An essential, but often underappreciated, component of client relationships is great rapport and collaboration through softer skills.
Soft skills can be defined as non-technical skills that include good communication and emotional intelligence, among other things, that help people to navigate their work environment and build better relationships. As a member of the Three Whiskey Client Services team, they are something I think about a lot.
During this time of extended disruption due to Covid, I’ve found an even greater appreciation for the empathetic approach to work and have seen, first-hand, the beneficial effects it can have on client relationships.
In this post, I’m going to outline some of the areas where the soft skills can be used more broadly to understand client needs and to get more out of day-to-day work relationships.
Ask the right questions
Firstly, it's important to ask the right questions.
When you ask people to dig deeper, they often reveal surprising mental models, problem-solving strategies and more, that may not have been otherwise considered.
Something I recently learned from our Research Team is the importance of open questions. For example, asking “do you like tennis?” to a client is likely to result in an incredibly different response than “is tennis your favourite sport?”
In User Research, open questions like these are more effective because they allow the tester to find out more than they anticipate. When you ask people to dig deeper, they often reveal surprising mental models, problem-solving strategies and more, that may not have been otherwise considered. The same is true with client relationships. These questions, the type that lead to increased dialogue, are important when building long-lasting relationships and getting to the core of what a client wants from you and the collaboration as a whole. It also makes for more lively and enjoyable conversations – the kind that may spark something or lead to greater inspiration!
The responses we get from questions like these can then be further interrogated. For example, “Is this really meeting our clients’ objectives?” is a constructive question to ask a colleague when answering a brief to ensure you’re delivering the right sort of work.
Soft skills are essential for building that all-important rapport; the secret sauce that fuels productive client relationships.
Rapport is defined as “a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well” and it’s essential for fostering trust and creating an open environment for the sharing of ideas.
In fact, the quality of the rapport you have with your clients often directly relates to the length and effectiveness of your relationship, so don’t neglect any opportunities you have to improve the affinity between you and your client or connect with them on a more meaningful level.
For example, do you recognise any shared interests or perspectives that you can bond over? Is there a deeper level of emotion that you can authentically tap into, such as truly understanding a person’s motivations behind a decision? All of these things will help to establish common ground.
In the time of COVID-19, making connections like this has proved somewhat more difficult, but taking the time at the beginnings and ends of meetings to talk about more personal things can help. So too can taking the time to strike up a 1:1 line of communication with a colleague or a client outside of your regularly scheduled meetings.
People have very different ways of working.
In terms of client relationships, specifically, understanding them and being able to quickly identify their needs is absolutely fundamental, both in the initial stages of the relationship and throughout.
Have you ever been in a meeting when you thought someone was taking over? Or did you ever feel as though someone wasn’t participating? People operate on different levels and understanding this can help you get the most out of your relationship with clients as well as with cross-functional groups with varied working styles. Empathising (and harmonising!) with these distinct positions is one of the most effective ways to facilitate healthy working exchanges.
In terms of client relationships, specifically, understanding them and being able to quickly identify their needs is absolutely fundamental, both in the initial stages of the relationship and throughout. If you want to enjoy a close working partnership, your client needs to know you’re on the same page and have faith that you have their best interests at heart.
So, how can you show empathy?
It could be as simple as demonstrating that you understand the other person’s point of view and making them feel heard. You could also make a conscious effort to focus on any similarities between you, in a way that feels natural and authentic. The other person should always feel at ease.
In conclusion, although sometimes overlooked, soft skills are extremely valuable in helping to foster client relationships and deliver great work. During this pandemic, they’re also important for improving how we relate to each other, in and across teams, and building relationships in all areas of our lives. As we begin to rediscover the cities we’ve spent months locked down in, being mindful of these few points will help to enrich the interactions in all areas of your life.
Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash