Attention is the new currency. More than ever, customers crave attention and are prepared to pay for it. Are you paying attention?
This is a new opportunity to differentiate and attract word-of-mouth referrals, and solopreneurs are perfectly poised to cash in on it, since solo practice is by its nature already high-touch and personalised.
Regardless of the industry you’re in, you can pay attention to your clients by sharing your knowledge (teaching), expertise (helping or advising), understanding (listening) or ideas (acting as a sounding board).
Consciously using the following skills and behaviour patterns for paying attention will also go a long way towards showing your clients that you really do care about them and their needs.
Develop empathy and listening skills
These basic building blocks of quality attention are skills that can be learnt. Even if they come naturally to you, a course in counselling can help you refine and leverage them.
Reflect, reassure and anticipate your clients’ needs
Reflecting what your clients say means reiterating the content of their communications to you, but in your own words. This short summary reassures them of your understanding. Reflection and reassurance are great techniques to help clients feel heard, especially if you’re communicating online or via email. Your marketing material should provide sufficient reassurance as well.
Try to anticipate your clients’ needs, but not in a controlling or smothering way. This sometimes means being tentative with your suggestions, using phrases such as “You may want to consider this course of action.”
However, be wary of putting words into your clients’ mouths, or expressing quick judgements about them.
Choose your language carefully
Language is the conduit for attention. Quickly picking up and using the vernacular of your clients is a great way to set them at ease.
You must be able to converse fluently in the same way that your clients do. Don’t just learn the vocabulary and jargon of your trade, make sure you’re also aware of the synonyms and shorthand your clients use. Avoid impenetrable business-speak though – it’s more important to be understood than to sound clever.
Want more articles like this? Check out the communication skills section.
Use inclusive, open and politically correct language (unless being otherwise is part of your business persona!)
There’ll be times when you and your client disagree, and choosing the right language (and tone of voice) will be particularly valuable then. Don’t confuse being frank and open with being confrontational. Relationships often work better if we can adopt softer, less confrontational ways to tell-it-like-it-is. It does pay to be nice.
Above all, make sure you don’t talk to your clients. Talk with them.
Be yourself. Be real. Business is personal! People want to connect with the real person, not some professionalised clone. You can’t sustain a persona over extended periods anyway, and nor can you please every one.
Along the same lines, make sure your compliments are genuine and heart-felt. Inauthentic affection just comes across as creepy!
Keep your listening authentic too. Do you listen to your clients with the intention of helping or with a view to finding openings into which you can shoehorn your offerings? If your answer is the latter, don’t think your clients haven’t noticed. After all, how long does it take you to notice when someone is trying to sell you something?
Keep the focus on your client
Its okay for your client to tell you about their crappy weekend, but it may not be a good idea in reverse. The only time when it is appropriate to talk about yourself is in your marketing material. Even then, you still need to emphasise how you can help them and to avoid ill-considered communiqués spruiking about how great you are.
Put the relationship first
For soloists, business is all about people and relationships, so it’s no coincidence that the skills discussed here are the same ones that help you foster successful interpersonal relationships! Whenever you’re in any doubt, take the choice that sustains and strengthens your relationship with your client.
How do your clients know that you’re paying attention? We’re all ears!