Many of the most rewarding personal friendship relationships in my life have grown out of business relationships that were nurtured over time. Early on in my career, I learned that the recipe for successful, meaningful, long-term business relationships contains many of the same key ingredients that we subconsciously use in developing and maintaining our personal friendships—those key ingredients include being open and honest with strong lines of communication; being accessible; properly following through; dependability and a willingness to do whatever it takes to help the other side out.
Put simply, one should nurture their business relationships with the same level of care and concern that they nurture their personal friendships. The reality is that when one adopts this mindset, one quickly learns that, just like meaningful friendships, highly successful business relationships also take a lot of time, effort, hard work and commitment.
Regular contact and open, direct communication are critically important to developing meaningful business relationships. One of the worst mistakes that I see professionals make in this business is going out to a marketing event, aggressively shaking hands and collecting clients’ business cards and then believing that the hard work is over. They don’t periodically check in with their new or potential clients, assume that no news is good news, and wait until the client picks up the phone first. Instead, please understand that it is once a new client relationship has been established that the real work should begin. Check in with your clients regularly, solicit honest feedback and then take action based on the recommendations they make. Listen to your clients and show them that what they tell you is important. Think of your clients as outside consultants or trusted friends who can regularly advise you on ways you can improve.
One technique that I’ve found to be highly successful to facilitate regular and ongoing communication is offering my clients around-the-clock accessibility. I give new clients my personal cell phone number and assure them it is fine to call any time, day or night, to reach me. It is a small gesture in which I demonstrate to them that they are important and offer the reassurance that a decision-maker is always accessible to them in any situation. Whatever method you choose, make sure clients know they can get a hold of you when they have a concern and ensure that they feel like it is appropriate to contact you directly.
I have also discovered over the years that regularly checking in and communicating with existing clients is an excellent way to increase your existing client base. One successful way to generate new business relationships is through the kind recommendations and the referral of existing clients. If you have provided a client with a positive experience, ask them if they would recommend your services to a friend of theirs. Better yet, ask them to facilitate an introduction to other key producers within their office. I cannot stress how important this technique was to helping my firm, Morris|Hardwick|Schneider, grow. In fact, if I sit down with our current client list, I feel that it is a “family tree” of sorts, where each loyal client has led to a fruitful relationship that led to another and so on. Just as your circle of personal friends grows naturally as you meet friends of friends socially, so should your network of business network expand over time.
Just as important as regularly touching your clients and showing them that you care about their business concerns, as well as them as people, is a requirement that you respond and react appropriately to the information you receive. Solicit earnest feedback from your clients and then use that feedback as a springboard in implementing governing policies and procedures within your organization. Frame your service around your clients’ needs.
In today's marketplace, practically every business pays lip service to the same ideal that the client is priority number one and customer service is tops. These often-repeated claims appear in everything, from commercials and marketing materials, to printed receipts and coupons. Due to this overexposure, what should be highly meaningful business statements have become merely empty words in the eyes of many consumers. Rather than preaching about your superior service, demonstrate your commitment to exceptional service by showing your client that they are your number one priority. Showing, in addition to telling, will earn you credibility and loyalty from clients who often hear empty promises of the same from your competitors.
One way I have undertaken to demonstrate my commitment to putting our clients first is by embracing exceptional service as a company-wide commitment. We have put this promise into practice by using client feedback and suggestions to devise a specific set of service standards, our BASICS. These BASICS govern our daily operating procedures; the very heart of their purpose is to maintain and build positive and fruitful client relationships. The BASICS are not an amorphous “vision statement,” rather, they are specific requirements and timelines. We publish these BASICS to our clients, and ask that they hold us accountable for them. Putting your neck on the line in this way is not easy, and it certainly involves reputation risk, but by publicly setting the bar high and continually striving to improve to exceed our own standards, we have built lasting client relationships that have enabled our success.
As an owner or manager, you absolutely must make sure that you have a team working with you that also shares the belief that meaningful business relationships are essential to continued success. Enlist their support in managing and maintaining the business relationships that you initiate. As a business grows, it becomes impossible for one person to be the “do all and end all” of managing every client relationship. I am constantly reminded how important my team is in maintaining every client relationship within our firm. Certainly those whom you surround yourself with as employees within your organization can make or break the client relationships that you have worked so hard to put into place. Ensure that everyone down the line who interacts with the client shares the same respect for the relationship that you espouse.
► Treat everyone with courtesy and respect.
► Demonstrate professionalism and a positive attitude.
► Return all phone calls and e-mails within two hours.
► Meet all promised deadlines.
► Always go the extra mile to close the loan.
► Communicate with clients and borrowers and address potential problems prior to closing.
► Send the HUD-1 Settlement Statement to all parties within four hours of receipt of closing instructions.
► Complete the title commitment and send to the client within 48 hours of receipt of title order.
► Follow the Good Faith Estimate (GFE).
► Start all closings on time.
Nat Hardwick is a managing partner with the firm of Morris|Hardwick|Schneider. Nat serves as chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of LandCastle Title. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the LandCastle Title Foundation. He may be reached by phone at (678) 298-2100.