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Building strong client relationships

Value creation is the foundation of a healthy connection between a consultant and their client. This involves individuals and teams working together to improve performance by employing the appropriate people, skills, and technology. When a client believes that they can depend on their consultant, there is an increase in the amount of cooperation, which in turn optimises the capacity to produce value. As a result, it is abundantly evident that establishing and keeping connections is important in order to be a genuinely effective consultant or adviser.

Creating strong client relationships with the help of Expert Toolkit

There is a wide range of possible connections between consultants and their clients, ranging from "deferential" and "subservient" to "trusted" and "partnering." Consultants who are skilled at building a solid relationship of trust and forming partnerships with their customers are also adept at resolving disagreements in a manner that is founded on power parity, close cooperation, a spirit of reciprocity, and a feeling of dependence on one another.

Those consultants who are unable to break out of the "subservient" mould are, regrettably, subject to the client's dominance, and their capacity to exert influence from a place of mutual respect is severely limited. In addition, these consultants often show such respect to the client that they just believe the customer "knows best" and forfeit their potential to convince; finally, they choose to simply "go with the flow."

But even if a consultant wants to develop a deep connection with a client in order to become a trusted counsel, it doesn't mean the customer feels the same way. What if the customer merely wants a relationship in which the consultant "does what they are told" and agrees with whatever the client suggests? The first thing we need to do in order to start constructing the sort of connection that we desire is to figure out what kind of relationship we already have. When evaluating a romantic partnership, it is critical to be as truthful as possible. For instance, if you believe that you have a healthy relationship with your customer and that it is founded on mutual respect, you may be wondering why they would "bully" you.

When consultants are faced with challenging circumstances with their client, it is easy to get distracted from clear thinking and thorough consideration of the connections that are at play. The effects of pressure might include a clouding of judgement, which can result in poor decision making and action that is later regretted. If you are a consultant who strives to be the best that you can be, and you believe that a problem is showing relationship deficiencies, you should think about a few approaches to improve the situation:

  1. Ignore: If a client refuses to discuss an issue rationally or insists on taking a position contrary to the goal of value creation without logical explanation, one strategy is to bypass the issue (for the time being) by simply ignoring it. Perhaps the client is having a bad day, is distracted by another issue or for some other reason is deciding to take position to demonstrate their authority. Agreeing with the client’s illogical perspective is potentially undermining to the goal or building a strong trusting relationship and it can also encourage the client to behave like this again in the future. Confronting an emotional client at such a moment may cause the issue to explode; not responding directly may give the client time to back off and “save face.” Let some time pass by and think of options to address the issue in alternative ways that may be less confrontational. If possible, it may be best to just let it go, and ignore the issue completely.   
  2. Redirect: Sometimes when a client is not behaving constructively, try redirecting their behavior by modeling how you would like the conversation to proceed. You want to show understanding and that you accept their concerns whilst at the same time asking that they do the same for yours. If they follow your pattern, you can (hopefully) get the conversation back on track without ever explicitly saying that it was off track. Phrases like “Perhaps we are mishearing you”, “Perhaps we’ve been unclear” can be helpful as well is indicating to the client how what they are asking for or looking to do may be counter to their own interests.
  3. Engage: This involves taking on an issue or disagreement “head on”, so be careful and stay cool. Speak to how the issue and process to resolve it is affecting your behavior, your attitudes and your emotions. Don’t speak for the client. For example: “I’m feeling frustrated by how often we seem to have addressed this same issue. I don’t feel like the concern with financial risk has been acknowledged. I’d like to fix this. Do you feel equally frustrated with how this is going?” How the issues are being addressed is often implicit in the discussion; this strategy makes it explicit.
If you get the impression that your connection with a client is slipping into a "subservient box," you can explore inquiring about the customer's interactions with their various other consultants and advisers. Make an effort to comprehend the nature of the client's business. Do they behave with one another as if they were masters and slaves, or is this kind of interaction mostly kept for outside experts and advisors? The common response to this line of enquiry is an apology along the lines of "Sorry, we're not really like that, but we're under pressure to generate results and maybe it's having an affect." If, on the other hand, they tell you that "This is the culture here, and it's the way we operate," then you may need to make a choice about whether or not to stay. Do you see yourself working as a consultant in an atmosphere like this one?

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