Editor's note: This Practice Builder was contributed by Stephen M. Abrams, dairy nutritionist from Madison, Wis. He is affiliated with Nutrition Professionals Inc.
My old, old, really old Webster's dictionary defines rapport as a "close and sympathetic relationship." Building rapport with a client is essential for a dairy consultant to establish what all consultants desire, and this is long-term relationships with the dairies we work with. Having rapport means that the dairy relies on the consultant for key information to maintain and enhance the quality and profitability of the dairy's operation.
So, how does a consultant arrive at that point with a client?
Of course, there is no single answer to this question. Just as consultants vary in their personality and expertise, so do those operating dairies. Some desire frequent interaction with their consultant, and others are content to deal with the consultant only when the consultant is on the farm. Some want to share jokes or argue politics, and others do not. Some will share information about their families, and others keep their business and personal lives separate. Perhaps one of the most important things is for a consultant to be sensitive to these differences among his clients, but not to the point where the consultant is trying to be someone other than himself.
Building rapport takes time, but a consultant can get a real head start by simply taking care of business; if the consultant doesn't perform the basics, there will be no time to achieve rapport:
- Be professional in your dealings with the dairy. Return phone calls promptly. Be on time for farm visits. Do your best to answer questions. If you are not sure of an answer, say so, but make sure you do your best to find the answer.
- Be prepared. Review your client's current information before you get to the farm. Be aware of current issues affecting the dairy business.
- Ask probing questions during your farm visits in order to get at the client's main concerns.
- Discuss new ideas (technology, additives, methods, etc.) that have the potential to improve the dairy.
Finally, the real secret of building rapport with a dairy is no secret at all. It's to demonstrably improve the profitability of the dairy by increasing production, improving reproduction, improving herd health, and/or reducing the cost of operation.