Feb 21, 2020

10 min

How to Build Customer Rapport That Doesn’t Bore

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Every six months, I begrudgingly visit the dentist. I sit under the fluorescent lights in the waiting room ruminating over my neglected resolution to floss each night and the impending pain I will soon endure.  And although we only see each other twice a year, through the poking and prodding, my dentist always peppers me with questions. She asks how my dog Lucy is doing after her scuffle with a fierce Chihuahua, or if I ended up trying that new Thai restaurant I mentioned at my last appointment. Her ability to recall the minutiae of my life has always amazed me, and it turns a dreaded task into a delightful one. My dentist understands how to build rapport with customers, and that the magic of a memorable customer experience is usually in the smallest of details. This is why, even after moving to a new city, I still drive 25 miles to visit her. It’s the feeling of being seen, heard, and valued, which — paying customers or not — we all seek in our relationships.

Ditch the Small Talk

Rapport building questions go beyond just asking about the weather. Those conversations start to feel like Groundhog Day — apathetic, repeated, endlessly predictable. To really build personal relationships, and to build rapport with customers, it’s important to go deeper.

If you’re looking to breathe more life and authenticity into your daily conversations, but aren’t sure where to start, Hubspot recommends using these icebreaker questions inspired by LinkedIn:

  • I see you’re from [CITY]. What would you say is the best part about living there?
  • I just noticed you attended [SCHOOL]. What was it like studying [in the South/on the West Coast/in a big city/etc.]?
  • Why did you decide to work in [CUSTOMER’S FIELD]?
  • Many of my clients in [CUSTOMER’S ROLE] tell me [X]. Has that been true in your experience?

These sorts of questions can help new customers open up and help you learn a bit more about them. It’s important, too, not just to ask, but to actually take note of the answer as well. You won’t believe your customers’ excitement and delight when you surprise them by remembering some sort of personal detail.

With customers that you’ve had for a bit longer, you might also want to try strong talk. This is another method of opening up and deepening customer relationships, usually by talking about your professional struggles, challenges, successes, and real-time issues. You can ask your customers for their advice, and you can both learn from each other in the process.

Seek Out Similarities

Building rapport with customers is based on making connections, and those often come from our backgrounds, interests, and hobbies. As your customer shares more of these personal tidbits, keep track of similarities so you can initiate genuine conversations about mutual touchpoints. This sort of exchange, enabled by and based on active listening, helps build foundational trust and ultimately longer term customer relationships. But how do you find those commonalities?

Lean On Career Experience

If you worked in the same industry, or even in the same role as your customer, mention it to them. There’s something special about bonding over shared work experiences, passions, and struggles. Sometimes, we feel like we’re the only one grappling with work-related problems, and so it can be a moment of instant connection to meet someone else who understands.

 Keep It Informal, but Intriguing

Get to know your customer beyond the surface level without digging too deep by sharing stories and backgrounds. Vocalcom suggests, for example, that if a customer mentions their children, or an upcoming move, then open your next conversation with rapport building questions like asking about their children, or how the move went (a gift of celebratory champagne wouldn’t hurt, either). If you can connect over having kids, swap fun and lighthearted anecdotes that can spark a lasting connection.

Celebrate Meaningful Milestones

If personal milestones — such as a customer’s birthday — arise naturally in conversation, make a note of it and send a warm message to mark the occasion (ChurnZero customers can do this through automated Plays). You can certainly track and celebrate professional milestones, too. If your customers achieve a goal, find a way to recognize the achievement. For example, here at ChurnZero, our Account Executive wanted to share a beer with his new customer to celebrate closing a long and challenging sales cycle. They might have been separated by 1,300 miles, but they devised a plan to send each other beers native to their cities, and they made the celebratory drink happen. These small and memorable gestures can be a major component of building rapport with customers.

Dial Up the Sincerity

During her Ted Talk on 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation, Celeste Headlee asks, “Is there a 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?” What she’s getting at is that, in our overwhelmingly digital era, our technological dependencies have begun to take over the diminishing art of interpersonal communication.

But the importance of said art itself hasn’t diminished, and it’s a skill we can constantly work to improve. We want those we talk to — especially our customers — to always feel that we’re present and engaged in conversation, and we can do this through active listening. 

By shutting down our own distracting internal monologue, and listening to our conversational partner instead of thinking ahead to devise our own reply, we show that we’re interested. This ultimately encourages our customers to share their own personal stories, experiences, and knowledge.

Icebreakers and tactics aside, Headlee concludes by saying that her rules for better conversations really boil down to the same basic concept: be interested in other people.

Build Customer Rapport, Then Use It

Get to know your customer beyond their buyer persona. Ask thoughtful, rapport building questions that lead to more meaningful conversations, deeper understanding, and a shared context between you and your customers. Once you’ve built this customer rapport, you now have a strong foundation for future customer loyalty, and even further strategic customer conversations. If you want to learn more about how to make those most of  your customer rapport, check out our webinar, How to Have More Strategic Customer Conversations.

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