ICEL Chair: Creating Connections
By Stephanie Johnson, CCE, Gritton & Associates
It's not personal; it's strictly business. Right? At least that is what I learned from The Godfather. Do you know the scene? Michael Corleone says it when he offers to commit an act of violence to take revenge for their family. Their family business is VASTLY different from the family business I work for, thank heavens. Of course, I also learned to leave the gun and take the cannoli from the same family; so, I am not sure how sound the advice from this movie is. But I digress.
Sure, there is a line between business relationships and personal relationships. I have had more success in collection and credit management when I am a little more personal in my business connections. Not to cross the line into friendship, per se, but when I have a connection with a customer, I find my job more enjoyable and, often, will get paid sooner. Imagine how much more pleasant it will be to work with colleagues and customers with whom you have a connection.
Some things to think about in terms of connection:
Build Relationships of Trust - In order to have a true connection with another person there must be trust. One of the best online articles I have read outlining how to do this I found here. It is worth a read. Trust means that there is honesty on both sides. If there is anyone reading this who has never been lied to in business, I want to talk to you about it and find out what you are doing different! Trust can only be earned when you are honest with the customer and the customer is honest with you. A breach in that trust can be resolved. It can. It just is harder if there has been dishonesty in the relationship.
Communicate - Is it possible to create a relationship of connection without communication? It might be, but I do not know how to accomplish it. Ask questions, get to know the customer. Ask appropriate questions and take notes to refer back to later. "How is your kid's school year going?" "Hey, how was your trip to Seattle last month?" "I was sorry to hear about your Mom's passing, how are you doing?"
Remind Yourself to be Firm but Compassionate - Some days are worse than others. We all have them. Some customers are going to make you more frustrated than others. Business transactions do not have to be cold and impersonal. There can be a level of compassion in our communication while not losing the firmness in our demands for payment. A little compassion can go a long way in building a connection with a customer.
Give and Take - It does indeed take two to tango. If you want to connect with someone you, too, should be willing to have a level of vulnerability and offer the level of personal information that you are willing to share.
Face to Face - When possible, conversations in person yield pretty great success. It is hard to read tone in an email, it is hard to always get the full picture on the phone. If you are good with people in person, try to meet the person whenever possible.
Set Boundaries - In keeping the relationship professional, there are boundary levels that need to be set and respected. This can be easier said than done, if we are being honest. Do not let people treat you with disrespect, and likewise treat everyone with the respect that a professional relationship connection deserves. Honor the boundaries set by others as well.
Listen - Listen more than you talk. That is it. That is all I need to say about that.
Don't Forget the Good Accounts - You know those customers who always pay? The ones you never have to call? Make sure that you build those relationships with the customers that are not high maintenance. Check in from time to time. This can facilitate a continuation of healthy payment patterns.
There is room for a little personal in our business connections. I think collecting from a pleasant person is much more enjoyable than collecting from someone that is all business or hostile.