With the boundaries of work and personal life increasingly blurring, it is understandable that you are on friendly terms with (most of) the people in your office. However, apart from chats over lunchtime and sitting in various meetings, it will not always be the case that you will spend your working days communicating with them.
With so many people working in the service industries (78% of the UK economy), communication with “external” people is far more frequent
Why therefore can’t we make friends with our clients as well?
On first consideration, the word “professional” comes to mind. There should be certain boundaries in communications, and professionalism is often equated with keeping a certain emotional distance, but it is my experience that as people get to know each other better, these boundaries are being broken down.
I do believe that, with time, we can be friends with our clients, and here are five reasons why it is worth getting to know each other a little better:
You’re in it together. A problem shared is definitely a problem halved, and when you take on anything as “brothers in arms” (or sisters), it will be all the easier to overcome the difficulties. When you have a problem, you will be able to talk about what worries you, knowing that you will get a genuinely concerned and considered reaction from the other person. You have their back and they have yours – you will face up to issues together.
You’ll keep each other honest. Transparency is crucial in any business relationship, and if you are not afraid to show each other your hands, knowing exactly where you both stand will allow you to reach the optimal agreement for both parties. A policy of honesty makes doing business straightforward – if something doesn’t work, that’s the way it is, you simply have to explain why.
They will be your advocate. Everyone needs new business sometimes, and who better than a current client to be your cheerleader? Friends are more than happy to help each other out, and in a world increasingly driven by social media, the currency of goodwill that you cultivate with your clients will drive your personal and company brand to new levels. Helping each other has never been so easy.
Friendship outlasts business. Not every business deal with last forever. The cyclical nature of the economy might dictate that certain projects are curtailed, or the person may move on to a new employer. In any circumstances, there is a decent probability that your paths will cross in the future, and in any case, it is no bad thing to have an extra friend in the world.
Work becomes more meaningful. Having an extra reason to get up in the morning is never a bad thing. You want to do well for your family and your colleagues, but genuinely wanting to make a difference to your client (because you like them) gives you that little push to go the extra mile.
Certainly for me, many clients have become close friends. Over the years I have experienced stag dos (where we were also joined by Robert Downy Jnr for a short time), parties and even cycling holidays with them – and all of these friendships were borne out of an initial professional relationship.
Do you have close relationships with some of your clients or customers? Does it matter? Do you think that it will matter more in the future?