When working with a client, there is nothing more important than communication. Everything about the work must be communicated, from you to the client, or the client to you. Effectively communicating with clients leads to great projects and great results. Poor communication leads to poor outcomes and frustration.
Take a moment and think about the last time you were frustrated with someone. Was a part of that frustration related to missed communication? Is there a way you could have communicated better to avoid that frustration?
This article will look at five ways to improve client communication. The goal is to make your client interactions more successful and enjoyable, thus making your projects better and improving everything about your business.
5 tactics for communicating with clients
- Actively listen at all times.
- Always follow up with notes and next steps.
- Create a client communication strategy.
- Believe the best in your client.
- Give your communication the right depth.
Let’s cover each one in detail.
1. Actively listen at all times
Active listening is taking a proactive approach to learning from someone as you are interacting with them — like when you’re communicating with clients. Begin by choosing not to form thoughts or responses while the other person is speaking, but instead by seeking to listen to everything they say and trying to ensure you fully comprehend it.
As you are listening, take notes.
If you are actively taking notes, it will force you to listen for key ideas and themes, improving your focus and sharpening your listening skills. Also, having notes from the conversation will help you with your follow up communications (more on that in a minute).
After the client has finished speaking, review your notes and repeat back what you learned.
I like to say, “Let me repeat back to you what I’m hearing, to make sure I’ve got it.” Clients love this, as it helps them to hear their thoughts through your words — and demonstrates that you are listening and understanding what they are saying.
2. Always follow up with notes and next steps
After communicating with clients, it’s important to be sure that you understood correctly. We have all had that experience when ordering a meal where we rattle off a long order at the counter and the person taking the order repeats it back and messes it up.
Just because you say something, it doesn’t mean that the person on the other end understood it.
Likewise, when a client tells you something, that doesn’t mean you fully understood what they meant.
It’s best to follow up communication with notes and tasks. When I leave a client meeting or call, I like to send the client an email summarizing the high points of my notes. I also add in a list of the things that I owe them, and a list of the things they owe me.
Communicating with clients like this ensures we are on the same page (via the notes that I took) and makes sure the tasks that need to be completed are clear (what we owe each other).
3. Create a client communication strategy
When is it best to have a face-to-face meeting with a client? When is a phone call best? When is an email, text, Slack, or other channel the best? If you have never thought through this, it might be time.
A client communication strategy is a thoughtful way of creating a standard for communicating with clients.
I recommend starting with setting the rhythms of your communication.
- Will you have a weekly call, email or formal report?
- How will you communicate about the big project milestones?
- What about the smaller milestones?
- What is the most effective way to communicate when you have a small question?
- What about a big question?
As a part of having a client communication strategy, it’s also important to think about contingency plans.
How will you communicate when you perceive that a client is frustrated? How (and when) will you communicate when you realize you are going to miss a deadline?
With a client communication strategy, it’s also important to determine how flexible you are willing to be to meet the client’s preferences. Some clients love texting; others hate it. Will you adapt to their communication style, or force them to change to yours?
4. Believe the best in your client
We have all gotten that email from a client that says, “Hey, I want to talk tomorrow.” What’s the feeling you get when you read that? For most of us, it’s a bit of dread with a dash of insecurity and a pinch of angst. Or, you freak out entirely.
But then you talk to that client the next day, and it turns out everything is great, they just had a thought they wanted to discuss.
I confess I have been through this exact scenario more than once. Believing the best in your client is a way to assume all is well until proven otherwise because usually, all is well.
5. Give your communication the right depth
For great communication to happen, it has to be the proper depth. You can’t go into so much detail before asking a question that the client is asleep before given a chance to answer. It also means you can’t ask a question without giving any context at all.
We have all had that feeling that a question is coming as someone talks on and on and on, giving us details we don’t need or want.
You never want to be that person when you’re communicating with clients, mostly because you don’t want clients to avoid talking to you.
Likewise, we have all had someone ask us a question and have no clue what they are talking about. We love that email, “Hey, what time will you have it ready?” To which we wonder, have what ready? Was there a timeframe I don’t know about? What am I missing? Who is this anyway?
Giving the right depth of context is an art
You want to provide enough details so the person you are speaking with fully understands the topic of your conversation and the parameters around it. But, you don’t want to give so much detail that you make communication frustrating.
Wrapping it up, the biggest part of communicating with clients is recognizing that communication is very difficult and must happen thoughtfully. Carelessness in communicating will foster more problems than anything else.