Knowing how to create and keep great client relationships is key to a successful business. Trust is the strongest link in the relationship value-chain and it is easier to break than to forge.
Some people trust more readily than others, but we all scan for danger at every turn. We notice patterns and pick up on signals. We recognize change, weigh possible outcomes and risk. When we trust others, we count on their actions and advice to help us manage life’s uncertainties and disappointments. Trust opens the way for collaboration, reciprocity, long-term connection and heightened expectation of positive outcomes.
All clients (and potential clients) truly want to trust their advisors but, consciously or unconsciously, are hesitant. By practicing the Five Bulls of Trust you will establish a durable bond required in all successful client relationships.
The Five Bulls:
Available, Dependable, Accountable, Personable, and Reasonable (ADAPR)
- Be Available: Be present, attentive, and engaged in the immediate communication. How well you listen with sincere effort to understand what the client wants and why it matters is a key measure by which clients gauge whether you care. No one trusts a person who doesn’t show interest in their concerns. A few easy ways to show that you are available and that your client matters are:
- At the outset, inform the client (or potential client) of exactly when you will and will not be available and your preferred method of communication.
- Answer communications promptly and fully.
- Return emails and calls that day, even if it is to let someone know that you received the message or when you will be available to talk.Steadfastly adhere to schedules and respond when promised.
- Be Dependable: Can I depend on you? That is a question clients ask and it must be answered in the affirmative before they will trust. Being truly dependable requires both honest assessment of clients’ goals and follow-through.
- If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
- If you say you are going to be somewhere, be there.
- If you are performing a task, be prepared to put in the work necessary to perform at your maximum ability.
Dependability is also an ethical commitment to remain true to who you are, to your expertise, and your level of ability. Your client must be able to depend upon the advice and strategy you offer to mitigate their fear of the unknown. To build trust, you must honestly disclose whether or not the client’s goals can be achieved, the risks, and the full range of possible outcomes. Have confidence to say to your client (and to yourself) “I can deliver on most of those things, but there may be some things that you want that I cannot, or will not do.” Know yourself, honor your limits, and uphold the integrity of your business. The result will likely fall within the range you described and trust will grow. Over-promising, failure to follow through, and unpleasantly surprising outcomes will quickly undermine and destroy trust.
- Be Accountable: You must dread the possibility of letting your client down and be willing to do everything in your power to succeed convincingly. Put your word and reputation on the line and ask yourself before you say “yes” to accepting the work, “am I really willing to give them my time, my effort and commitment to deliver the best results possible?” If you are in doubt, then say “no.”
Holding yourself accountable requires having a clear and mutual understanding of what is expected from you during the course of the engagement. You must honor your agreements and take responsibility for failure, delays, or changes of plans. If or when you err, promptly and fully disclose the error to the client and own it. No excuses! To be a valuable and trusted advisor does not mean perfection, but it does require ongoing honest reflection and true-up with yourself and your client.
- Be Personable: You can like your work and not like or be compatible with every one of your clients. It is professional and respectful to treat all clients with the same courtesy, civility, and kindness even if you don’t feel warmth towards some. Find the right balance for the person you are working with by being present and calm, curious and open-minded, and driven by the realities of your task at hand. To build trust:
- Notice your feelings, accept them, and adjust your demeanor to suit the situation so that you can get the most out of the time you have together.
- Take time to observe and learn the client’s communication style; ask open-ended questions, then watch and listen carefully to the replies. Make sure you understand what your client needs and why it is important without getting distracted by the messenger.
- Be a human being. Your clients will not trust you and your capabilities if you are always coolly rational, in control, and an unemotional, detached fact finder. Even if you are known to be the best at what you do, you will be better when you deliver your expertise with humility, empathy and humanity.
- Be Reasonable: Remain clear minded and objective to be able to see the big picture, assess the situation, offer guidance, and set reasonable expectations. If you’re coming into a situation steeped in passion, or angst, or even overly enthusiastic, you’ve already picked a side.
When presented with a client’s needs, the professional often has an idea or strategy to secure a “win.” However, the “win” may not be what the client wants or can tolerate financially or emotionally. When choosing a path or advising a client, the trustworthy professional will base their opinions and advice in sound reason considering all the facts and circumstances in the client’s best interest. That reasonable posture still allows plenty of room for empathy and compassion, creative problem solving, and agility in the face of the unexpected, and preserves and solidifies trust.
Need help remembering the Five Bulls of Trust? All clients want to trust their advisors. A professional who wears the Five Bulls of trust to every meeting is ADAPR (a dapper) BULL. Be… Available, Dependable, Accountable, Personable, and Reasonable (ADAPR)
Ellen Enkel, To Get Consumers to Trust AI, Show Them Its Benefits DIGITAL ARTICLE, Harvard Business Review 4/17/17 https://hbr.org/2017/04/to-get-consumers-to-trust-ai-show-them-its-benefits
Stevenson and M. Moldoveanu, The Power of Predictability, HBR July-August 1995 https://hbr.org/1995/07/the-power-of-predictability
Tim Leberect, Leaders win trust when they show a bit of humanity, HBR Digital article 4/1/15 https://hbr.org/2015/04/leaders-win-trust-when-they-show-a-bit-of-humanity
Geoffrey James, contributing editor, Inc.com Is it Better to Be Feared or Loved? Inc.com, July31,2014 https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/is-it-better-to-be-loved-or-feared.html