Communication is so much more than merely a transfer of information. Our words have the power to influence outcomes. At Red Door, communication is the crux of what we do — whether it’s our developers communicating a complex website feature to non-technical stakeholders, our creative team sharing the story of a brand through visuals, or our client services team revealing new opportunities and tools to help reach client goals.
While the importance of communication may not sound groundbreaking, it has the power to impact our relationships significantly. It’s not just what we say, but how we say it, when we say it, why we say it, and who we say it to. By thoughtfully conveying our intent, we are able to build strong partnerships founded on trust and mutual understanding.
BUILDING A STRONG FOUNDATION
A successful partnership, especially in the consulting sector, is largely built on trust. Working with consultants that you trust allows you to focus on your priorities and workload with peace of mind. It also gives you the space to think outside of the box and consider new opportunities, knowing your consultants have your best interests in mind. But, how do you build trust in an agency/client setting, especially as you approach new relationships?
One of the key factors needed to build trust is reliability. According to David H. Maister, author of The Trusted Advisor, “Reliability, in a largely rational sense, is the repeated experience of links between promises and action.” In other words, it’s about following through on what you say you will do and ensuring others can depend on you. In a client services role, reliability is vital in building a foundation of trust.
There are endless opportunities to showcase reliability. For example, at the beginning of any project, agencies typically hold a project kickoff meeting to review project goals, timeline, and scope. This is an opportunity to clearly articulate the work to come, identify what success looks like, and address any risks. After the project kicks off, it is largely up to the Client Services team to communicate updates along the way. It's important that the team follows through on what was discussed or committed to during the project kickoff meeting, or proactively communicates any deviations and develops a new path forward. For example, project timelines tend to shift from the beginning of a project to the end. However, by sticking to the timeline you committed to, or communicating potential shifts and a recommended updated timeline that still meets client deadlines and goals, you can avoid potential distrust on account of missed deadlines. By communicating early and often, you can demonstrate to clients that you can be relied upon, even when projects don’t go exactly as planned. Through continued demonstration of this reliability, trust slowly begins to build as the foundation of an agency/client partnership.
BEING INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR WORDS
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word…is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Mark Twain
There are subtle nuances in our daily communication that impact our ability to build trust and showcase our capability and dependability. A hedge is defined as a noncommittal or evasive statement. It’s a qualifier that we often add to the beginning of a sentence that ultimately casts doubt on what we are about to say. For example, adding “I think” or “in my opinion” to the beginning of a sentence. Compare “I think this would drive down the cost per click of this campaign” to “This will drive down the cost per click for this campaign.” Assuming you are backed by data and your statement is accurate, by removing the hedge, you are left with a statement of greater conviction and are better positioned to move your recommendation forward. With this small tweak in our delivery of information, we can instill much more trust and confidence in our clients.
Similar to a hedge, a tag question is defined as a question added to a statement or command. Tag questions are often added to the end of a statement that is otherwise definitive. For example, “This is such an exciting opportunity, don’t you think?” Compare this to a definitive statement of “This is such an exciting opportunity!” According to the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, tag questions can significantly and negatively impact the credibility and believability of a speaker. By simply removing the tag question, you are left with a more definitive statement that could sway the perception of your audience.
According to Forbes, “How you sound will influence – rightly or wrongly – how you are perceived.” Upspeak refers to a tendency to lift our pitch toward the end of a sentence. This lift results in what sounds more like a question, even if we are intending to deliver a statement of certainty. Upspeak causes your audience to perceive you as uncertain or timid, even if that is not your intent. Therefore, it’s important to remember that the tone of your voice plays a significant role in instilling trust in your clients.
Naturally, there are additional communication tactics that help us to build mutual understanding with our clients. Mirroring is a communication tactic that allows you to dig deeper to understand the intention of your audience. Mirroring refers to the simple repetition of one to three key words back to the person who spoke them. It’s a way to build rapport with your audience, make them feel heard, and encourage them to share more. For example:
Client: I spoke to our CEO, and we’re unsure about proceeding with the proposal in this fiscal year.
Agency: You’re unsure?
In this simple exchange, the agency is opening up the conversation in a way that encourages more details, but also shows genuine empathy and interest in supporting. It’s a simple, but thoughtful, way that we can use communication to build rapport and trust.
KEEPING GOALS IN MIND
One question that comes to mind as you approach any new partnership is “will you prioritize your own interests and needs over those of others?” At the end of the day, agencies and their clients are working toward the same project or program goal(s). A successful client means a successful agency. By communicating thoughtfully and continuing to showcase reliability, we can build successful partnerships founded on trust and mutual understanding.
At Red Door, we have longstanding client partnerships spanning decades, built on the premise of clear and thoughtful communication as trusted advisors. Contact us today to discuss how we can start building a partnership dedicated to meeting your business goals.