From warehouses, delis and shop floors to the UN, law firms, healthcare and now The Crisis Compass, I have spent the last 17 years managing relations with customers, large corporates, SMEs, independent businesses, institutions, government and non-government actors.
In other words, dealing with people. From all walks of life, across all levels of society. A simple enough job description? Yet, one wrought in complexity.
Whilst a one-size-fits-all rarely works and summarising years of experience is always a difficult task, these 4 approaches have guided my work in understanding and meeting the needs of our clients and when working with them to manage and maintain their own client relations before, during and after critical times.
1. Reading between the lines
Listening alone is not the whole story. Unless that is literally your service offering. To really be of value it is critical to interpret and read between the lines.
This takes exceptional knowledge of your own offering channelled through trust and delivered with honest but empathetic communication. Especially during difficult and pressured situations and particularly when a client is unwavering in their conviction of knowing what they want, which might not be at all what they need.
One of the "simpler" scenarios I handled during the early days of the pandemic hitting the UK in 2020 were calls from HR and other departments asking if they should shut down entire central London buildings because an employee was feeling feverish.
The real message between the lines here was they needed help and guidance in formulating, implementing, and communicating a whole set of clear protocols they had never dealt with or put in place before. But the actual request was for assistance with a decision which on the face of it was rather black and white.
Adjusting the conversation accordingly takes tact and intuition in how you frame what you understand might be in their best interest. Patience – particularly under pressure – is also an (unpopular, underrated but) effective tool.
2. Embracing the harmonica effect
We are an extension of our client’s team whilst retaining that all-important outsider helicopter view. It has always been something I have accepted and embraced as a dance with a fine balance. This I can only compare to a harmonica's mellifluous undulations.
It makes our work as powerful as it is delicate. And it takes knowing ourselves and the instrument really well to achieve any effectiveness.
At The Crisis Compass for example, we have seen different aspects and experienced first hand what it means to face the challenges our clients and perspective clients face. Our method is based on our experience and learnings from managing and leading through crises in 30 countries and across industries. Our structure makes us very agile and allows us to easily introduce the right people with the right (often very specific) skills as and when required.
However, whilst we lead our client offering with expertise and compassion, our focus ultimately remains on placing the client at the centre of their own decisions and taking control of their opportunities. We just facilitate the process by deploying and retracting the tools and expertise as required.
3. Slowing down to speed up
Sometimes you need to take a proverbial and literal breath. It is as simple as that. And not just once but at various stages as needed.
The Italians have a saying ‘chi va piano, va sano e va lontano’ – meaning, who goes slow goes far and gets there in one piece. It might seem counterintuitive, especially in critical times, but I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that slowing down is the only way of speeding up effectively.
You can interpret slow to mean ringing existing clients to simply say ‘hi’ and check on them when there is nothing to upsell, when it isn’t Christmas, or time to inform them of a charity event, but just to simply pause with the sole purpose of reminding them they matter. As people, not just as companies.
Or – as has been the case in the last year – asking them to stop before they start. I have lost count of the number of frantic calls and meetings I have started by literally and gently saying ‘stop, let’s take a step back and breathe’ before thinking and working through next steps together.
4. Experiencing the human
Titles have their function, but we have always made it a point of not engaging in elitist relationship management.
We work with people and that is how I feel we ultimately and inevitable bring value and impact. It has never been a strategy or aim – and I suspect it never will – to not engage with client representatives on basis of seniority.
Everyone deserves time.
You know how they say we prefer being gifted experiences than things? It has at least always been the case for me. Experiencing someone as the human rather than the role is the same thing.
As is getting to know your counterpart as a person, making them count and feel valued for who they are, not just for the value they bring to your bottom line.
This goes as crucially for your internal team who ultimately hold the golden key to fulfilling all client needs.
In the early days of the pandemic, after managing to soothe a very uneasy new client who explicitly and unmovably needed to have a Covid-19 test at 7am the following morning upon arrival from the US and managing to make it happen, I joked that he owed me a coffee bright and early the next day. We had never met and at that stage he was not a client, but by that point we had been on the phone for 20 minutes, most of it spent using humour to ease his anxiety. He said he was shocked all I asked for was coffee. I replied he had clearly not been working in healthcare during a pandemic.
I thought we would not cross paths again or get to meet in person, but that call turned to two corporate referrals. This – however happy a by-product it was – doesn’t matter. What matters was being there with humanity for someone in distress.
Adding your personality in a genuine way will enable the other person to share some of theirs. Everything becomes much easier from then on. At least in most cases…!
Because whether under extreme pressure in the middle of a global pandemic storm, or during smoother sail, human urgency knowns no difference. Neither does competently looking after it. Because whether you have sadly lost clients or unexpectedly gained more than you were ever prepared to manage, doing so remains a vital art where flexibility and humanity need to take central stage.
Anisa Goshi is co-creator of The Crisis Compass. Among other things, she assists clients ensure their client base is cared for before, during and after crisis.