7 Steps to Great Relationships with Clients of Different Generations

Topics: Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Law Firms, Leadership, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Talent Development

When I started focusing on inter- and multi-generational issues intensively (again) in 2004, it was sparked by the increase in questions and stories of frustration I was getting from my clients’ senior management and others about young professionals’ shortcomings in communicating and working with clients who were older than they were.

Then some Traditionalists (the generation older than the Baby Boomers) told me their own stories about discomfort working with clients in their 20s and 30s. From these concerns it was clear that this was a bottom line issue: These professionals were concerned about causing client dissatisfaction and potentially losing significant business now and in the future.

It was also likely that many law firms didn’t even recognize that it was the unique patterns of generational attributes and challenges that were in fact responsible for the threat. I speculate that is true today as well. Given the fear of losing clients or not attracting new ones because of inter-generational issues, these law firms are now reaching out.

Indeed, I have been helping firms and individuals to understand how they can benefit from the generational influences and behaviors that can secure new relationships for business development now and retain those relationships in the future.

Even with greater differences today, cross-generational rapport can be achieved. Here in brief are 7 Ways to Achieve Rapport with Clients of a Different Generation, whether the client is older or younger. (You can also see this as a video — part of my Generational GPS Quick Tip series.)

  1. Don’t have preconceived notions and make assumptions, especially stereotypical onesDon’t expect everyone to think and be influenced the same way. And don’t think memorizing a list of typical generational attributes without knowing the influences and implications behind them will result in easy rapport. That’s too superficial, and developing trust and confidence requires deeper understanding.
  2. Ask questions, and listen carefully. Show personal as well as professional interestListening is a great skill at any age. It’s the best way to learn from interpersonal interactions, although careful visual observation (non-verbal cues) is also valuable. Become a proficient questioner, asking the kinds of questions that not only provide opportunities to be informed, but also to convey to the person you are conversing with that is important to you and you find it interesting.
  3. Identify the client’s professional and personal goalsThese are likely to vary by individual as well as by generation, depending on where they fall on the career and lifecycle spectrum. Knowing their goals helps to build empathy.
  4. Clarify business goals and the impact of meeting or failing to meet those goals to the client — This demonstrates that you are a serious professional eager to help the client succeed. It also helps the prospective client see and feel the implications of those goals at a deeper level.
  5. Find their interests beyond their business, and learn about interests and passions through direct conversation and additional research — Here is a wonderful opportunity for engaging in cross-generational conversation to learn and discuss the emotional drivers that are the often-unrecognized keys to both initial and ongoing sales relationships.
  6. Be respectful, and avoid any appearance of arroganceMuch of arrogance is really insecurity. Appearing over-confident is often seen for what it is — the opposite. Respect paves the way for trust.
  7. Don’t let tensions fester. If generational issues arise, discuss them, learn from them and agree on mutually satisfying resolutions The best time to address and solve problems is as soon as they arise, avoiding a build-up of resentments, frustrations and erroneous assumptions or interpretations. Giving prompt feedback to potential problem areas quickly in a non-threatening, civil way is a sign of maturity, confidence and trustworthiness — and more importantly, it is essential for loyal and long-lasting client retention and relations.

Put these tips to work for you and you will see your sales relationships blossom.