How to Build Customer Rapport That Doesn’t Bore

Every six months, I begrudgingly visit the dentist. I sit under the florescent lights in the waiting room ruminating about 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 peppers me with questions. She asks how my dog Lucy is doing after a scuffle with a small, but fierce Chihuahua, and if I ended up trying that new Thai restaurant we talked about six months prior. Her ability to recall the minutiae of my life has always amazed me. It turns a dreaded task into a delightful one. My dentist understands that the magic of a memorable customer experience is found 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 customer or not — is what we all seek in our relationships.

Nice weather, isn’t it?

customer rapport

We’ve all experienced those apathetic conversations with clients and coworkers alike that feel like Groundhog Day. Every time you begin a discussion it’s about the weather or your weekend, which regardless of its events, is always simply described as “good.” These conversations are the byproduct of not really knowing the other party on a personal, yet professional, level.

Like a good dentist, Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are in the business of building rapport and conjuring conversation with customers on a daily basis. 

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

  • I see that you’re in [city]. What’s the best part about living there?
  • Just noticed you attended [school]. What was it like going to college [in the South/on the West Coast/in a big city/in a small city/etc.]?
  • Why did you decide to work in [customer’s field]?
  • Many of my clients in [customer’s role] tell me [X detail about job]. Has that held true in your experience?

(Check out their full article for more examples based on location, careers, and interests.)

Use variations of these relaxed questions to get new customers to open up and learn more about them. It’s not enough to just ask either. Take notes during these exchanges to tailor your next conversation. You’ll surprise and delight your customers by recalling the seemingly mundane details they’ve shared. In a noisy, fast-paced world, it’s refreshing and endearing to feel like someone has truly heard you and cares enough to remember.

Uncover commonalities

customer connections

As your customer offers up tidbits on their background, interests, and hobbies, uncover commonalities to encourage genuine conversations that don’t feel fabricated or forced. This kind of engaging exchange, facilitated by active listening, builds the foundational trust required to grow long-term relationships.

  • Lean on your career experience. If you worked in the same industry or role as your customer, mention it. There’s nothing like bonding over shared work experiences, passions, and struggles. We often feel like we’re the only one grappling with work-related problems. Knowing that someone else has dealt with the same pain points forms an instant connection.

  • Keep it informal but intriguing. Get to know your customer beyond the surface level without digging too deep by sharing stories and backgrounds. As Vocalcom suggests, if a customer mentions their children or an upcoming move, then in your next conversation, open the dialogue by asking how their children are doing or welcoming them to their new home (and gift champagne to show some love). If you’re both working parents, swapping lighthearted and assuming “guess what my kid did this morning” anecdotes can spark a lasting affinity.

  • Celebrate meaningful milestones. Track a customer’s birthday (if it organically arises in conversation) to send a warm, personalized message. Our customers do this through ChurnZero’s automated Plays—a tiny detail that goes a long way. You can also commemorate achieving shared goals. For example, to celebrate closing a long and challenging sales cycle, our Account Executive and his prospect-turned-customer wanted to share a beer together. The only issue was that they were separated by 1,300 miles. So instead, they devised a plan to send each other brews native to their cities to celebrate their tough win. This was a small but memorable gesture felt from states apart.

Swap the small talk for sincerity in conversations

small talk

“Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?” asks Celeste Headlee during her Ted Talk on 10 ways to have a better conversation.

In the era of infinite scroll, our digital dependencies have overtaken the waning art of interpersonal communication. Our perpetually plugged-in nature primes us for mindless consumption and easy interruption.

In the talk, Headlee shares that “The average person talks at about 225 words per minute, but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute. So, our minds are filling in those other 275 words.” Active listening requires shutting down your own distracting internal dialogue or scheming your next reply.

When you find yourself in a monotonous exchange, Headlee challenges us to always assume we have something to learn. To quote beloved science guy Bill Nye “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t.” When your customers sense that you’re present and engaged in the conversation, they’ll be more willing to share their personal stories, experiences, and knowledge.

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

Get to know your customer beyond their buyer persona. Ask thoughtful questions that lead to meaningful conversations, deeper understanding, and shared context. Therein lies the key to fueling strong customer rapport and loyalty.

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