Trust: the cornerstone of our business success
These are the words of Business Psychologist, Mary Akimoto, and they pretty much sum up what trust means to us at annabel. Trust is the cornerstone of our business; it’s how we measure our success. As annabel Co-Founder Annabel Bunch explains, ‘We engage consultants on the basis that they are equipped to build good, non-judgmental, boundaried and professional relationships, coupled with their excellent hard skills.’ Analytical model, The Trust Equation, has been developed by Charles H Green since 2000 and identifies four variables to measure trustworthiness: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orentiation. Read on to find out how we have adapted this rationale to build our own exceptional ethos.
Being non-judgemental is a skill in itself and not one confined to professions like medicine and law. It would be naïve to suggest that people don’t form judgements of one another.
We all evaluate others, whether consciously or not, but the key to a successful working relationship is being able to ignore that judgement and instead turn it into a building of bridges between two individuals. But how does one actually implement this into a working relationship?
Professor of Psychology Gregg Henriques considers different dynamics to aid constructing judgements, many of which are pertinent to the small business-client relationship.
So, with a degree of self-awareness and a wealth of experience, it is entirely possible to work alongside others who may hold completely different values to you. Just empathise, understand and respect.
1. The empathy dynamic. This highlights the importance of understanding a client’s perspective, history and experiences that have made them who they are. In short, know where your client is coming from and be mindful of how they feel in different situations.
2. The values-frame dynamic urges us to consider whose values are being used to frame an evaluation of a person or situation. Someone with self-awareness should be capable of detaching from their own values-frame and accepting that our values do not all come from the same place. Just because you think it’s acceptable to comment on the value of someone’s house, does not mean that everyone does! Take time to understand a client’s values-frame and keep your own to yourself.
3. The person v. situation dynamic refers to our tendency to attribute a person’s actions to their personality rather than to a situation. If your client comes across as rather direct, consider that this may be because they need something doing urgently and are worried about the outcome, rather than because they have an objectionable personality.
4. The optimistic v. pessimistic dynamic. Henriques admits that there is a danger in being overly optimistic in one’s judgements of others, but he also suggests that being pessimistic can cause even more problems. With this in mind, a positive attitude towards your client and to your relationship with them will certainly help to establish a successful professional relationship.
Whether you’re a small, medium or global business, listening to your client is the foundation of a successful working relationship.
Chris Russell-Smith, of digital marketing specialist Tradedoubler, cites rapport as the most fundamental prerequisite of his business. ‘Building rapport means asking questions about a client and their business. You have to be a willing and interested ear. It’s really important to be able to read people and you can only do that from really listening to what they have done before, what they want now and what they expect from you’.
This is a key skill that many small businesses value above everything else. Professional credentials seem to come as an aside to the rapport established on first meeting a client.
Bunch asserts that ‘first impressions are absolutely paramount’ and that, when meeting a new client, ‘we genuinely want them to feel instinctively safe in our hands’.
Fellow annabel Co-Founder, Annabel Jefferson, talks through her approach when first meeting a new client: ‘I always let the potential client talk first and listen to get a good understanding of their needs. I then react accordingly. It may be that they need reassurance that we are very discreet and can be trusted 100%. Time, trust and experience help build a good working relationship’.
Akimoto sees it as ‘balancing a demonstration of credibility and competence and humility’ which, she believes, comes through as you respond and summarise a client’s challenges. Harvard psychologist, Amy Cuddy, refers to these dimensions as ‘warmth’ and ‘competence’ and argues that you want to be perceived as having both.
This combination of congeniality and professional competence are at the heart of the annabel trust ethos and a long-standing client agrees: ‘Most importantly, I can trust Annabel 100% with everything she does for me, resulting in complete peace of mind. Something I value greatly’
In an age where familiarity is the norm, it might seem old-fashioned, but yes, there really should be agreed boundaries between employer and employee. This does not mean that a personal assistant should know their place at their typewriter, but it absolutely does mean that both should agree on the scope of the role. In any small business-client relationship there will always be a more personal, one-to-one element that would not exist in a more corporate setting and this should not be viewed negatively. Indeed, it is this mutual understanding and respect that can foster extremely effective professional relationships but, like any relationship, it should be based on a mutual understanding of what the expectations are and how they are managed.
Akimoto reflects that, ‘the relationships that have worked best are those where there is mutual respect and clarity of scope. I try to draw out the client’s expectations so that I can manage them realistically’. Think through the possibilities of what could go wrong and how they might be resolved and act accordingly. With such self-awareness and clarity, and as a result of the extreme care taken to build relationships and understand the individual clients, any such situations need never arise.
In any client-facing business, discretion should be a given. This is even more the case when the business frequently forays into a client’s personal life. Whether you’re privy to someone’s choice of holiday home or a keeper of a client’s expenses, there absolutely has to be a top level of trust. Whilst this can be built over time, providing peace of mind to the client with regard to confidentiality will start the relationship off on a secure footing.
At annabel, all consultants sign an engagement agreement which includes a confidentiality clause. On top of this, clients may ask for an additional NDA (non-disclosure agreement) between them and the consultant, which is provided on request.
Confidentiality is a must in any such one-to-one relationship and Cuddy likens this dynamic to an evolutionary perspective, considering the cavemen days when ‘it was more important to figure out if your fellow man was going to kill you and steal all your possessions than if he was competent enough to build a good fire’. Whilst murder is less of a worry in the current workplace, competence is an absolute key to professional relationships and it can only be evaluated once trust has been established.
As Russell-Smith points out, if a trusted employee leaves the company, the client will more often than not leave the company to follow the employee. It’s about the individual, not the company, and that is where the crux of the working relationship lies.
Over the last year, these four letters have become synonymous with an awful lot of extra paperwork, but here at annabel we have welcomed the new legislation and have invested a lot in tailoring our business to meet its requirements. Annabel Bunch explains, ‘discretion is a given but we are supported by systems that are centralised, backed-up and encrypted and our team are subject to a robust set of security guidelines’.
Don’t be caught out by the myth that small businesses with fewer than 250 employees are not subject to GDPR legislation. They are. No matter how few clients you deal with, it’s worth checking out your responsibilities and being completely transparent with your clients as to how you are ensuring compliance.
If this all seems rather overwhelming, there’s always the option of investing in a ready-made pack of GDPR-compliant documents which can be tailored to your business. Small business legal expert, Suzanne Dibble, provides these at a fraction of the cost of standard legal fees (£197) and also offers some really useful GDPR training videos free of charge.
Simply Business provides an accessible GDPR checklist for small businesses, the key points being as follows:
1. Demonstrate that you understand what sort of data you are dealing with, where it has come from, why you have it and what you will do with it after you have finished.
2. Ensure that your security policies are up-to-date and GDPR-compliant. As a general rule, robust use of encryption will cushion the blow in the event of a breach.
3. Remember that under the new legislation, anyone can request access to their data records and this request should be fulfilled within a one-month timeframe. Be prepared!
4. The most common cause of data breach comes from the non-reporting of a breach. Make sure your employees are fully aware of their responsibilities, that they know who to contact in the event of a suspected breach and that they do so within 72 hours.
5. Create fair processing notices to ensure people are clear about what you are doing with their personal data. These should include why you’re processing their data, to whom you might send the data and how long you will be holding the data (the ‘retention’ period). You also need to ensure that they are aware of their personal data rights.
By ensuring a top-level of trust to our clients we are able to support them in a myriad of ways:
As the Trust Equation suggests, it doesn’t matter how much a company might describe themselves as ‘credible’ and ‘reliable’, ‘it’s really the people within the companies that make those companies what they are. Intimacy and self-orientation are almost entirely about people’. And it is the people side of our company that sets us apart from other services.
A client summed up one of our consultants saying,
‘She is completely trustworthy, professional, reliable and has a very personable nature that endears her to all the family. We would find it very difficult to cope without her now.’