Your client's not a robot and neither are you
Why do we try to be stiff, consummate professionals with our clients? Sometimes (if not all of the time), it’s actually better to let your guard down and remember to act like a real human being.
Have you ever tried to be super-professional at an important meeting…only to have coffee spill on your white shirt right as the meeting gets going? What happened next?
In my experience, what happens next depends on how the spillee reacts to the situation. If the coffee-wearer pretends that nothing happened, the rest of the participants also pretend, and the meeting becomes a little awkward. But if the coffee-wearer makes a light comment and laughs, the meeting instantly becomes friendlier and sometimes even more productive.
What’s going on here is mirroring. It’s the natural instinct we, humans, have to reflect the demeanor and perceived emotions of those we’re interacting with. If we see someone smiling, we usually smile back, and a little bit of goodwill is formed in our brain for that person. But if we see someone looking thunderous, we frown and give that person a wide berth.
Why should all this mirroring stuff matter to freelancers who conduct their business over the phone and over email? Because mirroring works through our voices, and even in our written communications. This is how we build good relationships with our clients, and good relationships are essential for repeat business.
When we’re dealing with clients, it’s hard to let our guard down, because we’re trying to be professional. But often our interpretation of “professional” means that we leave our personality and our humanity behind. We don’t crack jokes, we don’t make small talk. We’re PROFESSIONAL!
We’re trying to play it safe – after all, our livelihood depends on the client we’re dealing with, so we don’t want to say anything that might be misinterpreted, or land badly. That seems to be the sensible thing to do, isn’t it?
But leaving our personality at home is a mistake.
To build loyalty and trust with a client, it takes more than just producing excellent work and meeting deadlines. It takes rapport.
Rapport doesn’t mean you become best buds, but it means spending two minutes at the beginning of the call chit-chatting about something other than work. Maybe you mention the concert you went to on the weekend. Maybe you ask your client about the freak snowstorm that hit his area the day before.
It doesn’t take much to transition from an impersonal, transactional relationship to a warm, working relationship.
And the benefits are enormous:
It’ll smooth any bumps in the road. Your clients are much more likely to be understanding and forgiving of any minor issues with your work if they like you personally.
It’ll be easier to have a professional discussion. Your clients won’t feel like they have to walk on eggshells around you when they give you feedback. This is a huge bonus, because it makes their lives easier, which makes you a favorite freelancer.
It’ll differentiate you. When the client is thinking about whom to tap for the next assignment, they’ll remember the person with whom it was a pleasure to speak because the conversation included some human moments.
People have an intrinsic sense for when someone is genuine, and they respond to that. So look alive and show some f***ing personality!
I know what you’re thinking. But what if they don’t like my personality?
Even that is a good thing to know. If your attempts at livening up the conversation fall flat, you have additional information about your client, and the working relationship you’re facing. And ultimately, to paraphrase Michael Port, the author of Book Yourself Solid,
There are some clients we are meant to serve, others…not so much.
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