The Greatest Defense: Rapport

Posted on: July 12th, 2017 by Maria Markusen

A Lesson from the Sky:

Airplanes, like elevators, are a great place to study the human condition.  Since I am obsessed about connecting lately, my focus during my travels is watching and observing passengers, the crew, and the airport vendors.

On a recent trip, home to Omaha a very frail, elderly woman was sitting near me.  We happened to be in first class. The woman was clearly uncomfortable.  She was cold and shaking. She looked scared.  Right before the pilot took off, the woman’s son came up to check on his mother.  He was sitting in coach.  He gave her a blanket and tucked her into her chair. The man sitting next to the mother said.  “Here, sir.  Take my seat.  That way you can sit next to your mother.”  The son politely replied, “Oh but sir, I’m not sitting in first class.”  The first man said, “That’s ok.  You need this seat more than I do tonight.”  And so the two men switched seats. As soon as her son sat down, the mother smiled.  You could just see her fear wash away.  Humanity.  Kindness.  Instinctiveness. Selflessness. Human connection at its finest.

Build a Defense or Build Rapport?

I’ve been a sales trainer for 20 years in multiple industries.  At the beginning of our day-long training, I always ask, “What’s the one thing you want to learn today?”  Without fail, multiple students always want to spend a significant amount of time learning how to work with difficult customers.  I understand their pain.

One of my past gigs was leading in a large, high-end assisted living and independent living organization.  The cost to live in our buildings was $10,000 or more a month.  The expectations were high.  The customers vocal.  The small details mattered.  When things were not perfect we knew it.

My instinct was to protect my staff.  To arm them with multiple tools to work with our demanding customers.  We spent multiple hours training on service recovery.  How to defuse angry customers.  What I learned in the process, however, is that while customer service recovery is an incredibly important skill, it can consume our staff.  We spend too much time letting one or two interactions in a week or a month cloud the mood of the day, cripple our staff and erode our confidence.

So now we spend most of the training, practicing, and connecting through rapport.  We learn how to build natural relationships through human and selfless acts like the man on the airplane.  We spend about fifteen minutes on service recovery.  I always ask students, “How many interactions do you have in a day?”  “How many of those are good interactions where you help a customer recover better, solve a problem and get them the products and services they need?”  We then talk about a couple of the best sentences and tactics to diffuse difficult customers. Lastly, I remind them about the impact they have on customer’s lives. Eventually, a switch goes off and attendees realize that sales is easy if you do not let the difficult interactions ruin the good ones.  And you simply remember to be human and connect to build trust.

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