Who do you think you’re talking to?

Effective communication is a vital element of successful business; in fact, studies* show that personal connection is one of the leading reasons customers choose to deal with small businesses. Being able to communicate with your customers and connect with them on a personal level is a vital factor in attracting, and maintaining, their patronage.

When it comes to learning how to communicate effectively, there are a multitude of different books, courses and practices available for the eager business owner. However, in my view, many of these modern techniques are missing one vital point – effective connection is not about who you are, or how you communicate. The trick to connecting with your clients and customers is to recognise who they are, and how they communicate.

Each day, in my dual roles of research and university professor and executive/business coach, I deal with people as diverse as researchers and academics, students and young people, artists and performers, psychologists and therapists, lawyers, engineers and stay at home parents. Through my interaction with these widely varied groups, I have learned an important lesson – everyone you meet has a unique preference in the way they communicate.

When dealing with clients and customers, you will often find that the content of your communication is almost always the same – you sell the same product or service, discuss the same issues, or explore the same topics. Therefore, it’s unlikely you can connect with each individual by changing what you say. What you can do, however, is adapt how you say it. In my experience, the best way to connect with clients and customers is to keep the message simple and authentic, and change the style of your delivery to match your audience.

If you are talking to a young person or student, it is probably appropriate to use a lot of casual language and modern slang. Older people and the highly educated may prefer more eloquent language. A client highly knowledgeable about your industry will accept technical jargon and intricate detail; a cautious or worried customer will best respond to a more personal, compassionate approach.

Unless you are in a highly-specialised area, it is probable that your clientele represents a wide variety of backgrounds, values and perspectives on life. So, don’t treat all customers the same. Know your audience – pay attention to who you’re talking to – and mirror their communication style.

Communicating effectively with your customers is a vital part of sustaining and growing your business. And there are a few ways you can strengthen the connection you build with clientele. As well as adapting your style for each individual, I also recommend that you:

Be fun and upbeat. Your role as a business owner is not just to sell a product or provide a service – it is to build rapport with current and potential clientele. Therefore, make communicating with you an energizing and uplifting experience.

Convey confidence and instil trust. If you are being truthful in everything you say, you will always speak with confidence. Customers pick that up. An honest interaction is a powerful way to build trust with your clients and customers.

Be interested and interesting. As a researcher I am naturally curious, but anyone can learn to engage their curiosity and learn about the world. If you know a lot of things about a lot of topics, then you can engage a lot of different people in ways that are meaningful and interesting for them.

Be direct. Always be prepared to get straight to the point. If you see an issue, bring it up. If you want to ask a question, ask it. This saves time and shows you value others’ time and energy.

* www.emarketer.com/Article/Consumers-Favor-Small-Businesses-of-Their-Customer-Focus/1010771

Jose Robson Sereno, executive coach and Joy of Business facilitator

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