In her book, "Influencing with Integrity," Genie Z. Laborde calls rapport the most important process in all interpersonal communication. I believe rapport is both a state and a process. Were rapport only a process, the state of having established rapport could never be attained. Every process is a means to an end, but not an end in itself. A process, it follows, is not something that can be reached. One uses a process to reach an end, and in some cases, to maintain that end. For example, writing is a process by which writers reach their end, such as an essay, a poem or a novel. Building is a process by which builders reach their end, such as a house, a bridge or a ship,
The finished product – a house or a novel – is always a static state. But there is another kind of state called a dynamic state that can be reached. For example, both a report and rapport are states. But while the state of a written report is static, the state of any point at which rapport is established is dynamic because of its volatile nature. One can store a written report in a safe place where it can remain unchanged for an indefinite amount of time without continuing the process that produced it. Not so with rapport. No sooner does one establish rapport than it needs to be sustained by the very process that established it. Other dynamic nouns like rapport are respect and honor. They too are volatile and require the very process that establishes them to keep them going. Michael LeBoeuf must have understood this when he wrote his book, "How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life." It is within the nature of words like rapport and respect that customer service must be analyzed if we are to understand why the moments of truth play such an important role in customer service. The dynamic nature of customer service is what makes it so volatile. For that reason, customer service is a never-ending process.
Another characteristic of rapport is that it is never unilateral or one-sided. No salesperson can reasonably make the following claim: "Even though the customer did not establish rapport with me, I established it with him." The prefix “ra” in rapport derived from the original Latin prefix read implied a kind of back and forth reciprocal action: "I send you something, you send me something back." What this all means is that rapport, even when it is established as a state between two persons, can be lost in a split second by something one party does or says.
Also, rapport is always dependent on the verbal and the nonverbal language of the parties involved. Therefore, an analysis of rapport has to include the matter of the nonverbal which is made up of body language and voice quality.
Many sales are lost because salespeople maintain poor eye contact, wear unbecoming dress or suddenly increase the volume or the pace of their words at the point of attempting to close a sale. What is scary about rapport is that salespeople can lose it through the awkward interference of a third party, like a delivery person, a receptionist, a manager, or even a friend of the customer.
Like honor, rapport can be lost through someone’s malicious slander, such as a competitor’s lie about your products or service policies. But while others can affect the rapport between a salesperson and customer, the salesperson has primary responsibility for establishing and maintaining rapport with the customer.
Earlier in this series of articles we took a look at the first role of the salesperson, that of partner-consultant. The second role - long-term relater (relating to customers over the long term) is also closely linked to rapport. It would be a serious mistake for a salesperson to think that rapport serves only to facilitate the closing of a single sale.
The value of being a long-term relator is twofold. One, it helps get repeat sales. Two, it helps get referrals. Referrals can be much more numerous than repeat sales. After all, every referral can generate both repeat sales and other referrals. Also, referrals can be much more important than repeat sales for those who sell items classified as major purchases such as cars, computer systems, furniture and homes. Customers who purchase a sofa or a mattress do not do so, like the supermarket shopper, weekly or even daily.
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at email@example.com.