We recently attended a fascinating PM Forum training event in Manchester on The Evolution of the Trusted Advisor, run by the Personal Communications Academy. It made us sit up and think about how we build relationships with our clients and what more we could and, indeed, should be doing.

Take The Trust Equation developed by Maister, Green & Galford – which was discussed in the session:

It is a simple concept: the higher the levels of credibility, reliability and intimacy, the greater the level of trust; the higher the self-interest, the lower the resulting level of trust.

But how many of us can say we achieve the right balance in practice? 

  • Can we demonstrate that we really understand our clients and what is affecting them above what we want to get out of the relationship? 
  • Can we ensure that we properly deliver for that client, and do what we said we’d do?
  • Can our client come to us with any issue without feeling embarrassed? 
  • Above all, can we put our own self-interest and goals to one side, to ensure that our client truly trusts us? 

When you are busy with the day job, how easy is it to execute? How can we encourage ourselves and others to listen for the deeper meaning in what a client says (how it might affect them, how we can help), rather than just listening to the superficial facts, without interpretation? A few things I learnt from the session are:

  • Do your research (obvious I know) but use THICK data (qualitative, informative research), rather than THIN surface-level data. Get to really understand your client and their environment.
  • Listen – but listen to fully understand. If you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Don’t go in with your own agenda and spend your time working on the next question to ask your client when they are talking – actually listen to what they are saying.
  • Don’t interrupt – even if you think what you are going to say is what they want to hear, let them finish.
  • Ask vertical questions – be open, drill down, be reflective. Use their words.
  • Be inquisitive – “So what does that mean for you going forward?”
  • Qualify what you have learnt from your client – re-cap to confirm.  Follow up.
  • And remember. You are not always right!

So, what’s in it for me?

If you look at who tops the 50 most innovative companies, it’s led, not surprisingly, by the likes of Google, Apple, Virgin and Alibaba. These companies are successful because they listen to their clients and they trust their employees to work with their clients. They then come up with innovative solutions based on what their clients need, rather than what they think a client needs. They are not afraid to experiment, to try something and fail, because you can learn something new out of getting something wrong.

Why is it that no law firm (or any professional services firm) is on the list? It was suggested that the Big 4 are, unsurprisingly, ahead of the law firms when it comes to the concept of productive failure. This is clearly something that does not come naturally to law firms, yet they should be more prepared to confront uncertainties and be prepared to fail. In the long-term this will undoubtedly reap benefits for both them and their clients.



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