According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of communication is the process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. It can also mean an exchange of information or personal rapport.
Communication also implies that there is a mutual understanding of what’s being spoken about and what’s being executed. With effective communication, both parties are on the same page.
I am the Client Coordinator at Synectics Media, which means that I interact with our clients on a daily basis. Being the “face” for our clients means that I am always striving to exceed their expectations. It isn’t always necessarily about the great work that we do for them or the fact that I respond to emails and phone calls from clients in a timely way, it’s about becoming their trusted advisor and partner. How does that happen? Through effective communication skills.
Whether you’ve just received a panicked email from a client or are simply looking to improve your client communication skills, I’m here to give you some points on how you can nurture (and grow) your relationships so your clients and customers think of you as a trusted advisor.
Communication Failure - How To Avoid It
We’ve all been in a situation where we think we’ve communicated effectively but have failed. And that’s okay! No relationship is perfect, and the way you handle and make up for that miscommunication is what really matters.
Here are four ways miscommunication with a client can occur:
- You haven’t asked the right questions. It’s important not to make assumptions about your client. If you think you know what they want without having key conversations, you’re not effectively communicating. Designating the first few client meetings to ask key questions about their business and vision will help you to become part of their team.
- You’re not talking in their language. In all communications, it’s important to explain what you do or why you made a certain decision. You’ll need to give your client enough information for them to make an informed decision. Oftentimes, we can get caught up in “industry speak” and not fully explain ourselves to clients. Taking a step back and explaining things out loud helps me to prepare for this.
- You don’t know the decision maker. Knowing who the key decision maker is will further allow you to get a good grip on everyone’s expectations thus allowing you to communicate more effectively.
- You’re too reliant on email communication. Have you ever received an email response to a creative piece needing approval that said “looks good,” only to have lots of edits added later on? In order to help streamline this process, don’t just send over a first draft and call them later. Set up a phone call to go over the first draft together so that your client understands the piece and your reasoning.
In order to avoid communication failure, I recommend having upfront conversations early and often.
Language Matters - Choosing Your Words Wisely
Of course, it’s easier to communicate face-to-face than over email. In those in-person meetings, you can easily pick up on tone and body language allowing you to adapt and make sure that your client is understanding what you’re telling them and is comfortable with it. But how do you nurture client relationships when your communication is primarily over email?
- Use “we.” Replacing “we” with “I” will position you as part of your client’s team. You and your client are both working towards the same end goal. Using “I” hints that you’re a third party while the use of “we” fosters a collaborative effort.
- Limit the use of “you.” This three-letter word can come across as accusatory, especially in situations where tensions are high. Instead of saying “you told me”, say something like, “Based on our last conversation, I was under the impression that (blank). Please let me know if anything has changed.” Crafting your language like this will help to avoid finger pointing while still keeping you as part of the client's team (in their eyes). Remember that preserving the client relationship trumps asserting yourself as being correct.
- Use words of confirmation. Do you have a gut feeling that you and your client aren’t aligned on a project? Check in with them! Starting an email like, “I’m hearing that we need to re-evaluate the images for this post, is that correct?” will not only show that you’re a good listener but it will allow you to make sure that you’re absorbing the correct information and that you didn’t miss any important details. Phrasing your question like this will also guarantee that you and your client are on the same page.
For even more guidance on clear and effective communication, I often refer to this blog article by Hubspot.
Email, Phone, and In-Person Meetings - Methods of Communication with Clients
Today’s world is all about automation, multitasking, and a fast response time. But sometimes it’s more appropriate to communicate via a phone call than an email.
Email: This form of communication is more reactive than the others. When sending an email and/or message over another digital platform, you typically require a response. Before sending an email (to make sure it’s the right form of communication), I consider these factors:
- Does this communication have action items that can be placed in bullet point format? If yes, email is your friend.
- Will the message be more than a paragraph? If so, email might not be the best route.
- Do you need documentation of communication? If so, email is probably the best channel.
- Will this message escalate an issue? If yes, I recommend that you call or set up an in-person meeting.
Phone Call: Are you discussing or following up on a complex matter? A phone call is your best route! I call our clients when how I say something is just as important as the actual content of the message. It’s also important to consider your client. If your client is from an older generation, they may prefer a phone call. If your client is of a younger generation, an email or text may be better than a phone call for them. Still debating about whether or not to pick up that phone? Listen to your gut. If it's telling you a phone call is the better route for a particular conversation, make the call, even if it's uncomfortable.
After an important phone call, I always send over a recap email summarizing the main points of the conversation (especially if there is something that I need from the client). Taking the time to craft and send this email will ensure that everyone is on the same page while also getting the conversation in writing in case you need to reference it later.
Text: I recommend texting a client only when you need to communicate something urgent, and only after they have indicated you may text them when necessary. While I think it’s a good idea to give your clients your cell number (when appropriate), only text when you need a response quickly or when it’s after work hours and necessary. For example, if you were rushed to meet a deadline for a third party but successfully sent it in (after 5 pm), I would send your client a short text indicating that the deadline was met and that you’ll follow-up with them the next business day. If you do have to send a client a text message, please make sure not to use an emoji - it’s just not professional.
In-Person Meetings: I’m a face-to-face person and love the camaraderie that can come with in-person meetings. Of course, there is a time and place for them. I propose having these types of meetings when I need to communicate something that’s important. I also like to hold in-person meetings once a month with our clients as it allows everyone to convene and be on the same page.
Nurturing Client Relationships - Be Human and Approachable
Remaining professional with your clients is key to developing stronger client relationships, but I also like to remain very approachable. I never want our clients to think that they can’t ask questions or even question our recommendations. How do I stay “human” and approachable?
- Show commitment to their business needs and goals
- Convey my genuine and honest nature in all communications
- Conduct frequent check-in meetings to make sure they are happy
- Write a personal email or note wishing them a happy birthday or congratulating them on a big milestone
Those are just some of the ways that I communicate effectively with our clients. What kinds of client communication skills have you developed over time? I’m always open new ideas, please tell me about your experiences in the comments below.