A guest blog by Claire Irving.
In any business success comes from building strong relationships with people. Certainly in my role as director of fundraising and marketing, meeting our organizational fundraising targets is reliant on making lasting connections; with donors, volunteers, team members, other departments and stakeholders. So how can you make sure that you build good relationships with your colleagues and customers?
Pause for a moment and reflect on your personal style at work and home. Are you approachable? Do you make eye contact and radiate a warm and open attitude that says I’m happy to talk or do you stand grim-faced with your arms crossed? Do you treat others as you would like to be treated or are you dismissive or unreliable? Our posture, open body language, the way we treat those around us with kindness and sincerity are all key to developing successful relationships. Being approachable is one of our most powerful tools because if people are happy to talk to us, the sky is the limit.
Listen and observe
Whether it’s a colleague or potential customer, active listening is critical to get people on side and keep them there. Good relationships come when customers’ needs, wishes and wants are front and centre – how will you know what they are unless you ask open questions and truly pay attention to what their words and body language are telling you? The same applies for colleagues – a team member agrees to work on something tricky and time sensitive whilst sitting with negative body language. They told you that their workload is problematic – did you listen? Did you take the time to understand their circumstances and point of view? Offer help with reprioritisation? Acknowledge that you know you’ve asked them to do something tough and really appreciate the effort they are going to? Pushing your agenda regardless of responses is counterproductive at best so make sure you are actively listening.
Be open and honest
Be clear with customers and colleagues about what you can and can’t do. Don’t build false expectations or make promises that you can’t keep. Your customer will end up disappointed and unhappy – and unhappy customers tend to tell others about their experiences, which unless you put it right very quickly could have a negative effect on your business. Listen to what people want and tell them courteously what you can do, explaining how and when it will happen. Then do it.
Whether it’s a colleague or a customer, at the end of a conversation reflect back your understanding of what has been said and agreed. This ensures there are no misunderstandings, sets expectations appropriately and allows you to build trust. You’ll both feel reassured and it avoids the unprofessionalism and embarrassment of having to get back in contact to double-check something, or worse, getting the outcome wrong. Nothing loses customers quicker than poor customer service.
Do what you say you are going to do
Everyone responds well to having their expectations met or exceeded. It is vital for your customers to make sure you deliver on promises made. If you don’t, why should your customers buy from you? Why should other departments in your organisation go the extra mile to help you achieve our aims when they have their own priorities? Establishing trust and continuing to earn it are vital components in keeping people on side, so agree what you’re going to do and then do it. Simple.
Be candid and kind
I love knowing what is expected of me and I’m sure most people feel the same. If things haven’t gone to plan, I want to know so that I can do better next time and I expect to be told with respect, openness and clear actions going forward. Difficult conversations can be nerve-wracking for everyone involved and if a project hasn’t gone well, it’s important to learn from it and move on. When things haven’t gone to plan, speak to colleagues with kindness and candour. This helps keep communication open, retain trust and nurture positive relationships in the workplace, which in turn benefits your results.
You do something for someone. What is it that makes you feel good? The success? The act of contribution? Or someone acknowledging your effort and thanking you for it? In reality it’s probably all of the above, but the simple art of thanking someone is vital if you are going to build and keep relationships going. Why should a customer continue to spend with you over your competition? Are you happy spending money trying to find new customers to replace the ones you’ve lost by not thanking them promptly and with care? If it’s not there already, build thanking into your customer communication plans and do it every time.
Success in any industry is all about people. Following these basic principles will help you create and keep good relationships with your customers and colleagues that will positively affect your income.
Claire Irving is director of fundraising and marketing at St Catherine’s Hospice