Bring Your Coffee Mug: Thoughts On Collaboration, Trust, and Engagement.


T20160917_104215-4hose of us who work with clients in the business world knows how much harder the challenge to deliver solutions is without client trust.

How can we create client trust? Here is the story about one of my favorite coffee shops.

I first visited the Morning & Night coffee shop at the farmers’ market in Los Angeles because it offered seating in the open air. The inside consisted of a small kitchen surrounded by a heavy, wooden sales counter, but despite the size, I could immediately feel the place’s unique spirit.

On the side counter, there was a long line of odd coffee mugs in various shapes and colors. They seemed old, used, a type you would find in thrift shops or Grandma’s top kitchen cupboard.

Then I saw the note by the register:

Bring in your favorite ceramic mug… control paper waste and personalize service even more’.

I was intrigued. These mugs were not simply an aesthetic choice of café dishware. It was a conscious choice, each mug an eclectic and unusual badge of participation from loyal customers who bought in to this unique idea.

The gesture was nice and simple, but I saw something else too. A subtle but powerful call for customers’ trust. Still I wondered: Who would want to keep their favorite coffee mug at a coffee shop?

morning-and-night-sign-partialI sat outside and watched the hustle and bustle play out in the little plaza the café called home. I watched the old, the young, shoppers and sellers, bicycle riders, baby carriage pushers, and dog owners. Amidst this lively corner, the staff would deliver food orders to the table, chat with the customers, coo to the babies, and give treats to the dogs. I realized that the sign was actually an invitation to engage, to be part of a special culture and attitude.

At first, anthropological curiosity made me come back. I was fascinated by the sense of community that both customers and staff had created. This was a place where people know you, your baby, and your dog by name; people were happy to see you when you arrive, miss you when you leave. It made me feel good. Several years later, it is still one of my favorite regular spots to visit.

Collaboration with clients is one of the key capabilities for us as advisors. It means working closely with the client, and together identifying issues to resolve, solutions to select, and implementation processes to undertake. Through collaboration, we can achieve a higher performance in whatever we do. Through collaboration, we can demonstrate our caring and competency, and help create a better working world.

The portal for good collaboration is trust. Client trust is our most valuable asset, but it is not easy to build. The client-advisor relationship has a disadvantage when it comes to creating a sense of balance; one side does the trusting, the other – is expected to be trusted. We may have skills, experience, education, but cannot guarantee client perception of our trustworthiness.

We have our good communication skills, specifically empathic listening. Still, asking the client to tell us about their problems while we promise to be all ears will not cut it. Clients may not talk for any number of reasons, whether it be due to the emotional stress of opening up about problems, the risk of exposing weakness, or the simple time and energy it takes to build an effective relationship.

What we need is to create a quicker situation to help the client realize that the advisor facing them is caring, competent, and may be able to help. How to do that? By engaging the client. Do something different for him or her, approach first, offer support first, ask interesting questions. Whatever it is, it should feel different from what they are used to, and show that we understand, appreciate, and are willing to participate in their world.

Ask them to bring in their favorite coffee mug.

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