In business, maintaining strong client relationships is vital. On any given day, it’s not uncommon for all levels of employees to regularly speak with clients on the phone, via email or even in person.
These encounters can either make or break a company. Clients who feel as though they’re not being heard or misunderstood may cut ties and take their business elsewhere. This is especially true in email where tone and nuances are often missed. Unhappy client experiences are situations that could have been avoided if the business had better communication practices.
To avoid this pitfall, consider implementing the following communications tactics when dealing with clients.
Be quick and to the point
Clients are busy. They don’t have the time to read long emails, review several attachments, engage in unproductive meetings, or participate in marathon phone calls. So look for ways to save them as much time as possible. Have a meeting scheduled? Send them an agenda or questions in advance so they’re prepared to move through the information needed and not be caught off guard. Need to send an email? Be clear, concise and to the point. In other words, say what is needed in as few words as possible. Everyone will be appreciative in the end.
Speak their language
When interacting with a client, it’s important to note their comfort zone. Are they older and perhaps enjoy talking more by phone or in-person? Or are they younger and prefer touching base through social media or via a video conference? Understanding how (and where) clients like to talk is important. Adapting to their communication style contributes to the health of the relationship and creates stronger bonds that will last. Lucrum has a communication checklist for our new clients; one of the questions on it pertains to preferred forms of communication. We learned early on that it’s easier to be up front and ask then try to guess and be frustrated.
Know how to say “no”
Business is driven by exemplary customer service. It’s about giving clients what they want, when they want it. But what if what the client is asking for is simply unrealistic or doesn’t fit the services or products they’ve agreed to purchase?
First, know that it’s okay to say “no,” but be gentle. For example, if a client is requesting a project by a date that simply can’t be met, let them down easy and offer a solution. Say something like, “Unfortunately your proposed date doesn’t fit into our production calendar; however, our team can make it a priority next week and have it to you by XX date. Will this work?” The tone of this communication says “no,” while also making the client’s project feel as though it’s still top of mind. Success. The same is true for clients who are needy and consume more time than they have contracted for. At some point, we all need to firmly but politely put our foot down and bring the relationship back into balance.
Be an active listener
So many times in communication, it’s easy to miss what is being said because too much focus is being placed on what to say next in response. Stop. Instead, start listening to what the client is saying in real time. This will help cut down on any future miscommunication. A good practice to start implementing is paraphrasing. After a meeting or a conversation on email, summarize the main points back to the individual so everyone is on the same page. This behavior actually cuts down on mixed messages, keeping both the project and the relationship moving in the right direction. We hear it also works really well in the home with your spouse, but we aren’t marriage counselors!
Read forwards and backwards
The written word is tough to master. Thankfully in today’s digital age, Microsoft Word and Outlook are equipped with Spell Check, dictionaries, and thesauruses, negating any excuse for the presence of typos or grammatical errors in proposals, emails, etc. In fact, the quickest way a business owner can undermine their credibility with a client is to share a document that is riddled with mistakes that could have been easily avoided if they had just taken the time to proofread their work. Look at it from the client’s perspective; they’re thinking: if this business owner can’t even write a simple sentence, how are they going to manage my extensive portfolio?
Ashley Cooke, owner of Red Cape Design, understands this concept. As a marketing expert, the success of his company relies on him delivering “clean” copy to clients. His tip? “I always have a colleague proofread any proposal or collateral piece I create for a client,” says Cooke. “Having a fresh set of eyes review my work before it’s delivered to the client makes a difference, ensuring my projects are client-ready and error-free.”
If your business’s client communication needs fine-tuning, reach out to the Lucrum Consulting team for assistance. We can be reached at 704.927.0462.