By Kevin Baker
A couple of weeks ago I was taking a long drive for business when I found myself in an area I was unfamiliar with. Since there wasn’t much scenery I decided to turn on the radio to help fight the boredom, and used the “seek” function to help me find a station.
There weren't many stations in that particular part of the country so I wound up listening to one of those “advice to the lovelorn” programs. Now, normally that’s not the sort of show I would choose, but as it went on I became more and more fascinated by the callers, their litany of problems, and especially what seemed to be the underlying cause of all of it all: either a complete lack of or the wrong type of communication.
That got me thinking: it’s not much different in the financial business world. A lot of the problems financial businesses have, especially with clients, stem from communication issues. Whether it’s too much, not enough, the wrong type or just a misinterpretation between what is said and what is meant, at some point if clients don’t feel the love they don’t call Dr. Laura to fix it. They simply leave. And businesses that provide financial services are left without knowing why.
Since there aren’t any radio talk shows for financial businesses trying to patch up troubled relationships with their clients, here are a few tips to help improve communications and build a long-lasting relationship.
- Always be available. The lovelorn frequently complain about their significant other being cold and distant. Clients can feel the same way about you if it takes days (or even hours) for you to respond to calls or e-mails. Small financial businesses especially need to make sure they’re available to clients because often one of the main reasons clients choose a small company over a larger competitor is the expectation of better service. For e-mail, consider investing in a mobile phone with data service that allows you to receive e-mails wherever you are. Yes, it costs a little more but it will be well worth the expense when your clients react to your higher level of responsiveness. For voice calls, consider signing on to a virtual phone service for business calls that allows you to forward your office phone to your mobile device as well so you can take calls anywhere. Ideally, it should also e-mail your voice-mail messages to you – just in case you simply can’t take the call live. With that capability you don’t have to guess if someone called and wants an answer. The message comes right to you. (Wouldn’t that be handy in your personal relationships too?)
- Think before you speak. How many love relationships are damaged every day because one person makes a statement, the other responds, things escalate, and pretty soon the original issue is well overshadowed by what came after? The same thing can happen in business. It’s easy to let emotion overtake reason, especially under pressure. As the seller, though, you have to remember the cardinal rule of business: the client is always right (even when he’s wrong). Take that extra moment to calm yourself and think before you respond. If you can’t do it now, say you’ll look into the issue further and get back to the customer. Then sleep on it if you have to. What seem to be major, muddy issues one day often become much clearer after you’ve had a chance to sleep on them. The subconscious is a wonderful thing.
- Don’t allow things to fester. This is the other side of the coin. Often in a relationship what starts out as a small issue can quickly grow if left unattended. The more time that passes, the more likely the other person will fill in your side of the conversation with what they think you’ll say. Do your best to answer small issues, complaints, etc. in a measured but timely manner so you can keep them small. And make sure your client knows you’re looking into the bigger ones.
- Tread carefully with e-mail. It’s a safe bet to say that few things have done more to put our love lives on edge than e-mail. In addition to the fact that writing in a meaningful way generally seems to be a lost art, e-mail lacks the ability to convey the tone and intention of the writer. As a result, the interpretation is left up to the reader; many a fight has resulted from what the writer thought was an innocent statement. If you find yourself in a situation like that with a client, resist the temptation to respond with your own e-mail. Instead, pick up the phone and talk to the client. You’ll likely achieve three benefits. One is you’ll get a better idea of whether what you’re reading as a snippy comment was just a poor choice of words by the writer. Two is you’ll let the client know you’re taking the issue seriously. Responding to an e-mail with a phone call is much more impressive than simply returning the e-mail. And three, it’s a lot easier for people to be angry when hiding behind e-mail than in a face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) situation. Making the call can help you take the teeth out of paper tigers.
- Know where the line is between friendly and too familiar. Nothing kills a dating relationship faster than one person getting too familiar too soon. The same is true in a business relationship. While you may have some great and fun conversations as you build the client relationship, it’s still important to maintain the line between your professional life and your personal life. Remember, while you want them to feel good about you, they’re still your clients, not your friends. Answer the phone in a manner that is appropriate. If you’re using the same mobile phone for your business and personal calls, here again is where a virtual phone service can help, because it can “tag” calls to show whether they’re being forwarded from your office phone or coming directly to your mobile. If you’re careful to only give your mobile number to your friends, the tag will tell you whether you should answer the call with a businesslike “ABC Company” or it’s ok to use a friendly “Wasssuuuuup?”
Whether you’re talking love or business, it’s been proven time and again that great communication is the cornerstone of a great relationship. And when things break down, as they inevitably will, having those lines of communication is what will see you through the rough spots.
Follow the guidelines here and you’ll have an excellent start toward building a deeper bond with your clients – one that will last years. After all, if it works for radio therapists, it’ll work for you.
About the author
Kevin Baker is my1voice product marketing manager for Protus (www.protus.com), provider of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) communication tools for small-to-medium businesses (SMB) and enterprise organizations, including my1voice, the cost-effective, feature-rich virtual phone service that travels with the user from phone to web, award-winning MyFax, the fastest growing Internet fax service and Campaigner, an e-mail marketing solution with advanced automation features. Kevin can be reached at [email protected]