A Story About Rapport

42-15530303A few weeks back I went for my annual contact lens check up at the opticians in London where I have been going for several decades. If several means three, it’s longer than that. It’s the only place where I’ve been going all my adult life since I started wearing contact lenses in my early twenties. I am 59.

A couple of years ago the man who owned it sold it. It was a tragedy much mourned by those of us who loved the care and attention he’d lavished on us for all that time. It was a lesson for me because I’ve sold several businesses and, for a change, I learned how it feels to be on the receiving end of that transaction as a client. Sad. Confused. Bereft. Lost. Abandoned. I don’t want to overstate this, it was my optician after all, but it wasn’t like we’d been together for five minutes, it had been a man and boy thing and do you know how much contact lens science has changed in those decades? We’d been through all that together and in the context of my most precious eyes; from gas permeable to daily disposable via a brief and failed flirtation with varifocals.

A young woman took over the business. Good on her! And I honoured my commitment to the previous guy when he asked me to give her the benefit of the doubt. I met her the first time but I haven’t seen her since. And last month I went in for my second or third visit since she’d taken over and let myself into the reception, off the pavement, for the first appointment of the day. Reception was unmanned, so I sat down to wait. No-one came to attend to me or ask me to sit down or prepared me for any length of wait or offered me a drink, the first client of the day, a woman who has been going to their business loyally for nearly 40 years. At this point I wasn’t really feeling anything except their disrespect for me, being kept waiting even though I was the first client of the day while they all chatted audibly in another room close by.

Another young woman I had not met before eventually arrived to carry out my tests. She didn’t know me or I her. She immediately began to patronise me, using a tone of voice I was uncomfortable with and adopting a manner which demonstrated she assumed I was a stupid old woman. The old woman bit I can understand, to an extent, I am 59 after all and she was in her thirties (at a guess). The rebel in me was starting to rise. I was beginning to think militant thoughts of leaving my appointment then and there and their practice immediately thereafter. Resentment stuck in my craw. It was a stressful few moments, fraught with high emotion.

Fortunately we pulled it back by a happy accident. We achieved rapport. As soon as I began to answer her questions she could see I wasn’t a dimmo and didn’t need to be spoken to as such, her tone of voice and choice of words changed to match the client in front of her. Even though I have worn contact lenses with zero difficulties for all these many years she asked me if I had any questions about wearing them. As it happens, I did. I had begun to notice that the one in my right eye is often visible, concerningly so, when I am in the dark in the cinema. Since the cinema is one of my very favourite places to be and since we were but paces from one of my bestest ones of those in the whole wide world (the Brixton Ritzy), I was curious to know if she had an explanation for this.

She did. Since the prescription in my right eye is much worse than my left, the material for the lens has to be thicker and likely to be visible on my eye in such conditions of light and dark. Hallelujah! A logical explanation which made perfect sense. I love those. And I said as much. I said something like “Oh, that makes sense, I shan’t worry now. I love logic, me” and she said so did she… love logic, I mean. And there we were, the Logic Sisters, in love with each other in that moment and with logic forever. And thus was rapport achieved and their relationship with this client clawed back from the brink. A meaningful exchange enjoyed by both parties had taken place; I’ve certainly told this story more than once and if she didn’t go home and tell her beloved about her day including me, then I hope she thought about it on the bus at least and about what she’d learned about making assumptions.

But it was an accident. It might not have happened. And the transaction could so easily have gone another way.

  • How do you take special care of your long-time and valued clients?
  • What assumptions do you make about anyone on first sight/impression? [First sight! Geddit??]
  • How to you achieve rapport, both online and off?

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