Building Trust and Keeping Clients

“You start losing a client the moment you get it.” ~ Jay Chiat

Regular readers of my blog know that I like to post some quotes at the end that are relevant, sometimes amusingly so, to the topic. In researching appropriate quotes for this post, I came across this one by Jay Chiat, Advertising Executive and co-founder of TBWA\Chiat\Day.

As a leader of a professional service firm absolutely reliant on repeat business, it is a sobering statement and one that is a great warning to anyone who gets exuberant over a sale, then settles in to execute the work the same way as before. One of the things I love the most about our business is that no project is the same. Sometimes, I wish there was more similarity, but diversity and the task of developing more common solutions is always an intriguing challenge.

So my take away is that each project is different and a fresh opportunity to start anew with a client. The success of the project starts with listening and seeking to understand. Trust is critical. Absolutely critical. Without it, things get ugly.

It is important to remember that Trust is a two-way street.

If the Owner is not trustworthy, either intuitively as an individual or collectively as a company, then earning trust is a non-starter. Conversely, if service providers start out with the intent to make up a deficit created by “buying the job” by looking for every opportunity to write Change Orders, then building trust is also a non-starter.

So, I am considering that the first goal of any project is to build trust between the Owner and the service provider. Trust is not given, it is earned. It may be offered in the beginning as a “benefit of the doubt”, but by definition, it is essentially a probationary period. Once it is earned, it not only must be maintained, but it must also be grown. It is grown by never being complacent with the trust – always seeking first to understand, then to be understood. 

We all have a very human tendency to rush to settle into a groove and to validate our own vision as to how something will be done, rather than assess a problem on its own merits and seek another perspective. 

At times, we risk trading efficiency for effectiveness. There is a fine line between them and it takes a great deal of good judgment to walk that line, grow trust, and build the relationship you worked so hard to establish. A great collaborative relationship is where the parties are communicating all the time to promote effectiveness, so that efficiency is realized in the process by eliminating waste. Waste creates frustration and disappointment. When frustration and disappointment seep in, you begin to get defensive and inward-looking.

And that, I believe, is the moment you begin to lose the client.


“It’s a fine line between being in a groove and being in a rut.”

Pete Plath (one of my greatest mentors)


“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

Andy Grove

“The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it's very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer.”

Thomas J. Watson