One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about holding on to important clients and customers was this: During times of uncertainty, approach your business contacts from a different perspective than during so-called “normal” times. Treat your current clients more like family… and treat your prospects more like your best clients and customers. I can’t recall exactly where I heard this advice, but I can tell you that, when the Covid-19 crisis hit, I tried to live by it. And I am glad I did.
When you move your professional contacts “up a notch” in this way, when you start treating clients as though they were family and start treating prospects as though they were your most treasured clients, something amazing happens. The nature of the dialogue changes. The conversation becomes more personable and more empathetic. You focus a little less on moving the deal forward… and a little more on making sure people are okay. You ask how they are doing. You ask whether their family members are okay. You ask whether they have the things they need, whether there is a support network in place that will help them to make it through when times are tough.
These are essential questions. While closing business is certainly important too, I believe that the pandemic served as a reminder to all of us that supporting person-to-person relationships must come first. In the weeks and months following the outbreak, I found myself thinking again and again of this critical principle when it comes to client retention: make sure they are okay. And I realized it shouldn’t have taken a health emergency to bring that issue to the top of my priority list.
I believe we were all on the right track when we found ourselves motivated to focus on a question that suddenly was no longer shallow or commonplace: How are you? When we asked that question, and meant it, we were acknowledging the challenges of others, honoring those challenges with full attention and authenticity, and stepping away from our personal agenda, at least for a moment. When asked in this spirit, How are you? is not conversational filler. It is a genuine expression of concern for the person we are talking to… and those close to them. When we show that we are genuinely interested in what is going on in the other person’s world, and when we look for ways to add value to that person’s world, without an immediate assurance that we will be rewarded for doing so, the quality of our relationships improves.
So here is an interesting question to consider: Why in the world would we ever stop doing that?
The conversations we had in the period right after it became clear to everyone that there was a global and national emergency were different. We looked for ways to add value as those in our circle struggled to come to terms with challenges they faced. We showed up for each other as people.
Yes, at some point we do have to shift back into business mode. Yes, we do need to close deals. But let’s also take a moment to notice that many of our relationships today are stronger because of the way we showed up for the people in our world when times got dark. Why would we stop showing up like that? Why would we go back to the old default setting of saying How are you? – but not really meaning it?
If you are serious about retaining your most important clients, and expanding your relationships with them, here is my advice: Keep right on treating them like family. Ask if they are okay – and mean it when you ask.