The new year always brings with it an air of opportunity – a chance to look ahead, change perspectives and really consider what we can do to make the coming year better…better for our businesses and of ultimately, our personal lives.
In order to make positive changes, we must first consider what is truly at the root of our problems. Based on my experiences having worked in various fields ranging from interior design to agriculture, it seems like almost every gripe a client has boils down to communication, or rather, a lack thereof.
Let’s examine a few common communication issues and what you can do to prevent them:
1. Using terms and phrases that the client is not familiar with — The provider should have a good sense of their client’s preferred communications style and know how to speak to their client in a way in which he/she will understand. Also keep in mind that sometimes clients are afraid to admit they don’t understand — so providers are not always aware that there is confusion. (It’s amazing how often our egos get in the way!)
What you can do to improve: Ask them if they’re on the same page and always invite questions. The more complex the project, the more they’ll appreciate it if you can take the pressure off and lay it out in layman’s terms. Use metaphors or offer a few examples. After a meeting, why not send a quick follow-up email asking if there are any lingering questions? Seems like a simple concept, but it’s one that is often overlooked.
2. Not providing the client with measurable results — So, the project is complete but the client has no idea what was actually achieved. You’re in trouble. Without setting goals and objectives from the beginning, there is simply no way to demonstrate your success or your value as a good provider. Without tangible results, it’s likely that the client might look elsewhere for future projects or worse, spread some bad WOM (word of mouth) for your business.
What you can do to improve: You must set clear goals and objectives at the beginning of the project. You must also propose how results will be measured. This information should be delivered in written form – preferably in a formal communications plan.
3. Being unavailable – is there really anything more irritating that communications going in circles?: Send an email – no response. Call the office line, leave a voicemail. Call the cell, leave a voicemail. Then maybe even a follow-up text message…”Did you get any of my messages?” The result? A frustrated client and a whole lot of wasted time.
What you can do to improve: Explain that you want to give them your undivided attention. In order to do so, you should suggest to the client when the ideal time is to get in touch. If they try to get a hold of you outside of this proposed timeframe, do everything in your power to respond as quickly as possible. Even if you cannot handle the request right away, reply and say that you got their message and will gladly handle it for them. Don’t forget, this always works two ways. It can help to “shake” on a deal to communicate at certain times. Maybe Wednesday morning is the time you set aside to talk with your client. I find this effective because then the client gathers all of their scattered questions from the week and lays it on me all at once. I find this works better than random emails here and there – scattered attachments and phone messages. But, you need to find out what method will work best for both of you.
What you can do to improve: From the get-go, get the right people on board! When you’re hiring new people, consider the quality of their communication skills. Remember what can be taught to a person and what they must possess on their own. Even if this person’s position does not require them to deal with clients directly, their communication skills with their colleagues and suppliers has a huge impact on the outcome of every client project. When you hire good communicators, you will see that there are less surprises (people are informed), less confusion (they communicate their ideas clearly) and improved client relations. All around, everyone can do his/her job better when the team communicates well. One of our web designers recently shared with me her experience in client relations and retention: “the best way to keep a client is with a genuine spirit to achieve alongside them.“ If that spirit doesn’t shine though due to a major lack in the personality department, maybe it’s better that you put someone else on the frontline.
Some additional tips for successful client relations in 2011:
- “People don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care.” -Mike McNight
So, show ‘em. Set aside time for client care. 1-2 hours a week. Maybe it sounds easier said than done, but I guarantee it will be worth every second you spend on it. I went to an etiquette seminar in Calgary last year. The keynote speaker shared with us what she considered one of her best client care tools: a calendar. Simple concept. In it, she would enter client birthdays, upcoming vacations, monumental occasions, names of children and spouses, etc. Every client appreciates being known as an individual – not as a number or an account.
- Though it’s great to agree with your client when appropriate, it would be a disservice not to provide an objective view. It’s ok to gently remind the client of this…in the nicest way possible. Any time that your company’s name is attached to a project, so is your reputation. Always do what’s in the best interest of the client project – not the client’s ego! In the end, your best work will shine through and the client will have gotten what they paid for- your expert advice.
- Be yourself, admit mistakes, be human. As discussed in the word of mouth post, people are more likely to work with and recommend people that they know, like and trust. Be that person.
After you’ve given some thought to improving your communications in the name of better client relations, go forth and prosper in 2011. Make it your year.