Developing Customer Relationships Through Trust

CPA Advice

If your particular marketplace enables you to find new customers through advertising and marketing, then you’re one of the lucky ones. However, according to a 2013 Hinge Marketing study of more than 700 companies, nearly 87 percent of businesses found their trusted business advisors through referrals from a friend or business associate. Less than 10 percent said they found them through traditional advertising or marketing.

The study’s findings likely confirm what many already know: Building and maintaining quality relationships with customers is critical to success. Whatever sector you’re in, your customers and business partners shouldn’t just be sources of revenue, they’re also one of the most effective marketing tools at your disposal. By carefully cultivating powerful relationships with these resources, you can ensure their loyalty, while also turning them into referral-generating machines.

Of course, the question for many business owners is exactly how to do that. It’s often hard to know how and when to transition into a more personal relationship.

All Relationships Start with Trust

Before you can develop a strong business relationship with a customer, you first have to establish a strong personal relationship. These relationships often start with trust. If a customer can’t trust you in a personal relationship, they’re unlikely to trust you in professional dealings and consultations or hold you top-of-mind when giving referrals.

One of the best ways to build trust is to approach every conversation with an honest and straightforward mindset. Give clear and concise answers, and don’t try to provide information that you’re not clear on.

One of my colleagues says that his favorite words to say in client meetings are, “I don’t know.” Why? When you tell a customer, “I don’t know,” you’re telling them that you’re not afraid of being completely honest, even if it doesn’t make you look great. That kind of honesty builds trust. He embraces telling customers when he doesn’t know something, but quickly follows that up with a promise to find out.

Sincerity also plays a huge role in building trust and strong professional relationships. When you ask questions, customers can tell whether or not you have a sincere interest. Far too many business professionals ask general questions like: “How’s the family?”

Instead, take good notes about their families, kids and interests so that you can ask specific and sincere questions the next time you see them. Questions like, “Did your wife get that job she was interviewing for?” or “Did your son decide on a law school?” are far more effective and show that you have a genuine interest in the answers.

Transitioning to a Personal Relationship

Transitioning your relationship to a personal level might sound tough, but it just means helping customers with issues that extend beyond professional services. It means being there to help with any issue, regardless of whether it falls under the accounting umbrella. When you reach that type of relationship, you’ll become a customer’s most trusted business partner.

One good place to start is with your own network of customers and business partners. Your network is probably one of your strongest professional assets. Why not use it to help solidify and strengthen your relationships with customers? One way to do that is by sending referrals to your customers. One of my colleagues regularly sends business back and forth between his clients. In fact, he does it so much that he often has clients call and ask for references for things like contractors and physicians.

Customers are also appreciative for any activity that gets them out of the office. An afternoon at the golf course or a baseball game can be a good way to get the business formalities out of the way and just have a friendly conversation. Many business professionals tell me they make more progress at these types of informal events than they do in customer meetings. While golf may be an obvious choice for an out-of-the-office activity, it’s worth remembering that not everyone knows how to play golf.

Instead, choose something that shows you know your customer’s interests. One associate recently told me that she knew her client was looking to buy a boat. She and her husband invited the client and his wife to join them for dinner and then to attend the local boat and RV convention with VIP passes. They spent the evening looking at boats and having great conversations. This resulted in a handshake agreement to expand the scope of the consulting work with his company.

Just Being There Can Be as Important as Anything

Relationships are built on action, not promises. Perhaps the most effective way to build strong relationships with your customers is to simply be there for their needs. I give my clients 24-hour access, meaning they can literally call me with anything, at anytime.

I know of professionals who have dropped everything to be there for their customers. One colleague in particular told me of a time that his customer found out that a key employee had stolen tens of thousands of dollars. The customer wasn’t so concerned about the money, but his faith in his employees and his own judgment had been severely shaken. The business advisor was scheduled to fly out of town for a conference. However, he dropped it all to go meet with the customer, review how it happened and design processes to prevent it from ever happening again.

Customers appreciate knowledge, experience and expertise. What they really want, though, is sincerity, trustworthiness, and a strong and honest relationship. You can give them what they want by living those ideals in every customer interaction. When you do that, you’ll find that your customers will be eager to share your name and information with anyone who will listen.


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