How to Improve Client Communication
Client communication practices can make or break your business. Poor communication is frustrating for everyone and often leads to unnecessary disasters, confusion, and misunderstanding. Too much communication means there is a lack of clarity. Too little communication leaves clients feeling out of the loop. Inconsistent communication muddies expectations. It’s time to improve client communication!
Proper communication increases productivity with a client and improves efficiency among team members.
So how do you find the sweet spot in client communication? Learn how to improve your client communication strategy with these 10 tips:
Client Communication 101: Listen
If you have ever forgotten a person’s name after just meeting them, you can improve your listening.
Bad listening skills is one of the main culprits of a poor client communication strategy.
Communicating is not synonymous with talking. That’s hardly half of the equation. Effective communication actually begins with listening. To be a great client communicator, you need to know what you’re responding to.
While you may be thinking “duh”, be real for a second. The person who consistently and effectively listens in meetings is a unicorn.
If you’re not actively listening, then you’re distracted. Plain and simple. Consider the last meeting you sat in. At any point, did you glaze over in a or lurch to respond before the client finished speaking? You weren’t listening because you were distracted.
There are two types of distractions:
- External distractions are found in your environment: those 20 open tabs on your computer, social media notifications, a noisy cubicle neighbor, or a cluttered desk.
- Internal distractions are those nagging thoughts, feelings and emotions that distract you from the present moment. This is a sign you are thinking too far ahead in a conversation, rather than listening to what’s being said right now.
You can manage external distractions as soon as you identify them. Bookmark important tabs. Turn off notifications. Clear your desk. Tell your cubicle neighbor to stop singing. See, all better.
Now, on to the internal distractions. While you may have a laundry list of tasks to address, don’t rush a conversation and interrupt people just to knock things off your mental checklist.
Client communication is a conversation, meaning it involves active engagement between multiple people. The situation will be more productive if you allow all parties involved to communicate. Oftentimes, you’ll even find that others brought up some similar points that you anxiously blurted before it was time.
Setting aside your wandering thoughts, numerous notifications and arbitrary disturbances can be difficult, we know (they feel so urgent in the moment!). But it’s necessary to limit distractions and be present in a conversation to improve listening.
Create an Agenda to Communicate Productively
It’s easy to improve client communication in a meeting, you just need a plan. Agendas keep our monkey brains from messing up the meeting. Create a written agenda to distribute to all meeting attendees. This strategy keeps the conversation on track, and it can also save you time.
Agendas will help the client recognize that you have specific points you want to address. Creating an agenda also signifies who will be leading the meeting (you) and shows the client that you know a few things about preparation.
An agenda can also help your team understand what can actually be accomplished in an hour (or however long your meeting timeframe might be).
Meeting agendas don’t have to be lengthy or specific. Focus on the main objective, then create bullets and a general timeline to map how you will reach that objective together.
Agendas will also keep you from harboring mental checklists, so you can be present in the conversation.
Set Client Communication Expectations Early
We develop future expectations based on first impressions. We maintain future expectations with consistency. In other words, create a process that allows you to communicate effectively over and over and over again.
Successful client communication depends on boundaries and clear expectations. For example, if your email signature says your office hours are Monday-Friday 9-5, but you respond to an email Sunday night at 11pm, your client will be confused. Additionally, they will assume they can email you on the weekends and expect a response.
Set appropriate expectations the first time, and then consistently deliver.
Here’s another example: if you let a client know that you’ll be getting back to them with recap notes by the end of the day, do it. And then make sure to do it every single time.
But if that doesn’t seem like a sensible timeline that you can make happen every time you meet with that client, then rethink what your timeline should realistically be.
To define what consistent communication looks like for you, take a look at your brand voice and brand values and lean on them for the right decision.
Be Clear and Concise
We’re all busy, so do everyone the courtesy of communicating clearly and concisely. If you’re going to leave a voicemail, write down your points before you pick up the phone.
Improve client communication by keeping your message clean, orderly and short and sweet. If you’re not clear, your client won’t be clear either.
Don’t leave room for interpretation. Clients will sense wishy-washy language and will assume you’re not confident in your ideas.
Do whatever you have to do to come across clearly and confidently. Take conversation lessons (they exist), practice talking on the phone with a trusted loved one.
Don’t beat around the bush. Asking for a payment or a second chance can be uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as listening to someone trip over the ask.
Do take your speaking skills seriously.
Focus on Targeted, Thoughtful Communication
We’ve all been in the meeting where silence feels suffocating and everyone races to fill it up with a half-baked response or question. Intentional speaking can fix this problem.
Take time prior to a meeting, or even before responding in a conversation, to dig deep and think about the situation, question or project as a whole.
Slow down, understand the topic at hand and its context, then develop intentional questions and responses.
Responsiveness is one of the most important client communication best practices. Looking to transform your client communication practices? Performa a quick response audit.
How long does it take for you to respond to an email? How about a phone call? If you respond quickly, do you respond thoughtfully?
Respond. Don’t react. Don’t procrastinate. Respond.
Nobody likes being ignored, especially when they’re upset. You receive and explosive email, prepare a brief response to let the client know you heard them.
You don’t have to get to the root of the problem right away. Responding in haste could lead to a heated, preventable argument. Simply acknowledge their response, convey that you’re prioritizing this issue. This will, hopefully, lighten the mood.
Everyone’s inbox is spilling over with urgent tasks. While there’s no need to answer emails right away (please, maintain your sanity!), create expectations to smooth the communication process.
Develop a response expectation timeframe with your team so clients know when to expect a response. Usually, 24-48 hours will suffice.
Make Things Easy to Understand
You’re the expert in your line of work, so don’t expect your client to be (that is why they hired you, of course).
Stay away from jargon and technical language when communicating with clients. If a client has to work to understand you, then you’re not communicating well.
Make it easy for clients to follow along when you’re hitting them with complex information. Are you sharing layout designs or diving into the details of a technical project? Link contextual information to the keywords in your email, or provide visual aids if you’re talking in person. This helps clients know exactly what you’re referring to.
Don’t leave it up to clients to put in the work in order to understand where you’re coming from. Because odds are, they won’t do it.
Know How to Say ‘No’
Nobody likes the word ‘no’; it comes across as negative and discouraging. Develop a plan to get around its negative sense by finding intelligent and productive ways to compromise on a matter.
Creating a conversation about an alternative option can make a client feel like they are still gaining something from the circumstance, even though it may not be exactly what they had in mind.
If you come across a situation where the only option is to turn it down, find a respectful and considerate way to say ‘no’, always making sure the client feels heard and taken care of.
Adapt to their Communication Style
When incorporating different personalities into a conversation, adjustments almost always need to be made (and the one who makes them usually gains the authority in the conversation). If your client speaks formally in emails and meetings, match their style by doing the same.
If your client leads every meeting with a casual story about their personal life and what they’ve been up to on the weekends, loosen up a bit and meet them on their level.
Of course, you always want to display an appropriate level of professionalism, no matter which client you’re communicating with, but adapt just enough to make them feel comfortable and welcome.
Always look for appropriate opportunities to incorporate feedback into client communication. Then, hopefully, they will do the same. Being open and authentic can produce a smoother communication process.