Lessons from a Llama

Recently, I visited Capitol Reef, one of Utah’s five amazing National Parks. This is spectacular yet rigorous red rock terrain, filled with canyons and cliffs, and there are many great ways to experience it: by car, all-terrain vehicle, horse, or Llama. Yep, Llama. “Why not?”, my husband Bill and I said. We’ve certainly never done that before.

I never imagined that “Frankie” the Llama would teach me so much about human nature and client relations. Let me explain.

The first order of business on the Llama hike is an introduction to your Llama and Llama behavior in general. Everyone knows Llamas are notorious for spitting, which was confirmed in our Llama orientation and immediately caused a nervous tightening in my stomach.

But, said our adorable guide, if you follow these simple guidelines you should return from the hike unscathed:

  1. Only pat your Llama on the neck with a flat hand from top to bottom, going with the grain of his fur. Do not scratch or tickle the Llama on the neck.
  2. Do NOT touch the Llama anywhere else. It has exposed sensory glands low on its rear legs to detect danger and the herd.
  3. Your job is to lead the Llama. If he gets in your face, wave him back and he should back off.
  4. Do not stand between Llama heads or you could be caught between spits – even if you followed rules 1-4.
  5. Llamas view small hurdles like creeks as huge obstacles. This needs to be navigated carefully or the Llama will knock you over in an exaggerated leap. So have a plan for your approach.

Because of this thorough briefing, Frankie and I were completely in sync and we had a wonderful hike! I mulled over my experience for days. It reminded me how important it is to go beyond just a general understanding of your client’s needs to diving deeper into process, culture and personal likes and dislikes of the client. It confirmed how important Client Onboarding really is, rather than jumping into the nitty gritty of the project. Our onboarding process enables us to:

  • Introduce the team on a personal level. Get to know our individual professional history, personal background and interests.
  • Explain our roles and how we interact and communicate internally and with the client.
  • Gain a better understanding of the client’s decision-making process.
  • Identify the clients pain points and layout a plan for overcoming obstacles.
  • Explain our planning process and reporting cadence.

Ultimately, our goal is to make the client feel comfortable and in sync with the new agency relationship and our team, so that when we face challenges, we know we can manage and overcome them together. Trust me it works. If you don’t believe me, just ask “Frankie”.

Schifino Lee

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