How to build rapport with customers

When you are running a business you will come across and need to interact with a raft of various people. If you can quickly build up a rapport with different types of individuals things will be a lot easier for you. This is especially true when it comes to meeting and engaging with your all important customers.

But building customer rapport doesn’t mean that you change your values, beliefs, or your hairstyle! It simply means you need to find some commonalities between you and the customer that you can use to help them feel at ease.

The simplest method of doing this is known as ‘Matching & Mirroring’ and involves reflecting back the other person’s subtle rapport signals that they generate in the initial stages of the conversation.

Remember, this is something that you already do when you naturally feel comfortable with someone, all you are here is re-learning how to actively apply this when that natural rapport doesn’t already exist either because you don’t know the other person, or you find yourself in a situation that feels tense and uncomfortable.

Here are seven examples of rapport signals people use that you can reflect back to them;

1. Voice qualities

This is one you probably won’t need to try too hard to master, as it’s normal to naturally match and mirror someone’s voice, without much conscious effort.

If you meet someone who talks very quietly and you are a naturally loud person; it’s likely you would adjust your volume to match that of the person you are talking to. The same philosophy applies to pace, pitch and tone.

Don’t however; attempt to mirror a strong regional dialect or accent as this may come across as patronising and false. Speak in your normal dialect but just adjust your other voice qualities.

2. Phrases

What we say is a direct reflection of what we think. Therefore, if you want to build a connection with someone, it’s crucial to use their language. That means you need to listen to what they say and the words they use, then slot them back into your conversation when your summarise or ask them more detailed questions. It makes them feel as if you really understand their issue or concerns.

When I’m working with a client and I ask a defining question and then record their answers, I’m very observant and ensure I only use their language and not my interpretations of their language.

So for example, if someone says, “I struggle making sales calls”, I make a mental note of their exact phrase, even if in my head I could interpret the same phrase as, “I find sales calls difficult”.

Although you may think these two phrases mean the same thing, they don’t to the person that said, “I struggle making sales calls”. The next time you have a conversation with someone, really listen to the phrases they use as their words have more emotional meaning to them than any variation you may interpret.

I use Mind Maps to make my notes. It’s a brilliant way to record a lot of information very quickly. If a client use a phrase more than once, say for example, “develop talent”, I will underline or circle that phrase in my notes as I recognise that as a key phrase. When I come to explain my proposition I make sure I explain how I will, “develop talent” within their organisation.

3. Body shape

Whether you’re sitting or standing together, pay attention to the other person’s stance and then mirror them. Are their hands in or out of their pockets? Do they stand on one leg or centred. What is the angle of their shoulders and head?

If you are sitting down, do they have their legs crossed or uncrossed? How do they have their hands placed? Are they leaning forward or relaxed back in their chair. Mirror their body shape exactly and you will build rapport quickly and easily.

4. Gestures

Very often people have gestures they develop that are particular to them. When they speak how do they emphasise a point? Do they clasp their hands together, or place one hand out in front? Pay attention to any specific gestures then use them in your conversation.

I remember once working with someone who used his right index finger to simultaneously tap the end of the fingers on his left hand as he was speaking. I mirrored this and I swear I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head, as unconsciously he seemed to be thinking, “Wow, she’s a finger tapper just like me”.

5. Handshake

In the business world the normal form of greeting in a business context is to extend your right hand and offer someone a handshake. This is often the first physical contact you make with your prospect and an untold amount of communication can be made via this one gesture.

Generally speaking, people will judge each other based on the strength they feel in a person’s handshake, so if someone greets you with a limp handshake, you form an opinion that they are weak, likewise a strong firm handshake gives the impression of strength and confidence.

As a general rule of thumb match the intensity of the other person’s handshake. If they clasp their hand over the back of yours into a two handed handshake, mirror them and clasp your left hand on the back of theirs. If they use their left hand to touch your arm, elbow or even shoulder, mirror them back. Even though this may appear bold, it helps to build a stronger connection.

6. Dress code

There are four main types of business dress; Black Tie, Lounge Suit, Business Attire and Smart Casual. For a man these are usually pretty straight forward to comply with, whereas a women’s interpretation can be less obvious.

Black Tie can mean a long formal evening gown, or a shorter cocktail dress. Lounge Suit usually refers to a cocktail dress. Business Attire can mean a smart outfit generally with a jacket and whereas Smart Casual can simply mean the removal of a man’s tie and the unbuttoning of his top button, it can be open to vast interpretation by women.

In the creative industries you may even be tempted to include a further dress code called ‘Funky’ which can mean almost anything goes – pink hair, body piercings, the works!

Ideally to build rapport you want to Mirror your prospect’s dress code, which means you may have to include this as part of your research. Are they a ‘funky’ organisation that would not warm to someone who walks in wearing a pin-stripe suit, or do they dress more formally and are less likely to take you seriously if you turn up in jeans and a jacket?

I recommend wearing clothes that make you feel comfortable, boost your confidence and display the image you want to portray. If you’re unsure, I prefer to be over dressed than under dressed and in my case ‘Funky’ doesn’t even enter my dress vocabulary so I would never attempt it!

Although I very rarely wear a full pin-striped business suit in my day to day work; preferring instead smart jeans and a jacket, I would dress super smart for a first meeting with a new prospect if I was unsure.

7. Interests

Before you meet your prospect, particularly if you are meeting them on their premises, you want to find some common interests which you can use to initiate a conversation.

Remember interesting people are those who are most interested. Do they enjoy a particular sport, holiday destination, do they have a family or have they won an award recently?

Look for clues as you walk into their environment, or ask these questions when you do your research. You can even use this as an opportunity to build rapport with the gatekeeper e.g. “Tell me, does David Smith have a sport he particularly enjoys?”

If ‘Matching & Mirroring’ is completely new to you, then you might be feeling a bit concerned, even worried that you’ll end up looking silly in your attempts to mirror the other person. If you feel there’s something a bit false about copying people’s body language, just remember, it’s something you already do subconsciously when you feel comfortable with someone.

Trust me, try it out and you will see how easy it is to create an instant rapport.

About the author

This article is extracted from The Secrets of Success in Selling by Nicola Cook, published by Pearson. Nicola is the founder of Company Shortcuts.

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