Deeply connected, trust-based client relationships are rare. That's precisely why you should make creating and nurturing them a priority.

These days trust is at an all-time low. People are suspicious of organizations, institutions, and leaders across the board. At the same time, competition is fierce. Your clients can leave you at any time (and for any reason) and replace your services with something faster, shinier, and sexier. But here's the good news: When you're able to engage with clients the right way and build deeply connected, trust-based, authentic relationships with them, you automatically set yourself apart.

Strong client relationships are hard to come by and clients know it. That's why, when you know how to create them, you'll win your clients' loyalty, earn referrals, and enjoy repeat business for life. Deep connections like this can't be faked. They require your attention, your care, and your authentic desire to serve your clients to the best of your ability. In both bad times and good, your commitment to them should be your top priority. Not everyone is willing to create and nurture these kinds of relationships. If you are, your business will thrive.

 

Here are 12 relationship-building habits that keep clients coming back.

ONE. Commit to a personal code of integrity and live it each day. Integrity should be a core value that steers all of your client interactions. This means committing to being honest and working hard with their best interests in mind.

 

Develop a set of business integrity mantras you can strategically place around your office on Post-it notes or even posters. Use them to remind yourself to always align all of your decisions with your code of business conduct.

TWO. Give them peace of mind. Your clients should always be in good hands with you. Develop a system that works for you to proactively give clients the highest level of service at all times. Whether it is having a perfectly tweaked project management system in place in your business or having a very clear communication system, make sure you respond to your clients in a timely manner and that you provide expert answers to all of their questions.

THREE. Build trust by keeping your promises. If customer connections are the cornerstone of a successful business, trust is the cornerstone of a healthy client relationship. Remember to keep your word and to deliver without fail. Keeping your word can be as small but equally important as never canceling an appointment or going over the allotted time for a meeting. This guideline may seem simplistic, but this approach will not only impress and delight them, but it will allow them to trust you with more business in the future. Building client trust makes you a winner every time.

FOUR. Be honest about what your services can deliver. Don't oversell or overpromise the results you offer. Manage your clients' expectations so they won't be disappointed. But whenever possible, do put them in touch with others who can help them. Be sure to expose your clients to your networks just to be helpful. Maybe they come to see you for insurance policies, but your consultant pal from college could help them streamline their business initiatives—so you connect them. This will only widen your networks and strengthen your client relationships.

FIVE. Don't sell your customers products they don't need. Be upfront about products that would be a waste of their hard-earned money. Make your clients' best interests your focus in approaching clients with your services. This tip is part of a larger philosophy of moving away from seeing a client as an immediate sale and moving toward building a long-term relationship. This approach ensures that you are successful in building a solid foundation for your client relationships.

SIX. Deliver consistent service. Clients come to expect what they have experienced with your services in the past. Align yourself with a clearly defined mission, set of goals, and level of commitment and ensure that clients receive the same level of care by delivering consistently high-quality service, time and time again.

SEVEN. Be authentic with clients. Authenticity, by definition, can't be faked. Your customers will know if you are being friendly just to make a sale. But genuine interactions allow people into your life by sharing your personality and getting to know the real you. Friendliness goes a long way.

EIGHT. Find thoughtful ways to show you care. Just showing up for your clients because you genuinely care about them is a sure way to solidify your connection with them. So send out birthday cards. Make a donation to a charity in your client's name. Get to know each of your clients and show genuine interest in their lives. Remember details and ask about their families and lives. Create an emotional connection any chance you are able. Once relationships have been established, attend family weddings, funerals, bar and bat mitzvahs.

NINE. Check in even when you have nothing to sell them. Clients love to know that you care about them beyond the sale of services. Do reach out to your clients from time to time and check in with them to see how they are doing. Take them to lunch, meet up for a game of golf, ask them about the outcome of an important family event. These ways of connecting are opportune times to find out if there is anything you could be doing even better to make this client happier than they already are.

TEN. Don't forget about your existing clients, even when your business is booming with new ones. Clients can tell when they're on the back burner. Consciously devote time to touching base with your loyal long-term clients—especially when new customers are banging down your door.

ELEVEN. Resist going on autopilot. Even if you have your sales technique down pat, find a way to actively engage with every client. Clients can sense if you're phoning it in. Try to step into the shoes of your client each time you're having a meeting. Find ways to really connect with the human being sitting across from you and remember that you are striving to improve their lives.

TWELVE. Apologize if you make a mistake and fix the problem immediately. In most cases, customers aren't interested in holding grudges—they want to forgive and forget. The best way to smooth things over when you've messed up is to make a heartfelt apology and then make it right. Take a moment to address mistakes and put in place ways to continually improve on your process by addressing obstacles that may slow down your momentum.

If your business is anything less than thriving, you should first and foremost examine your relationship with your clients. The truth is, you are far more in control of your brand's growth than you give yourself credit for. That's why it's so important to take true ownership of the connection you build with your clients. You'll be amazed how much your deeper commitment to them will pay off in the long run.

Paul G. Krasnow is the author of The Success Code: A Guide for Achieving Your Personal Best in Business and Life. He is a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, where he has been a top producer for 40 years. www.paulgkrasnow.com

The demand For dialog

Routine employee feedback is no longer optional.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. www.businesstrainingworks.com

Not so long ago, most people in the workplace received feedback once-a-year during a performance review. An employee didn’t expect a development plan, a career track, or anyone to take an interest in his or her professional growth. That responsibility was often a solo activity. In fact, as recently as a couple of decades ago, there wasn’t a great deal of help on the road to career success, and most people didn’t complain. It simply was what it was.

But times change, and norms evolve. The practice of once-a-year feedback is fast becoming an anachronism and as out of place in the modern office as the fashions people once wore when holding those annual reviews.

The reason the average worker has evolved to expect a steady diet of attention and conversation is debatable and perhaps worth scholarly inquiry. In the meantime, however, a demand for dialog exists and must be answered.

So, why should managers take action, what does it take to establish and maintain an ongoing give-and-take, and how can managers balance the constant conversation with their own workplace responsibilities?

How to establish and maintain a dialog

Once you’ve bought into the notion that routine conversation is a must, the next step is knowing how to guide interactions.

Take an interest. Very little builds engagement as well as a manager who seems to genuinely care for people, promotes their success, and has the ability to develop them. This is not an annual affair. Rather, you’ve got to have a range of formal and informal conversations throughout the year. To get started, ask questions, and pay attention to the answers.

“What are you working on that’s exciting to you?” “What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?” “If you could eliminate parts of your work, what would you stop doing?” “What used to be interesting to you that’s now become mundane or boring?” “If you could try something professionally with limited chance of failure, what risks would you take?” “Tell me a little about what first attracted you to this organization. Has anything changed about how you feel about your work here?” “How do you feel about our interactions? Do I give your development the right amount of attention, and do you receive the right amount of feedback?”
Check in with employees regularly to ensure that they’re satisfied and on-task.
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There is no limit to the questions you could ask. The key is showing a sincere interest in the answers, withholding judgement about what you’re told, and taking action when you can.

Be observant. As a manager, your job is to focus on the work that gets done and how it gets done. When you pay attention and are specific with your feedback, you show you’ve spent time to notice what’s working and where opportunities exist. In other words, it’s important to communicate to people they matter to you.

“Tim, I thought the graphics you used on those PowerPoint slides were very strong. You chose the unexpected, stayed away from heavy text, and did something a little different than what we are used to seeing.” “Gina, I’d like to talk with you about the report submitted this morning. Specifically, I want to discuss the proofreading process you’re following. I noticed a few errors, and I want to see if there is a way we can reduce the mistakes. If we could increase the accuracy of the reporting, I think we would improve our department’s credibility. Is now a good time for you, or should I schedule something for this afternoon?”

Finding the time for planned dialog

There is no clock fairy or magic solution to time management and fitting feedback and development conversations into a regular workload. It’s an effort that requires discipline. To ensure planned dialog happens, you need to put formal meetings on a calendar, schedule them at regular intervals, show up on time, and put the smartphone away.

The payoff

While increased levels of informal feedback and scheduled conversation can seem overwhelming at first, the more often a manager engages, the easier it is, the franker the discussions become, and the greater the understanding between the employee and the manager grows.

With whom should you be having conversations?