The opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Building a good customer relationship based on mutual trust and respect can take a long time. However, there are ways to start the process and create a relationship much faster. That relationship can be the foundation upon which your years-long working relationship is built. How do you quickly connect with someone you just met?
When it comes down to it, your customer most wants to know that you heard and understood what they are saying to you. The quickest way to demonstrate that you’re on the same page is to reiterate what they’ve said. There are some good ways to do this.
Related: If you want your customers to truly value you, you need to be their trusted advisor. See how.
As you reflect, you pick a few critical words your customer said and use them in your response. For example, let’s say your client wants to expand their business and expand into other cities. They might say to you, “I feel like we’re stuck where we are. I hear there are big markets in Chicago and St. Louis and I want to tap into that.”
You might reply, “I’ve heard the same thing about Chicago and St. Louis. If you feel like you’re stuck, it’s probably time to explore those options and see what new opportunities you can find.”
Sounds simple, but it’s a proven technique for fostering connection. This was demonstrated in a study carried out in the Netherlands with waiters in restaurants. It found that when waiters repeated a customer’s order before bringing it to the kitchen, they earned almost twice as much in tips, on average, as when they didn’t. Reflecting a customer’s needs back to them shows you understand what they want and are on the same page.
2. To paraphrase
Reflecting is a great technique for shorter conversations, but the more you talk, the more noticeable it becomes if you’re repeating the same things your customer is saying to them. That’s where the paraphrase comes in.
Paraphrasing is similar to reflecting, except instead of picking key words and repeating them, you restate the client’s basic ideas in your own words. This helps show them that you are listening and understand what they are saying.
It is most effective if it is phrased as a question. So your customer says, “I don’t want to spend a lot of money, but I want something that will last a little while.”
You might respond, “So, if I understand correctly, you want something reasonably priced but not crappy that doesn’t need to be replaced right away?”
Formulating this as a question shows that you are actively involved in the conversation. You are not telling the customer what he wants. You’re listening and making sure you’re on the same page. It makes them feel heard and shows that their opinion is valued, which brings me to the next method of developing a relationship with your customers.
Related: The 7 Steps of Customer Relationship Management
3. Identify and acknowledge your customers’ emotions
If your customer is angry or frustrated, their first instinct is likely to steer them away from those emotions. You don’t want angry customers; you want happy, satisfied customers. However, trying to direct or maneuver a customer’s feelings to a specific place can come across as insensitive and lacking in empathy. Instead, if you want to build a relationship with your customer, it’s important to identify these emotions, acknowledge and validate them.
4. Meet people where they are
Knowing someone “where they are” means bridging the gap between your own expectations and where the other person is coming from. It means intentionally listening to understand their values, needs, and what they are really saying. Buddhists have a saying, “holding space,” which means the same thing. It’s about being truly present in the moment.
Having a simple conversation with someone can sometimes reveal what a person really needs if you have the patience to just observe them. Be mindful of your body language; their behavior can tell you everything you need to know. And it’s also meeting them where they are, in a way.
Dealing with customers and their emotions requires a delicate hand. If you make them feel like they can’t feel a certain way, they might resent you. Instead, you need to find them where they are. If someone is happy, celebrate that happiness with them. If someone is angry, let them be angry for a bit and show that you understand why they are angry. This will help your customers feel seen and better connect with them.
5. Identify the root of your emotions
When identifying your customers’ emotions, it’s essential to also try to understand what is causing them. If it’s someone new that you’ve had little to no interaction with before, and they’re angry from the start, you’re probably not the cause of their anger.
Perhaps they are frustrated with the problem they came to you to solve. Maybe they spent too long on hold before you got to them or they had a hard time parking on the way to see you. If you talk to them for a bit, without judgment, they might open up and tell you what’s going on or at least provide clues that you can use to get the gist.
Once you’ve identified your emotions, you need to validate them – even before identifying the cause. You can use a few phrases to show that you care. However, there are also some pitfalls to be avoided.
Related: The 5 Secrets of a Valid Apology
“I’m sorry you’re angry” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” may seem condescending to some people. Like when people apologize by saying, “I’m sorry if you were offended.” This puts the onus on whoever is apologizing rather than on you as the apologetic. Instead, try: “I’m really sorry about what happened to you” or “I can see how frustrating that would be.”
Once they’ve had a chance to express their emotions, your next step is to make things right. Don’t fix your emotions, but fix the root cause, whatever that may be. If it’s something your company did, ask how you can fix it. If it’s about the problem they came to your company to solve, show them exactly how your company can help them. If it’s something you can’t control, offer something you can control: a glass of water, words of encouragement, a minute to catch your breath, etc.
You can quickly build an authentic connection by showing your customer that you understand and empathize with them. Then, once you’ve built that connection, it can lead to not just a good sale, but a professional relationship for years.
They might even recommend you to their friends as someone trustworthy and reliable to help them with their needs. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to connect with customers this way, but the potential benefits can be exponential.