The first 4 Minutes…

Research indicates that 4 minutes is the time it takes to form an impression. And once formed, that impression is very difficult to change. After 4 minutes you will have made up your mind about that person and that initial impression will stay until you are proved wrong.

But of course YOU create an impression about yourself every time you meet someone for the first time – as will inevitably be the case in your customer service capacity. If you start badly it is going to be an uphill battle all the way – all the messages are negative. If you start well – it is relatively plain-sailing, the messages are all positive.

When you meet face to face all sorts of parameters will be measured – consciously and subconsciously…

  • Your appearance / grooming. This will be noticed first. Dress appropriately – today’s business environment is no longer suit and tie but even casual dress can and should be smart.
  • The physical greeting. This has got to be genuine and not contrived.
  • Your smile (or lack of). Can’t be substituted by words. An engaging smile is one of the strongest communication forms.
  • Your speech. Should be clear and measured. Avoid being loud – take your lead from the customer. Avoid mumbling!
  • Your opening line. Should be short, direct and open!
  • Your eye contact (or lack of). Like the smile, eye contact is one of the most potent forms of communication. And it doesn’t lie! Make sure that you look the customer straight in the eye while initially shaking their hand and then maintain eye contact throughout (NOT ALWAYS NECESSARY – LET THE CLIENT TAKE THE LEAD HERE). Nobody is saying you have to stare-down your opposite number but lack of eye contact makes people look uncomfortable and as if they have something to hide.
  • Be enthusiastic! If you can’t be enthusiastic what are you doing there in the first place

A lot of decisions are going to be made very quickly… Do I like this person? Do they like me? Can we form a lasting relationship? Is this going to be a worthwhile use of my time?

Research has shown;

  • 55% of the message we convey to other people is conveyed through Body Language,
  • 38% is formed through the Tone of your voice,
  • 7% only – is conveyed through Words.

Taking all of the above into consideration; I have put the skill of “establishing rapport” into two categories to assist in the initial and subsequent customer service or sales calls. Category one will focus on the skills that are critical during those first few seconds of initial contact. Category two, focuses on how to continue to establish and build rapport, after the initial introductory stage.

Category 1: Initial Moments of Contact;

You have a very narrow window of opportunity to establish initial rapport. Chances are the other person will try to quickly blow you off with an automatic “no thanks” — also called a “reflex response.” Reflex responses are “stimulus-response reactions” that have been well-documented in behavior psychology. Reflex responses may or may not reflect how we really feel or what we really want. For example, when someone asks you, “How are you?” a typical reflex response in our culture is, “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?” You may or may not “be fine.” But that’s not the point. The point is that the question simply triggers an automatic, or “reflex” response.

In sales, the same goes for cold calling prospects. So be prepared and don’t be surprised if you get a “reflex response” — some variation of “no thanks” from your prospect. Here are the specific steps to help you quickly establish rapport and effectively disrupt a “reflex response” during those critical first moments of your cold call;

  1. Do your homework prior to the call. Establishing rapport begins even before you dial. If you can demonstrate that you know something about the prospect, it helps quickly build rapport. Perhaps you have a mutual acquaintance. Or maybe you have specific industry knowledge that positions you as someone who really might understand their needs. Provide this information very early on the call, during your introduction. When prospects sense your interest in them, they appreciate that you won’t waste their time with unnecessary fact-finding questions, making you sound like any other person pitching.
  2. Let the other person talk. In the first few seconds of the call, be careful to let the other person talk. Even if — especially if — they are giving you a reflex response/brush off. Resist the temptation to cut them off and explain yourself — or to quickly ask for a referral and end the call, hoping this shows you respect their time. Great passive candidates have probably perfected their “no thanks reflex response” with many recruiters and will be quick to use it. Develop rapport in those initial moments by hearing the person out and maybe even agreeing with them! Then serve up a non-threatening question or statement that can lead into a productive conversation. These techniques have been known to be very effective in disrupting “reflex responses.” Here’s one example, in recruitment, “I completely understand your hesitation at this time. That’s great that you are satisfied with your current position. By the way, before we end our call, I’m just curious. What plans have you made to keep your career options open down the road — and continue to keep that high level of job satisfaction — knowing that things can and do change?”
  3. Be positive. Quick rejection (think: reflex response) is to be expected and can easily take the wind out of your sales. Make it your goal to enter into each call on a positive note and to transfer your positive, enthusiastic attitude to your prospect by the end of the call (no matter how brief the call). Build rapport by preparing positive statements that you can use as you anticipate the negativity you will likely encounter.
  4. Be polite. You show respect (and build rapport) when you are courteous. The words please and thank you can positively affect any relationship and open doors to further develop rapport on a cold call. If you have to work through a gatekeeper, research has shown that your best rapport-building weapon is to say “please.”
  5. Call them by name. It’s perfectly fine to establish rapport by calling the person by name. Just remember not to overdo it. Use the other key behaviors we list here to help get you off to a great start.

Category 2: Beyond the Initial Moments;

Let’s assume that you did a great job of quickly establishing rapport and you have entered into a conversation with your prospect — either on the same call or on a subsequent call. Here are five more skills that will help you continue to develop rapport.

  1. Be concise. Resist the temptation to go into pitch mode. Excessive talking and/or rambling will kill the delicate foundation of rapport. Be brief and concise and break up your “talk time” by frequently checking in to see how the other person is reacting.
  2. Keep the focus on them by asking relevant questions and listening to their responses. There’s an old saying in sales that “he who talks first loses.” Build rapport by asking questions that keeps the focus on them and, in turn, listening carefully to their responses. Prospects don’t care about you. They care about themselves and want to talk about things that affect them. Show genuine interest in their needs. Start conversations by asking questions, not by giving responses or pitching positions. If you’ve ever had the gift of a good listener in your life, you know how special that skill is. Unfortunately, our society does not always reward those who listen. Talkers appear to be people of action or ideas. But when developing rapport, a good listener will beat a fast talker every time.
  3. Be forthright and truthful. Provide open, honest, and candid responses to questions. No matter how much you may want to send your prospect to your hiring manager or client, you have an obligation to be forthright and truthful when providing information and answering questions. You build rapport — and respect — with honesty and candor. Promising the moon, downplaying questions, objections, or concerns are sure ways to blow rapport. People appreciate honesty, even when the news may not be what they want to hear.
  4. Respect their time. On each call, be sure to clarify the time constraints and conduct the call within the time agreed to. When you start and stop on time you convey that the other person’s time is valuable. If you think you may run over — re-negotiate. And, of course, respect their wishes.
  5. Deliver on your commitments. Say what you are going to do and do what you say. Demonstrate that you are diligent in ensuring their questions are answered and the information that’s important to them is cared for in a professional and timely fashion. When you deliver on commitments, you are saying, What’s important to you is also important to me.

Rapport building is never about you — it’s always about them!