A few years ago, I was working as a client relationship manager, and was given an international client to handle independently. I was quite pleased because my manager had dealt with this client until recently. In the two months that they’d been working together, he had forged a good rapport with the woman heading the client team. My manager was moving on to another assignment within the company and hence the need for someone else to manage the client. 

Once the handover was completed internally, my manager wrote to the client, introduced me and assured them of good service. I followed up with an email echoing his promise. I decided to use this chance to ask for some added information and clarifications as the client was still new for my organization. I wanted the client to know I had done my homework.

The client head, however, was offended by the sudden change of guard and expressed doubt about her expectations being matched. She was also irritated by my queries and suggested I get clarifications from my former manager instead of bothering her. 

Her response threw us in a tizzy. Even though both my manager and I tried to reassure her, the trust between the client and me suffered. She was irritated and I was on the backfoot. Things went from bad to worse and in a few months, there was a complete breakdown in our relationship and the client opted out. 

Could I have affected the outcome by addressing the breakdown of trust with the client differently?  

In retrospect, while I had identified a breakdown in the relationship early on, I did not necessarily attribute it to trust, nor did I think I had any way to fix it. As I introspect, I can see that the client lead did not know me professionally and my trustworthiness was untested for her. When she questioned the change of guard, my manager and I reassured her of my competence, but did not furbish her with enough evidence to back it up. 

A better way to build trust could have been my manager validating the reasons to have faith in my capability by telling the client about my previous performance. Since the scenario did not play out in the right way, I ended losing an account. 

There was erosion of trust between my manager and the client because she felt he had not given her enough notice or reason for the change in roles. Her mistrust was a direct consequence of this and it was avoidable. 

Perhaps an open, three-way meeting between us could have addressed the situation better. It would have established a better standard of engagement as well as assuaged any fears and threats the client felt. A thorough handover carried out in a reliable way, openness in communication between my manager and client, and establishing my credibility to the client could have possibly resulted in a very different trajectory for the business. 

Perhaps the relationship with this client would have still ended, but there was a lesson for me in this exchange. Don’t take trust lightly especially between a client and you. If, at any point, you can sense that the client is unhappy with any decision, make sure to communicate openly. Along the way, ensure that you focus on credibility and establish reliability. In a business relationship, all these things matter because they keep the trust factor strong.

Meghna Sahai Jaruhar is an MBA from the University of Hong Kong. Senior manager of partnerships at Harappa Education, in her spare time, she is torn between cooking authentic Bihari dishes for her supper-club and crafting handmade cards.

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