Business is personal. There is no way around it. In a world where consumers and clients have seemingly unlimited options, they choose — and become loyal to — products and services that mean something to them personally.
Personal connections are not — and should never be treated as — a business ploy. Instead, they must be fostered as one of the most genuine ingredients of a successful business partnership. The very elements of successful business relationships— trust, communication, creativity and honesty — are exactly what personal relationships help build.
At Universal Value Advisors, we work in an industry where we deal daily with a client’s personal financial information. We know that building trust and communication through both a personal and solid business relationship are integral to a successful partnership. Here are five ways to foster relationships that will benefit you and your client:
Make your client comfortable
A business environment is often the enemy of good communication. People tend to stiffen up, remain distant and become reluctant to reveal information. In a business like financial planning — where personal information is crucial to the success of a financial strategy — making decisions on too little information can hurt investment strategy. Don’t be afraid to be different. Combat the communication-killing, button-down environment by purposefully designing an office that is more like a home environment. At the center of our office is a gourmet kitchen. We have served hundreds of lunches and appetizers to clients at this kitchen, and the result is always the same — the business tension subsides, real, honest communication begins, and our business relationship benefits. Make your clients feel comfortable. Develop a real rapport. Know that the time you invest in making a personal connection with each client will pay off in improved communication, a deeper trust and a better understanding of a client’s financial goals.
Listening is probably the most critical element in creating any relationship. Before you can plan with a client, listen carefully to discover what is important to him or her. Remember that the client leads in this relationship and you must listen to understand his or her needs and goals. You can discern the level of risk the client can tolerate only by listening. Don’t outsource your listening or impersonalize it by using a computerized questionnaire. This defeats the purpose of having a one-on-one discussion about important topics and alienates clients. Listen in-person and often. And let that listening guide the personal way you treat each client.
Be honest and give respect
The expectations of a business relationship should be built on honesty. Be straightforward with your clients about what you can and cannot do. Setting honest expectations and delivering on that promise is one of the simplest ways to create client loyalty. Different clients want different things. Respecting those personal preferences while using your expertise to maximize the effectiveness of a client’s business strategy is key to attracting and keeping those clients.
If you want loyalty, show loyalty. Establish your commitment to your client from the outset, and reaffirm that commitment regularly. Some of the accepted tactics in today’s business world, like “nickeling and diming” clients with hidden fees, might lead to short-term profit, but can destroy client loyalty in the long run. Show a client that you put his or her interests first, and trust that that loyalty will lead to a long-term, successful relationship.
Constantly communicate your strategy to each client, even if the message isn’t always upbeat. Share your vision to make sure you and the client are both aware of your course. When corrections are needed, engage in open dialogue and then move forward. Business relationships are not perfect. When you make an error, don’t blame others or external factors. If you believe a client would benefit from an investment or business move that others can more effectively execute, recommend that even if it means your own compensation is reduced.