At the conclusion of the initial consultation and conversations define the next steps and any agreed upon terms of the scope of work. Always speak in terms your client will understand.
6. Avoid speaking industry jargon.
While some clients may appreciate your attempts to deepen their understanding of your area of expertise, trying to impress them with your technical competence can backfire. You may see their heads nodding in agreement during a meeting but you won't hear their subsequent complaints to a spouse or friend that they didn't understand a word you were saying.
7. Get to know the culture of your client's business.
It is important to understand the unique needs of their business and the personal dynamics which drive it. With an owner-operated business, determine its location in its business cycle so you can anticipate challenges and solutions that will help to ensure its success.
8. Remember the iceberg analogy: one-third is above the water and two-thirds below.
Working with a family business, the dynamics are complex, so it is important to take the views of all family members around the table into consideration, thus giving everyone a voice. This process can take longer than you expected, so be patient. It could be a new experience for family members and could be outside their comfort zone.
9. Respect other advisers your clients look to for advice.
Draw on your own network of experts in related fields when appropriate to ensure that your client receives the best advice possible. You add value and build trust when you demonstrate the willingness to work as a team player.
10. Offer value that doesn't involve a profit motive.
Whenever you offer industry related or other helpful information without seeking anything in return, you are reinforcing your commitment to your clients. Maintaining a dialogue on a more general or even personal level also builds trust. The client will see that you are genuinely interested in both them and their business.