Jennifer Miller on Building Trusting Customer-Consultant Relationships

Hi, I’m Jennifer V. Miller. For my entire career, I’ve been in some sort of consultative role – either internally as a human resource generalist and training manager in corporate America, or for my consulting company SkillSource.

When you are a consultant your primary role is to assess, then make recommendations for improvement. It’s my observation that people will not take action on your recommendations if they don’t trust you. What follows is my take on trust-building with your customers. “Customers” in this context is anybody who is asking for your professional recommendation. For evaluators this affects the entire process from initial consultation to customer utilization of your final recommendations.

Lesson Learned:

Customers use several measuring sticks for gauging whether or not they trust the advice they’re getting from their consultant. For one, they’re checking out what direction your moral compass points. They’re watching to see if you act with integrity.

Here’s something I learned a long time ago: in your customer’s eyes, integrity is only the start of building a trusting customer-consultant relationship. You see, it’s not enough to behave ethically to be seen as trustworthy.  You also need to understand your customers’ unique trust filters, which they apply in addition to their perceptions of your moral compass.

Hot Tip:

A customer’s personality is reflected in their trust filters.  For example, some folks are naturally more people-focused; others are more detail-oriented. Some people are hard-charging “get it done” types. Your customers are viewing all of your actions through the filter of these personality preferences. If, as a consultant, your actions don’t match up with their natural priorities, then your recommendations may not be fully trusted. Four typical trust filters are:

  • Quality – does your work standard meeting that of your customer’s?
  • Getting Results – do you deliver results in the timeframe the customer expects?
  • Sociability – are interpersonal considerations as important to you as task-related issues?
  • Dependability – can the customer depend on you to deliver what you promise?

Your customers are using all four of these filters . . . but most likely, they are relying more heavily on one of them – based on their personality. Pay attention and respond accordingly.

Rad Resources:

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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