It’s Valentine’s week. A week of red and pink, chocolates, cards, and hopefully some good wine. Whether this time is seen as nothing more than a commercialized ploy to increase candy and flower sales, or a true moment in time to value those we find near and dear, it’s the perfect time to think about relationships.
No, not yours. And definitely not mine. But ours. Our relationships that we hold with our customers, employees, and teammates.
Relationships require work from the moment you lay eyes on each other. Whether it be a starry gaze from across the bar, or a cold call that seemed to be fruitful, this budding connection will fizzle if left to chance.
In the beginning, you call frequently just to check in. See how business is going, ask if there is anything more you can do. You send notes and welcome packets, maybe even a coupon. You ask questions, and devote the time to listening. You show that you care and will go to great lengths to get them on board. You (and your company) are clearly a keeper.
The newness of the relationship is exciting. Signing on a big fleet contract, or hiring the super-star sales guy/gal gives us the butterflies. As time goes by orders flow in. Onboarding is over. The day to day mundaneness settles in. We get comfortable with the fact that no news is good news and no longer put the swooning effort in.
By the time you notice that resumes are being posted on the internet, or your most reliable purchaser is splitting their business with another, it’s too late. You have already gone from potential fiance to a casual convenient option.
How do we keep those we depend on to keep us in business loyal and committed? What do we have to do to ensure we don’t end up heart broken, alone and broke? How can we keep the fire alive?
When we stop listening, our partners stop talking. The unsatisfied customer that isn’t conveying their dismay to you is likely spreading negative perceptions of your business on the web, or even worse, to potential future customers directly. The spreading of gripes internally will fester and spread like bubonic plague leading to the extinction of positivity.
Even if you do not have an immediate remedy to the issue, let the people know you hear them, and that you are exploring options. When ignored, it is human nature to assume the worst. Use phrases like, “I hear your concern” and then repeat back to them what they told you in your own words. This will build trust and show you are invested in a corrective path forward.
If your company allows for multiple methods of outbound communication, verify with the party how they prefer to receive updates. A phone call is always the safest, but with the growing dependency of technology many may prefer a text or an email. However, never assume you know what is best. It is about what is most well received, not what is most convenient for you. As a disclaimer, all employee situations that could result in a less than ideal conversation should be held face to face (even if it is remotely)
There must be a general feeling of consideration from both sides. Do not interrupt or dispute one’s feelings. Let the other party state their case. Without judgment, take a moment to formulate a response that displays a sense of understanding, compassion, and interest.
As leaders or service providers it is ok to give more than you get. Maybe it’s simply the emotional investment. Possibly, you have to cave in order to end the dispute. It’s not about what you have given up, but rather the exponential gain at the finish.
Be fair. You may feel attacked, maybe even called a name. Do not let the frustration of the person change how you would normally face a problem. Customers may normally catch more bees with honey but when provoked or left feeling cornered these bees will charge. Continue to play fair, slap a smile on, and do the right thing.
Commitment and Honesty
Don’t pass the buck. There is nothing worse than hearing, “That’s not my department”, or “I can’t help you with that”. Instead admit you may not know, but promise that you will find out the answer and be the one to contact them back. Once you commit to building a relationship, the difficult conversations become less terrifying. One point of contact throughout an ordeal will buy you the trust you need to have the other party as your ally, not your enemy.
Do NOT lie. You double booked. Say so. You were wrong about a training event. Admit it. Apologize. And move on. Getting caught in a game of deception will cause you to immediately lose any credibility as a service provider or leader. The truth may be uncomfortable for a moment in time, but dishonesty will destroy a relationship.
By instituting the above values into your business relationships, you will enjoy a long term, successful union. While I can’t promise forever, I can say even the break up will be easier if you base the relationship on open communication, respect, and honesty.
I may not be the most credible when it comes to the personal love life relationship stuff, my ex husband’s can vouch for that. However I pride myself on the ability to maintain and grow the relationships I hold professionally and with friends.
Suppose I’ll go check out “The Five Love Languages” – maybe the third time’s a charm.
Happy Day, Valentines!
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