Breaking the ice: how to build rapport with your clients

Friday, November 20, 2015 - 11:25

We all do our best to not start off on the wrong foot with clients. Sometimes it can be difficult to manage client relationships however, when we take into account the multitude of diverse personalities and organisation cultures we need to deal with. You may have an energetic and welcoming style that some more conservative clients might not appreciate. Conversely, you may have a professional and corporate manner that may make some of your more laidback clients feel uncomfortable.

Rapport can be defined as ‘communication, relationship, and connection’. It’s when you believe that you share the feelings of another person. Rapport can develop quickly during a conversation or interaction, especially when people recognise interests that they hold in common.

In building a quality relationship with a client, your ability to develop rapport quickly with others is essential because you may not have a second opportunity to clear up the consequences of a poor start.

But how do you generate rapport if it’s not naturally there? How do you overcome any initial concerns or awkwardness when first meeting someone? What happens if a client suddenly starts complaining about some aspect of your organisation’s service?

Fortunately, there are actions you can take – things you can physically do – which will help. The attention then shifts to rapport skills. To develop a natural style with rapport skills takes practice and time.

Here are four key things you must do to establish and develop rapport:

  1. Ask questions
  2. Listen and show genuine interest (you should be listening more than talking)
  3. Learn what interests them (outside of work)
  4. Respect their time and opinions

While asking questions is a good idea, it can be difficult to come up with appropriate questions so the following are some useful ideas to get you started. Ask these while waiting for an elevator, walking to a meeting room or waiting for other colleagues to arrive.

  • What are your plans for the weekend? In other words, what do you do when you’re not working?
  • Have you been in “x” industry long? How did you decide to do this work for a living?
  • Will you be watching “x” game this weekend? Do you have any sporting interests?
  • How are things going generally with your business? What is frustrating about being in your business at the moment?

When you’re building rapport with a client in a selling situation, keep the following points in

  • Keep to safe topics (avoid politics, religion or your competitors)
  • Ask open questions (this will assist in gathering unrelated information that can help you to visualise the client’s situation and needs more clearly)
  • Choose the right moment to get down to business (select a natural pause in the conversation or use comments about needs, problems or the situation to introduce a more business-like tone)
  • Keep the focus on the client’s needs and refer to these when you mention your product/service (a good way of keeping your client’s interest is to only mention the features/ advantages of your product in response to their needs).

The last thing to remember is that first impressions are critically and disproportionately important. The first impressions you create are vital in determining the way that your prospective client will view you and your product/service.

If you’ve made a poor first impression, your client will be looking for actions and behaviours to support this unfavourable impression, instead of putting their energies into listening to your presentation. This can make it difficult for you to develop rapport, because the other person is unlikely to empathise with you and won’t have any reason to trust you.

AIM’s Building Client Relationships short course provides valuable insight into building sales, retaining business and increasing referrals through the development of successful long-term client relationships. It explores how to identify, differentiate and customise solutions with new and existing clients and how to leverage enhanced interpersonal skills for success.