It goes without saying that trust is a vital pillar in upholding healthy client-business relationships. There’s no science or recipe for trust-building with clients, yet a lot of people see it as purely methodical – answering phone calls, responding to emails within an hour, sending contract reports within 24 hours, and delivering projects on time. HKLM’s Janeke Bouwer, veteran in client service, takes a more organic approach.
“Clients who don’t trust you can do one of two things: They can either finish the project with you, and then never come back, or they can take the project away and go somewhere else,” explains Janeke, going on to say that without trust, there’s no future with a client after a project. “Trust is that special ingredient that helps build that relationship beyond that initial project.”
At HKLM, trust with our clients has helped us build long-standing relationships with them. “It gives us the opportunity to build brands with our clients instead of just create brands for them,” says Janeke. Janeke’s organic approach to trust-building consists of a holistic treatment of clients. Here’s what that entails:
It’s easy to walk into that first client meeting as if you know just how to solve their problems, but that’s a big no-no for Janeke. “In many cases the people we deal with have been in their respective companies for quite a long time and, although we’re the experts in what we do, it’s important not to approach a client like you already know all about their company,” she explains. “It’s respecting that they know what’s going on in their company, and what they need for their company as well,” says Janeke. Have faith in the client. They didn’t magically get to where they are, and they know more about their needs and wants than you do.
“At the end of the day we are a bit of a hard purchase.”
Be an expert.
The reason clients return to HKLM is because we know what we’re doing and we consistently produce high-quality work. Any relationship with a client ultimately rests on your expertise. “At the end of the day we are a bit of a hard purchase,” says Janeke. “I mean, marketing is the first thing to get cut. If you have that trust you’re seen as a business partner.” In other words, you’re no longer expendable.
Have open and honest conversations.
Once you have trust from clients you need to maintain it. Part of that is being able to be honest with the client. Maybe that project they wanted isn’t quite doable in the way they thought it would be. “Although clients are always right, sometimes they really aren’t and they look to us to challenge them and give them another perspective,” says Janeke.
“It’s important for us as much as it’s important for them.”
No matter how well you think you know a client, you will never know exactly what it is they want unless you listen to them. “As much as we may have read up and done our research and all of that, it’s very different to what their actual pain points might be,” Janeke adds. “Listening comes down to understanding their processes and understanding the way they work.” And that goes for all clients, old and new. You know more or less what to expect from long-time clients, but with fresh clients you need to learn about their company and give them the space to teach you. “It’s important for us as much as it’s important for them,” says Janeke.
In an agency all sorts of processes and systems are put in place to keep things running smoothly, but our clients might not necessarily work in the same way. “It’s important to be flexible so that we can adapt to whatever that client needs,” Janeke points out. And she’s right. In order to keep a client coming back, you need to be able to squeeze in any special requests that come up suddenly. Show them you can handle the load, and they’ll trust you to do it again.
Do what you say you’ll do.
A significant part of building trust with clients is showing them how reliable and fantastic you are, not telling them. Janeke says you need to have this approach early on: “from the get-go you’re showing them how we’re going to get to where we need to be, and then .you take them on that journey.” HKLM founding member, Dr Sean McCoy has said it before: “Brand is equal to reputation.” You need to deliver on your promises to craft a good reputation, and then your clients will trust you.
“It’s easier said than done.”
Make clients look good.
A lot of trust-building and trust-maintaining comes down to reliability. “If a client gets a request now from inside the business, they need to know that you’re the one they can contact because you’re the one that’s going to get it done. And that only happens when you’ve built that relationship.”
Always aim to over-deliver.
“It’s easier said than done,” admits Janeke, but she maintains over-delivering on time and quality, coming in under budget, or just doing the extra report, can go a long way in getting clients to return.
“It’s very much like a first date.”
Trust-building starts from the beginning. “First impressions last, and they’re difficult to change once you’ve made them,” Janeke points out. “It’s very much like a first date: you walk in; it’s how you present yourself; it’s how you treat that person; you treat them with respect, which to me is one of the most important values to have.”
You know a client trusts you when they come to you first, not just for projects, but for advice, too. We at HKLM are lucky enough to speak from experience. Dealing with clients is a complex mix of hard and soft skills, and that can be tough to grapple with. In order to succeed, according to Janeke “It needs to be second nature.”