SERVE Your Customers and Build Trusted Advisor Relationships - Part 2 of 2

Part 1 of this article series covered why it is important to develop a trusted advisor relationship with your customer and how it benefits them, you and your organization, and not just in terms of additional revenue.  It also outlined the “S’ in SERVE, “Starting with what and why”.  The remaining aspects of SERVE provide more helpful tips and techniques for managing and enhancing the relationship building journey.  As you read each of them, consider how both the heart (emotion) and mind (logic) should be engaged. 

The first “E” in SERVE stands for “listening with Empathy and honoring wants.”

  • People generally make important decisions, like a major purchase, based on emotional reasons and back them up with logical reasons.  Your objective should be to understand what is motivating them to do something and the desired outcomes.  Motivation is generally based on pain avoidance, seizing and maximizing an opportunity (gain), or some combination of both.
  • The quickest way to disengage a customer is to appear to them as though you are not listening or have your own agenda.  By acknowledging and honoring what they are saying, you establish the first level of trust.  Positioning to help them get what they want, and why they want it, demonstrates that you are there to help them.
  • Acknowledge and honor their wants, and use their words when possible, especially those that convey feeling and strong emotion.  One way to do this is by playing back what you heard and asking questions to fill in the blanks. 
  • Resist the temptation to immediately go to what you think they need, even if you know it is much better than what they are asking for.  You may have an opportunity later to steer them onto a better path, but not if you try to sell them what you think they need and appear as though you are not listening and/or you are not a thoughtful and caring person.
  • Although establishing credibility is important, the customer should do the majority of the talking while you listen and acknowledge.  One technique to help you in responding over time is to learn your customer’s social style and share information in the way they prefer to consume it. People do not fit cleanly into one of the following social style categories, most are a combination of two or more; however, one style generally is dominant.
    • Analytical -- likes quantitative data, factual and technical details; has a logical and critical thinking approach
    • Practical -- conservative in nature, is a sequential thinker and controlling, and is generally very organized
    • Relational -- leads with emotions, is expressive and humanistic, and has strong “sensing” skills
    • Experimental -- likes visuals in that they tend to be conceptual first then logical, seeks integrative approaches, and likes metaphors



The “R” in SERVE stands for “Resonating with an iterative approach”.

  • In most cases, the optimal approach and solution will not just reveal itself early in the process.  More likely, you will need to iterate the approach with the customer.  That is, develop the approach progressively, in stages, and refine as you learn more through collaboration.  By doing so, you will be leveraging important emotional and logical aspects in balance, and it will Resonate with the customer’s pain avoidance and gain aspirations.
  • One way to do this is to work your way backwards from the desired outcomes.  Timed properly, in natural flow of conversation, these follow-on questions can be helpful:
    • So what? What will each milestone accomplish?
    • So That? You can claim success, you can confidently check the box, you can move forward with…?
    • So what next? After this has been completed how will it be leveraged to…?



  • Ask and facilitate what key activities and deliverables are required in order to achieve the outcomes (e.g., business case, pilot, new technology, etc.) from their perspective and fill in the blanks as needed
  • Organize the activities and deliverables in something resembling a workflow or Gantt chart, and identify any dependencies that may exist between activities and other initiatives going on simultaneously
  • Discuss the timing for each deliverable in relation to the overall completion date target, and consider contingencies and potential constraints
  • If several projects or initiatives result, you may need to help your customer prioritize.  A technique that can help facilitate prioritization is the 4-Quadrant matrix:
    • A 4-box diagram where the x-axis represented “impact” (low to high from left to right)
    • The y-axis represented “achievability” (low to high from bottom to top)
    • Each project or initiative is placed (plotted) in the most appropriate quadrant in relation to one another.  Each will have its own unique position in relation to the others (higher, lower, further to the left or right)
    • Generally, you place higher priority with the items plotted in the upper right quadrant, unless some of them have a high dependency on items that must start or complete that have been placed in one of the other three quadrants



The “V” in SERVE stands for “Valuing people”.

  • The customer will want to engage their resources (full time employees, part-time employees, and contractors) whenever and wherever possible since they already know the organization, understand the culture and how to get things done, and may be less costly.  Be sure to find out what people are available (capacity), the skills they can provide (capability), the projects they have worked on (experience), and where the client sees them playing a Valuable role.  The project team will evolve over time, and you should remain flexible to allow it to naturally develop.
  • You will need to gain commitment of resources from the customer sponsor and then fill in the remaining roles with your colleagues and/or partners
  • The customer sponsor will need to understand the project/initiative team roles, responsibilities and time commitment (estimate percentage of time required by each role for every major milestone).  A customer Project Manager or Project Coordinator to be the primary point of contact is highly recommended
  • Depending on the size of the project or initiative, a customer Oversight Committee may be warranted.  If you decide to utilize one, ensure the members understand their role and time commitment

The second “E” in SERVE stands for “Beginning with the End in mind”.

  • As you develop the approach and team to address what the customer wants, consider what they will ultimately need in the End.  The first project or initiative, to the greatest extent possible, should be designed as a steppingstone to the bigger picture in the sense of more impact and value for the customer, and potentially larger revenue opportunities for you; mutually beneficial
  • As you Honor the wants, immediately begin thinking of where things are headed.  Will this first project or initiative produce a much smaller impact and less value than what is possible?  If so, start subtly planting seeds early with the customer sponsor to begin positioning for the greater impact and value, without distracting from the initial objectives (the wants)
  • Avoiding pain is a much stronger motivator and generally leads to tactical or operational thinking (incremental), potentially diminishing the impact and value of what is possible by aiming low.  Achieve gain is often focused on implementing something new, sometimes without fully understanding and/or appreciating how to maximize the investment
  • Adjust your bigger picture thinking as the initial project or initiative moves forward and continue cultivating the seeds you have planted.  Be patient.

The SERVE approach is not a recipe for success, it is meant to provide some helpful tips and techniques for managing and enhancing the relationship building journey, emphasizing the importance of identifying the emotions behind the “why” and ensuring the logical reasons for buying from you are well aligned.  These tips and techniques have helped me be successful over the years in building stronger relationships with my customers.  I have also adapted them to enhance relationships with partners, friends and family.  As you start using these tips and techniques, you will improve in terms of how and when you use them.  It takes determination, practice and discipline to master just about anything.  How do you want your customer relationships to be defined down the road? 

It seems appropriate to end this article series with “keep the End in mind”.  

About the Author: 


Fred has more than 30 years of experience in executive leadership and coaching, business strategy development, mergers and acquisitions, organizational effectiveness, and talent strategy development. Before joining Segal, he was a VP for four prominent HR Consulting, Business Process Outsourcing and Management Consulting firms, a Managing Director of ERP Services and Emerging Technologies for a professional services company, a Business Transformation Program Manager for a steel manufacturing company, and a Product Development Manager for a commercial software company.

His accomplishments include managing the integration and synergies for three large M&A's, transforming HR for six global organizations, architecting more than 200 outsourcing and shared services solutions, designing and deploying several cloud based solutions, and implemented a groundbreaking process manufacturing scheduling system based on complex algorithms, analytics and artificial intelligence.

Fred Hencke, Segal
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