Building Instant Rapport with Your Clients

Effective distance communication can be a difficult task.  Let’s take a look at how you can adapt traditional communication techniques for use on the web and begin establishing instant rapport with your clients.

Have you ever sat on one end of a phone or inbox and wondered what was going through your client’s head on the other end? Have you ever met someone and thought to yourself, “I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about this person that I really like?”

Without body language and facial expressions, misunderstandings happen easier and people are quicker to make inferences on the little information they have. That’s why rapport, or connection, is important. In his book, “How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less,” Nicholas Boothman defines rapport as,

“…the establishment of common ground, of a comfort zone where two or more people can mentally join together. When you have rapport, each of you brings something to the interaction – attentiveness, warmth, a sense of humor, for example – and each brings something back: empathy, sympathy, maybe a couple of great jokes. Rapport is the lubricant that allows social exchanges to flow smoothly.”

So why is rapport so important? Because, when they have a choice, people interact with people they like. While it might be nice to think that we humans are logical creatures, in truth we are very emotional – and emotions (‘feelings’) play a larger part in our decisions that most people realize. Most people base their relationships on their feelings, and according to Boothman, you only have about 90 seconds to build that connection with the person you’re meeting and give them a good feeling about you.

But how do we do it? How do we make a favorable first impression, and build rapport between them and us? Here are three time-tested, readily applicable ways to build instant rapport with your clients.

Be Friendly

You’ll often read in communication resources that a smile is one of the best likability building tools out there. And while people can’t see your smile long-distance, they sure can hear it in your voice. In his famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie writes,

“The effect of a smile is powerful – even when it is unseen… Your smile comes through in your voice. Robert Cryer, manager of a computer department for a Cincinnati, Ohio, company, told how he had successfully found the right applicant for a hard-to-fill position:

‘I was desperately trying to recruit a Ph.D. in computer science for my department. I finally located a young man with ideal qualifications who was about to be graduated from Purdue University. After several phone conversations I learned that he had several offers from other companies, many of them larger and better known than mine. I was delighted when he accepted my offer. After he started on the job, I asked him why he had chosen us over the others. He paused for a moment and then he said: “I think it was because managers in the other companies spoke on the phone in a cold, business-like manner, which made me feel like just another business transaction. Your voice sounded as if you were glad to hear from me… that you really wanted me to be a part of your organization.” You can be assured, I am still answering my phone with a smile.” ’ ”

smile

Don’t be so bubbly that you lose your professionalism, but do your best to smile, even if you don’t feel like it – it really does make a difference.  Smiling is more difficult with email, since people can’t hear your voice or see your smile, so you’re basically left with using emoticons. As a general rule, this is poor practice and looks unprofessional, but it depends on what kind of atmosphere you would like to establish for that relationship. Of course, it would definitely be a bad idea to use emoticons in an email to a prospective client, but in some cases using them can add some friendly warmth to your correspondence and take that keep you from having a cold, corporate edge. One more interesting thought about smiling and emails: if smiling while talking makes your voice sound different, could smiling while you’re writing make your email sound more friendly? It sure wouldn’t hurt to try!

Make them Feel Important

Don’t be false or cheesy about it, but everyone loves to feel important, so this is definitely a excellent way to build good rapport. Dale Carnegie lists six ways to make people like you – notice how numbers 1, 4, 5, and 6 all point towards making the other person feel important:

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people – your interest is a sign of your respect, so becoming interested in who a person will make them feel important.
  2. Smile – we already talked about this one.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest  and most important in any language – once again, taking the time to remember and recognize their name goes a long way in building good rapport.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves – the world is full of lonely, under-appreciated people. Just taking the time to listen will make a big difference for a lot of folks. And, if you’ve been following #1 and are genuinely interested in your client, this will come easy.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests- again, if you’ve become interested in who they are and have been listening to them, this will come naturally. It’s a simple continuation of numbers 1 and 4.
  6. Make the other person feel important – this is the capstone, the culmination of it all. That’s what all these things will accomplish, and that’s why people will enjoy working with you.

important

By being interested in them, calling them by name and being a good listener, you’ll build a good experience, and you’ll be one of those people that is pleasant to talk to. Many people are very self-absorbed, so by taking the time and effort to think of  your client first you’ll really make yourself stand out.

Synchronize

The fact is, people like people like themselves. We tend to relate to people who are similar to us. Synchronization is when people find themselves on the same ‘wavelength’.  It is basically just matching your tone and/or communication style to match theirs, similar to how you would follow the house rules if you were a guest in someone else’s home. When communicating long-distance, there are three different areas that you can practice synchronization in:

1. Tone of voice –

Admittedly, this one only works for telephone communication or Skype, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. For example, if your client is very excited and enthusiastic about a project, you should reflect their enthusiasm in your own voice. If on the other hand a client is very business-like in their communication with you, being too warm and personal will probably just get on their nerves.

2. Communication Style and Method -

While it’s not good to let clients push you around, it does make a good impression when you adapt to a client’s preferred style/method. If they like to communicate via brief phone calls, try to do that, or if they like to use email and be a little more friendly/personal, go ahead and adopt a more friendly tone.

3. Goals & Interests -

We already touched on this, but it deserves a closer look. Here’s the idea: people don’t usually care what your reasons are for wanting something, so don’t even go there. Instead, focus on paying attention to what they want, and then show them how they can get closer to their goal. Dale Carnegie says,

“I often went fishing up in Maine during the summer. Personally, I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted… Why not use that same common sense when fishing for people?”

You will find people to be infinitely more cooperative when you focus on their goals and interests first.

A note about synchronization: please understand, this doesn’t mean that you should be a sourpuss just because someone else is, and it doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your personality or pretend to be someone you aren’t. It is simply a pleasant way to show your respect, so if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Whatever you decide, just realize that flexing to fit someone else’s style almost always produces a favorable impression.

sync

Your Portfolio

“What about my portfolio?” you say. That’s a good question. These techniques have been focused around personal communication, yet your portfolio will make many of those impressions for you, and portfolio copy trickier because you have to appeal to everyone, not just an individual client. This is why it’s very important to have outstanding portfolio copy – it doesn’t matter how good your work is if people think they don’t like you, and the writing in your portfolio will give them their first opinion of you.

In general, the techniques mentioned here still apply – be friendly, make yourself sound competent yet approachable, and make your visitor feel important. If you’re interested in looking further into building effective portfolio, you may want to read:

In Conclusion

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that people will do business with people they like- and you can decide how you are going to do that. Being friendly, matching their style and making them feel important are three excellent ways to make them have a good feeling about you as a professional, but those aren’t the only ways. There is a whole world of opportunities for establishing good relationships – it’s all up to you!

So what do you think? Do you have stories of good or not-so-good first impressions with clients? Share your thoughts!

Written By Nick Parsons

Nick is the editor of Webitect and a developer + designer from Houston TX.

5 Comments

  1. tahir

    November 3rd, 2009 at 04:07 am

    this is testing

  2. Premium Theme Club

    November 7th, 2009 at 07:37 am

    what an article it is.I am highly impressed with this

  3. Jason

    April 18th, 2011 at 08:26 pm

    Great post, great tips for web designers and professionals in general. Just recently found this site and I love it has been really great to read, its nice to know that I’m not the only web designer out there going through things.

  4. Tom Coleman

    July 11th, 2011 at 01:34 pm

    Thanks for a great article. I was trying to remember exactly how to go about building rapport and your article comes closest to what I was trying to recall. Great plan for building rapport. Thanks.

  5. Antony Leo

    March 4th, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Great words. If we implement this definitely there would be a great change in the working atmosphere.

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