5 Tips for Improved Client Relationships
Written on April 11, 2017 at 7:00 am, by Eric Cressey
Today's guest post comes from Brett Velon, who interned at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida this past fall. Brett connected with clients better than any intern I've ever seen; he is one of those people who can talk to anyone, anywhere. With that in mind, I asked him to write up his thoughts on the topic. Enjoy! - EC
Coaching as a career wasn’t even a thought until after I finished college. Although to many it would seem to be an impediment for me not having a traditional strength and conditioning background, it has actually been a blessing in disguise. Without being able to rely on a degree, my development as a coach has been heavily reliant upon the development of client relationships. Teddy Roosevelt said it best when he said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
What I realized was many coaches in the industry were very technically smart, but lacked the most basic people skills. Instead of addressing this issue, most accumulate more degrees and certifications, thinking a new certification will have clients lining up to train with them. The problem is most clients don’t know what the certifications mean. Once I truly understood that client’s retention was heavily dependent on their relationship with their coach, I became more cognizant of the experience I was providing clients. Despite not really knowing what I was doing, I decided it was best to start with simply enjoying myself. My thought was if I was in a good mood and wanted to be at the gym then maybe the clients might feel the same way. It seems stupid simple, but look around and notice how many coaches suck all the enjoyment out of training.
Understand and believe that cultivating relationships is a skill that can be improved and doesn’t require being the most charismatic person. Effort and the willingness to try are the only requirements. Here are five simple tips I have personally used to improve my ability to create rewarding client relationships.
Tip #1: Be self aware.
If the urge to talk about yourself arises, take a deep breathe and then don’t do it. It’s the simplest but rarely followed piece of advice I can give. Nobody cares about your past athletic career or your 500 pound squat; focus the conversation around the client. People love to talk about themselves, so give them the opportunity and most importantly listen. When asked about something, answer, but don’t confuse this as an open invite for a trip down memory lane, a la Al Bundy style. Despite how awesome you think you are, there will be clients who don’t want to talk. Embrace the awkward silence, it’s usually appreciated, and more times than not they will eventually open up to you.
One of the best methods I like to use is to try and mirror mannerisms and demeanour. If they like to talk, ask more questions. Do they swear like a sailor? If so, don’t feel like you need to talk to them like a boy scout. Personal rule: don’t be the first one to swear as some clients will not appreciate it.
Tip #2: Know your role.
“Know your role and shut your mouth”- The Rock.
Determining your role for each client is vital to developing a positive connection. You’re not only a strength coach, but possibly also a motivator, guide, mentor, therapist, and babysitter. Understanding the reason why someone is training will guide you as to what role to take on. While not mutually exclusive, most reasons fall into one of the three categories: money/scholarships, parent/coach, and social/health.
The money and scholarship clients are generally very intrinsically motivated and often just need a guide to program and show them what to do.
The client that is training because of a parent or coach most likely feels forced to train, the last thing they need is another “hardo” coach screaming at them. The mentor/friend role works well with this demographic as the gym becomes an escape for them, and in turn they train harder and start to enjoy their time at the gym.
The social/health group is comprised mostly of general population clients and can be all over the map in terms of needs in the gym. Some might be bored and just want someone to chat with, others have never stepped foot in a gym and need a guide and teacher. Whatever the client’s reason is for training, the quicker you can figure out your role, the better experience both you and the client will have.
Tip #3: Broaden your interests.
If a client is training with you, odds are they think you know what you’re doing. Stop trying to prove how smart you are. Clients want results and really don’t care about the Krebs Cycle or optimal hypertrophy training protocols. If they cared, they would be in the field. Think of it this way, you go to an accountant for your taxes because:
1. You don’t know how to do your taxes
2. You don’t care about how to do your taxes
3. You don’t want to think about how to do your taxes, you just want them done.
Most of all, you don’t want to talk with your accountant three times a week about new tax codes.
Now that we can’t talk about training, we are going to need more material. This is where broadening your interests helps.
In my experience, it has helped to avoid asking about someone’s work life. Everybody is more than their profession and usually has something that they are passionate about. People tend to perk up when talking about things they are truly passionate about. Hint: Finding a person’s weirdness and vice is an express ticket to good conversation.
Note from EC: here's Brett finding his weirdness on the day he showed up dressed as Hulk Hogan.
Tip #4: Be observant.
Think of yourself as a detective that is trying to piece together somebody’s story. Everything is a clue and clues are used to start conversations. Don’t think of it as negative pre-judgment but rather an opportunity to connect at an accelerated rate. If a client comes in wearing a camo hat and a Salt Life t-shirt, an easy conversation starter would be about outdoor type activities. Sure, you might be wrong, but being wrong also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the client, and the more you know the better.
Tip #5: Don’t give up on the introvert.
While extroverts are naturally easier to connect with, introverted clients have the biggest potential for the deepest relationships. There are numerous reasons why a client might be reserved: shyness, fear, anxiety, etc. can all contribute. Remember, be okay with silence. Not pressuring introverts to talk is a great way to help them relax and become comfortable. In most cases, once an introvert becomes comfortable they open up. Seeing an introvert become comfortable and open up is one of the most rewarding coaching experiences you can have.
If you want to start changing lives, it is best to start getting to know the lives that you are trying to change. Relationships with your clients need attention and are something that can be practiced and improved upon. All it takes is some effort, positive mood and an enjoyment for what you do. Next time a client has a gathering or a game, do your best to go, as your support should extend to both in and out of the gym.
About the Author
Brett Velon (@brettvelon) is a former CSP-Florida intern and currently a Chicago area strength and conditioning coach. To contact him, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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