At the risk of being overly sentimental, I am compelled to publish this post because of a fresh experience. Recently, I attended a retirement party for an individual who was the longtime chief information officer of one of our firm’s largest and longest tenured clients. The person served in his capacity for more than 17 years. Fortunately, we were also engaged to perform the search for his replacement.
When looking around the room, a rush of humility engulfed me. Dotted throughout the event space were many of the 16 people who we have placed at this company throughout the past 20 years. These people are family. This situation is a relationship. We, together, have been through thick and thin. We perpetuate this relationship because it is truly a partnership -- one that is rare in this sound bite, 140 character world we live in.
I reflected on this 20-year partnership and thought about what makes a great, and long-lasting, client relationship. Consider the below:
- Response time matters. Exceed expectations in terms of communication with clients, always stay one step ahead, and go the extra mile.
- When the news is bad news, do not procrastinate sharing it and make sure to provide a simultaneous solution.
- Meet face-to-face whenever possible. Do not rely upon the email, text, and voicemail continuum.
- Be grateful. Make sure the client knows how much you appreciate their business.
- Stay genuinely interested in the client’s business.
In addition, I think the techniques offered by Patrick Lencioni in his book, “Getting Naked,” are excellent ideas to improve client relationships.
My experience at the retirement party also made me realize how many people in the room -- who we worked with over the years -- continued to be our friends after they retired. They were so cordial and genuine when shaking hands and reminiscing, joking all the while I was the “one to blame” for bringing the CIO to the organization in the first place. The present chief HR officer even rushed over and interrupted, desiring to introduce his spouse to me in a spirit of deep and lasting friendship.
I truly wonder how many search firms actually have experiences like this; having such lifelong connections is so incredibly gratifying and overwhelming at the same time. In fact, I got caught up in the moment so much I shed a tear -- not for the retiring executive because I was so happy for him and his family -- but because I wish more companies invested in authentic and mutually beneficial business relationships with vendors.
Sure, the executive search business is a transactional one. It is inhabited with many “scheisters” and is fraught with haphazard performance criterion at best. But, with all of these negative vibes, perhaps there is a shining light for organizations to come together in meaningful ways for the betterment of all.