Effective communication with clients: 10 golden rules to follow
Communication is the tool with which we trade, a must-have skill that goes way beyond learning how to express yourself and behave. We are looking at effective communication with clients. This is a journey, not a destination.
Every client is unique, and therefore any professional involved in communication with clients needs to master and remaster this skill. Not only managers but marketers, technical teams, freelancers, help centers, remote workers, etc all need to be able to communicate effectively to capture clients, ensure smooth running and progress and produce the results that will turn your business into a success.
Fortunately, there are 10 rules which are the pillars of effective communication with clients. These 10 rules will help you improve the quality of your communication skills and as a result, help your business grow. Read on and let us communicate these golden rules to you.
1. Respond quickly. Respond always.
First impressions matter. Often even before your client even read your response.
What do we mean? The fact is how quickly you respond makes an enormous psychological difference to the client’s impression of you. If you take too long to reply to a query or a communication, your client may think that you are too busy to take on a project, let alone give them special attention. In addition, clients often send multiple inquiries to different agencies before making a decision. Every minute you delay in replying, give your competitors the chance to get their foot in the door first.
Once you’ve got the job, prompt responses to communications are still important. Even if you are busy, a reply no matter how brief puts the client’s mind at rest. You haven’t disappeared, you’re still working and you are busy but not too busy for them. A quick reply confirming that you’ve received their message and you will get back to them as soon as possible, is enough to oil the wheels of communication and keep the client happy. Never let them feel like they’re being ignored, every client matters.
The mantra is one good project will lead to more projects and every happy client will generate more happy clients.
2. Let the client speak.
Let the client speak, and more importantly, you should listen. Within the initial inquiry or even constant communication, the likelihood is that the client has given you information. However, this information is often not the full story, it’s an introduction, a sounding out. The last thing you need is to be taking wild shots in the dark as to what is required or to be sending out quotes based on partial information.
Learn to be an active listener, listen first, and talk later – even if you think you know what the client needs. On a practical level, the more information you gather about the client’s project beforehand, the less the risks for mistakes and changes later. On a professional level, the client feels you are partnering them and not pushing them.
3. Ask questions. Don’t assume.
Assume makes an Ass out U and me. Assumption sets you up for failure. It has been known (more often than not, actually) that a client can’t fully explain themselves or their exact requirements and needs. You deliver what you think they want, and suddenly there’s a problem, hours and hours of work along the wrong path, wasted time, wasted potential, waste.
To avoid situations like this: Ask Questions.
The right questions to ask are specific for every business and even every agency. The answers to these questions should clear up the project’s concept and put you and your client on the same page. Not only have you now got clear insights into the full project expectations but you’ve created a relationship where you’ve taken an interest, and hopefully shown care, consideration, and demonstrated professional knowledge. Questions are more than just the need for answers, they reinforce a budding business relationship.
And if in doubt, ask more questions. Communicate as often as you need, keep this flowing, it shows how much getting it right matters to you.
4. Be empathetic but know your principles.
Empathy is good, very good. You are a human being, not a machine, you care. By putting yourself into your client’s shoes, you get a better perspective and can take your business relationship to a whole new level.
However, this works both ways. You have values and practices that should be respected. Let the client know you understand their concerns but can’t agree on something that would contradict your company’s values and practices. Clients will often try to push for as much as they can get from you, you may have a certain capacity to be pushed, but too far is far enough. Stand your ground, if a client won’t accept it then long-term it’s not probably a good thing.
Your reputation and principle are the foundations of a strong, solid business model. The best clients respect that. A human approach with mutual respect is the winning combination for effective communication with clients.
5. Educate the client.
You are an expert, a professional and you know your stuff. The client, on the other hand, doesn’t always have this knowledge or they wouldn’t be coming to you in the first place. They may think they know, and it’s a role they often like to play, but deep down they really want what is best.
Your job is to understand what the client needs and to deliver a solution. You may need to educate the client, but remember the best teachers take the student on a journey. Don’t patronize, don’t lecture, don’t force – lead the client along the most suitable path.
Prepare to answer their questions by putting your reasoning in simple words, so you can clear up their doubts. Of course, it’s extremely important to inform them about the extent of your capabilities and give them time to make an informed decision. Remember to talk directly and be as clear as possible.
6. Talk in a language that the client understands.
It’s easy to get carried away with the jargon obsessed world of your office and peers. But you are not talking in the bar after work, you are wooing a client, you are looking to form long-term mutually beneficial sustainable business relationships. Control and temper your technical vocabulary, they know you are an expert, that’s why they came to you.
The first thing to avoid is acronyms, use full terms wherever possible. Address the client in a way that is easy-to-understand. The balance is to inform and not to patronize, to communicate but not confuse, to clarify and not confound. Repeat, rephrase, take the time to explain and listen to follow up questions, offer further advice, send extra information, send explanatory links, show examples – find the common communicative ground.
7. Structure your sentences right.
Good grammar, language structure, and tone demonstrate professionalism, high-quality customer service, attention to detail, and care for correctness. Check everything, use proofreading tools, and spell checkers, take your time.
Also, look at the psychology of writing. People prefer positive sentence structures rather than negative ones. Positive sentences focus on what you can do instead of what you cannot, and this makes a good impression. Limit the usage of the word “you” which often can be misinterpreted as accusing. Use “we” to convey that you are a part of the client’s team, and “I” in cases of mistakes or misunderstandings between you two.
Now is probably a good time to remind you to structure your confirmation questions positively and not negatively. Negatively structured questions cause confusion. E.g. “Don’t you like this design?” might be followed by an answer “Yes.” which will leave you wondering what the client confirms exactly. Do they like the design or not?
Think of the most appropriate style for greetings, emails, chats, etc. Traditional formal rules of business correspondence are not always the way of online communication but it’s better to be slightly more formal than try to conquer the lower, friendly, chatty ground. Try to reflect the tone of the client, they should make the first move.
Bear in mind cultural differences, if you are writing or communicating with foreign clients take some time to research what is and isn’t appropriate in their country. Air on the side of caution in order not to offend.
8. Double-check everything.
When working on a client’s project, it’s crucial that you rely on facts and not assume what the client meant when saying this and that. If you are uncertain even about the tiniest feature, it’s better to check in with your client than doing it all over again later.
Double-check emails, yes will tools available but also a fresh pair of eyes. Often you can reread but actually you are imagining the words you think you have written rather than the words on the page.
Double-check price quotes, it’s especially easy to miss off zeros and you don’t want a nasty shock when it comes to payment time.
9. Depict your thoughts with visuals.
For clarity, visuals are essential. A picture does indeed paint a thousand words. Use Screenshots, sketches, previews, mockups, illustrations… when it comes to effective communication with clients, the more the better. No words can describe what you mean more effectively than a visual representation, especially if your client’s native language is different than yours. Importantly, using visuals saves valuable time, conveys your ideas better, and makes the client part of the process. Clients love to know what you are doing and where you are at, visual updates give them this sense of feeling and partnership.
10. Don’t make false promises.
It’s so tempting to promise the earth, especially when you really want to clinch the deal. Trust is the biggest word in business, and broken promises lead to broken relationships. Be positive by all means, push yourself forward and be brave but if you can’t deliver what you claim it will all end in tears. Better to underpromise and overdeliver than the other way round.
Of course, there will always be times when certain issues lead to unmet deadlines, timeframe extensions, unexpected scenarios happen – if you’ve built trust up in the bank during your business relationship, these things can be controlled and smoothed over. The secret here is prompt, direct, and honest communication of potential problems as early as possible. Don’t try to blame others, admit your mistakes, be open and honest, and work out a plan for putting things right.
Successful solutions to problems actually result in stronger relationships than no problems at all. It’s not about having an issue, it’s all about how you solve that issue.
These are the 10 golden rules of effective communication with clients. If you’ve got this far in business you are absolutely doing some if not all of them. But isn’t it nice to see them formalized and written down as a reminder of consistent, good business practice?