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Building Client Relationships: The Art of Rapport

Building client relationships are important in the client/consultant engagement. It is important to note, that rapport really starts with empathy. Empathy with the client, the solution they want to build and the problem they are trying to solve. Building rapport in the relationship is essential for prolonged engagement and increased competitive advantage.



Building Rapport
Building Rapport


Definition The word derives from the French verb rapporter which means literally to carry something back (in the sense of how people relate to each other: what one person sends out the other sends back)


Building rapport has the following 6 key areas:


Active Listening


Active listening is the skill that demonstrates to the client that you are understanding their point of view, their problem that they face and that they are being heard. There are some elements of Active Listening that all consultants should master:


  • Pay attention to tone & body language. Modify your tone towards the style of the conversation. Workshops and client engagements are usually remote, lean into the screen with intent.

  • Summarize and clarify. When a client responds to a question, summarize their thoughts and replay their words back to them allowing for greater clarification and increased understanding.

  • Pay attention to how people speak, and their tone. Are they upset? Are they excited?

  • Practice mirroring. Mirroring is the art of replaying a conversation and using 2 - 3 key words that the client has used to show that you have heard what they have said.

  • PUT your phone away. Nothing can be more distracting for you, or the client if you check your phone during a client call.

  • Write down notes. I have note books coming out of my ears, it's really important to write notes, as it helps reinforce the learning you are undertaking whislt getting to know the client


Consistency and Transparency


Building rapport can be positively increased if your engagement with the client is consistent and transparent.


  • Be honest about what is and isn't possible. If you are not sure, tell the client you will take it away and come back to them.

  • Provide clear documentation - know your audience

  • Raise risks early. Do not sit on them, these can negatively affect rapport and the client consultant relationship.

  • Be consistent in how you interact. Establish a regular cadence of meetings, client touch points, tailor them to each stakeholder.


Personalization


Personalization is a key essential skill in building rapport, it allows you to hone your ability to build rapport with clients. Here are some techniques you can employ:


  • Do your homework. Look at the client's website and their mission statement. This will help you to adjust your phrasing and keep their strategic focus in the back of your mind.

  • Remember personal details. When speaking to any stakeholder, SME, product owner, project manager etc, if personal details are given freely by them, make a note of these. Refer back to them, take an interest in them personally.

  • Understand the individual goals of the client. Get granular on this detail, what functionality are we to bring that will align with these goals of the client?

  • Go prepared with case studies. Research the business domain/vertical the client is in. Have there been any instances where this area of business has benefited from Power Platform solutions in the past?

  • Try to anticipate the client's needs. The goal for a consultant is to become the Trusted Advisor. When you get to this point, the client will be open to explaining problems they are facing, and could lead to more opportunity.

  • Gauge the impact of the project on the SME and the users that are going to be using the solution. Employ User Centric Design when going deep into persona descriptions and their needs, fears, concerns.


Empathy


Empathy is a harder part of building rapport, it requires a high level of emotional intelligence but if mastered can be an essential skill in building rapport.


  • Understand the client's pain points and frustrations, walk in their shoes.

  • Acknowledge feelings

  • Employ Tactical Empathy. This is about labeling the emotions you see and hear from the client. i.e. “I understand that you are concerned about X… let's look at that deeper”

  • Understanding cultural sensitivities is important.

  • Don't rush the client into an answer. Silence is OK.


Feedback


Without 180 degree feedback, improving a client consultant relationship can be difficult if you don't know what is going wrong/going right or have an action plan to fix it.


  • Create regular opportunities for the client to provide feedback

  • Ask specific questions, really ask the deep questions you need feedback on.

  • Follow up on feedback always. Is there an Action Plan? Have you communicated it? Who are the action owners? When is the action due by?

  • Process & actively engage with all feedback submitted.


Practice Radical Candor


Radical Candor is a term coined by the writer and HR expert Kim Scott (Google, Amazon, Facebook). In the book she explains how caring personally and challenging people directly leads to Radical Candor. Website.


An extreme example of this is a Prison Officer practicing Radical Candor. If a Prison Officer cares personally for inmates, this will lead to a level of respect between them. Once this relationship has been established, they will be able to challenge them directly. Leading to a greater level of trust, and a more positive experience for the inmate.


If the Prison Officer does not care personally, but challenges them directly, this could lead to possible serious consequences.


If the Prison Officer does not challenge directly, but does care personally, then the inmate might take advantage of the relationship, again leading to potentially avoidable consequences.


Challenging directly doesn't mean using challenging language. Language used can have a massive impact on how your challenge is received. If you've employed the personalisation part of rapport well, you should have a good idea of the vocabulary your client uses and you can implement that dialogue to choose the right language to build your challenge effectively.


This is a very extreme example, but it is one that best shows the Radical Candor quadrant which is explained below:




I also presented this content at Sarah Jones VRT Power Up session on 11th June 2024:





I would love to hear how you build rapport with your clients? What tips or tricks do you have ?


I look forward to hearing from you.

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