If I promised you that five small steps could greatly improve your client relationships, would you believe me? Millions of books are sold each year guaranteeing significant results by doing any number of things: learning what kind of personality your client has and mimicking it, or by taking a test and aligning yourself with others with the same characteristics, etc.
In re-reading Peter Rouse's book, "Every Relationship Matters," it occurred to me that by going back to the five basics - recognition, attention, honesty, listening and being on time, one can rise head and shoulders above the competition. Seems simple, and it is.
Recognition - clients want to know that you recognize and acknowledge them. Make it your policy to return calls and email as soon as you can. If you have to wait for information, be pro-active and let your client know you received their request and when they can expect an answer.
How many times have you sent an email message or left a voice mail, only to think a few days later, "Did Joan ever get my message?" Don't make people wonder - get back to them.
Attention - give 100%. When you are speaking with a client on the phone, turn your email off, and resist the urge to do anything other than concentrate on the call. People know when you are distracted because we as humans can't really do two things at once, and we end up saying things like "I'm sorry, what did you say?" - a dead giveaway!
Likewise, in person, you must be completely tuned in. This means your gizmos are off, and your eyes and ears are on your client. Be sure you maintain good eye contact and that you summarize and clarify as necessary, ensuring clear communication.
Honesty - do what you say, when you say you're going to do it. So many of us make small promises, such as telling someone we will send an article or a link to a website, make an introduction, or refer business to them, and fail to follow through. While these might be minor things, they add up.
Be someone your clients can count on, for the big things and the little things. Your reputation is on the line, regardless of the scale of the promise. Let's face it, if you can't follow through on the small things, how will you deliver on larger matters?
Listen - be diligent about staying in the moment and being present. Everyone wants to be heard, including your clients. Lending an ear can sometimes be the most valuable thing you can provide at that moment.
You don't necessarily have to fix the problem, have the answer or know the next step when it comes to whatever your client is grappling with, at that moment. Simply listening and repeating back what you are hearing shows care and concern, and may very well open the door to some creative problem solving.
Be On Time - this takes effort, but is essential to being a professional. It's connected to all the other points above. Being on time shows respect for others. Being late is often interpreted as having no concern for other people and being totally self-involved.
Make a point to arrive early to meetings, luncheons, networking events, etc., and you will begin to be known as the person who is early! That translates into being known as the person who is always ready to take on projects and get things done.