Whether you’re a freelancer or working for an organization, one common element that’s going to predict your success as a service provider is your relationship with your client.
Be it designing a product or developing software when you work in alliance with a client on something of importance to them, it becomes a collective effort on both ends. That amalgamation determines the success of not only the end product but also of your growth in the field.
Along with bearing in mind some of the technical and legal aspects of working with a client, it is important for you, as the service provider to be mindful of certain soft skills while interacting with your client.
First things first- when a client comes to you with a project, there is no way that you can read their minds with regards to what all they need from you to begin the process.
Questions will have to be asked, and answers will have to be provided (by both parties).
And not just any questions; as the service provider, your questions need to have a purpose, and your answers need to reflect clarity.
Here are a few important questions to ask yourself as a service provider when working with a client:
- What is the client’s requirement? Am I qualified and well-equipped with the necessary tools and skills to provide them with what they want?
- What mode of delivery will suit their purpose?
Moving ahead, before diving into the soft skills aspect of this topic, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of communicating effectively with a client.
Why is it important to have good communication with your client?
Like I mentioned above, there is no way that you or your client for that matter can read each other’s minds. In order to know what the client wants you will have to take the baton and make your way towards understanding their needs and priorities related to the product.
When you communicate directly and purposefully with your client/s it shows them that you not only value them but also your own self which includes your time, skills and expertise. This in turn contributes to building your image in the market of your field.
Here are some key points that call attention to the importance of communicating effectively with your clients:
Better service, thus better product
Effective communication results in better services, which in turn reflects in the outcome.
No loopholes or misunderstandings
Good communication, as you may be aware, never leaves room for loopholes and misunderstandings. There are no gaps in the details provided for the desired product or service because everything is kept on the table.
Proof of your understanding
Effective communication also highlights your understanding of what the client needs. It gives your client proof that you have actually understood their requirements and are willing to be at their service.
Lastly, indulging in the process of communicating effectively results in a common or a shared vocabulary between you and your client which not only reinforces your professional relationship but also saves time while working on the project.
Having understood the importance of communicating effectively with your client/s, let’s take a look at some of the mistakes you can and should avoid while doing so:
How to avoid miscommunication with your client/s
Although the basic nature of your work/product will remain the same, there are going to be different elements that different clients will need for their products.
Every client that comes to you will have different requirements for their products. You cannot assume that your recent client will have the same demands as the last one.
Another point to be remembered here is that encourage your client to ask you questions, they may have understood you on the surface, but may still have doubts about the depth.
Speaking more, listening less
You may know more than your client about the product in general, but your client knows more about what they need in terms of the product.
Giving your client space to think and express clearly will help you work on the product better.
Minutes of the Meeting (MOM)
Document your conversations from your meetings for professional and work-related references in the future.
Cataloging important elements will be helpful for the sake of the product.
Aside from these major aspects of miscommunication, other basic points that you need to mindful of are:
- Not interrupting your client.
- Maintaining eye contact while talking to them.
- Assuming a proper physical posture while you’re with your client.
- Avoiding multi-tasking while interacting with clients.
Now, in order to help you form a collective picture of effective communication with clients, following are some concrete tips that you can imbibe in your communicating style.
7 Tools of Effective Communication with Clients
Simply knowing the reason why effective communication is important won’t really help you win the battle. Familiarizing yourself with the necessary tools will make the process much easier for you.
Here are 7 practical tools for communicating effectively:
- Establishing a Human Connection
- Setting Boundaries
- Add a personal touch
- Know your client’s company/brand
- Understand and use different channels of communication
- Speak clearly
1. Establishing a Human Connection
Befriending your client, keeping professional etiquette in mind, will benefit both you and the client. When you have this sort of informal yet professional rapport, working together seems less superficial and more real.
When establishing this so-called human connection with your client, you are binding yourself with their purpose, with their product or design. This will act as an incentive for you, as the service provider to work with better efficiency.
“Because thinking of yourself as a member of your clients’ teams forces you to put yourself in their shoes, and putting yourself in their shoes enables you to more closely align with their ultimate goal: to grow their businesses.“Connor Bond, WordStream
Having said that, a good client-service provider relationship makes empathy a natural part of the process. Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of the other person. Basically, it is looking at a situation from the standpoint of someone else.
A genuine connection between both parties will make the process more human with an increase in the tolerance levels of both parties.
2. Setting Boundaries
I am not denying the importance of establishing a strong connection with your client, especially for the sake of the product or design that you both are working on. But it is very important to set boundaries within that realm of connection.
Boundaries help in making clear the roles that both you and your client are supposed to play. They allow you to function within the framework of rules appropriate for your separate roles. This practice proves to be beneficial in avoiding any misunderstandings and awkward situations between you and your client.
I want to mention to aspects under this sub-topic that are of relevance to the context that has been established here:
Client’s comfort zone
When you’re working for and with a client, there may be an unsaid power dynamic between the two. Where you, more often than not, may perceive yourself as the “expert” on the subject matter and will think of the client as someone who is less knowledgable in that area.
Well, refrain from thinking in this manner. Yes, the client may not be theoretically and practically oriented in the area of interest, but that doesn’t mean that you push them to agree to something that you think will be good or helpful for their product.
It is, without a doubt, your duty to inform them about the various alternatives and pros and cons related to the product, but you cannot decide something for them. The ball should always be in their court.
Respecting their comfort zone and letting them decide what they want with regards to the upcoming product will improve your functioning as a duo.
What you can do is use your skills and expertise to educate them about the necessary terms and conditions of the process. This will increase your value for them and will help your relationship with them grow in a favorable direction.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a professional is very important. It gives you and your client a reality check.
There’s no shame in being honest about what you cannot do professionally. It simply means that you are letting your client know what all services will you be able to provide, except a few. This level of self-awareness and honesty is respected everywhere and by everyone.
It also adds to the essence of the first point that I mentioned, about establishing a human connection.
When you know your capabilities, and when you acknowledge them, you are in a way establishing a boundary with regards to what you can and cannot bring to the table.
Following what I wrote above, Honesty and Transparency between you and your client about everything related to the product is very important.
You need to inform them about what they need to know and when they need to know it. Make them an active part of the creative process.
Show them how much expense they are incurring as well as where is all that being invested in.
Make sure you communicate every detail explicitly, leaving nothing “to be discussed later”. Respect the urgency of the process and work according to the client’s needs.
Another important aspect under this sub-topic is asking questions when you are unsure or completely unaware of the answers. When you ask questions, it shows that you care and are invested in the process of working on their project.
In addition to the above points, being transparent about your availability outside working hours is very important. Avoid making false promises to your clients about being available on call or email 24/7. Set realistic time boundaries for work and make sure that you abide by them.
4. Add a personal touch
Wanting to stand out from other service providers out there is something many of you aim to achieve. Easier said than done, it takes time and effort to establish yourself as someone who has something different and unique to offer to the client.
While the technical services may not differ that much from other service providers, but what you can incorporate in your quest of standing out is personalizing the experience for the client.
Going the extra mile and providing informational support to the client, based on what is important to them will definitely make you come off as someone who genuinely cares for the client and their needs. It shows that you are professionally invested in them and their product.
One way that you can personalize this process is by sending hand-written notes.
Yes, you read that right.
Hand-written letters, though considered to be old-school, have been considered to add value to the user experience in the digital age.
They add a humane element to your communication.
“To write is human; to receive a letter: Divine.”Susan Lendroth
Considering the current pandemic-driven situation, hand-written letters mean a lot to people. It gives them reassurance that there’s another human being on the other end of this communication thread and not an algorithm.
The hand-written notes that you send to your clients can include things like how much this project means to you and how it has helped you grow as a professional. It can contain updates of the project with the logo of their brand or company on the side. This will help them understand your dedication towards the project and will strengthen the communication that goes on between the two of you henceforth.
5. Know your client’s company / brand
As a part of your research, know everything that there is about your client’s company/brand. This will boost your image in front of them as a working professional and will fasten the process of working on the product.
Your primary research about the client’s company/brand will set the base for other integral details that the client will provide you about the same. This context will enlighten you about what the clients and their company/brand need.
6. Understand and use different channels of communication
The technological advancements of this age have blessed us with a variety of channels of communication. Be it email, phone call, video call, or a presentation, presenting and communicating ideas has never been easier.
Having said that, we can’t overlook the challenging task of selecting the appropriate mode of communication. With so many options available, sometimes it gets difficult to filter out the ones that we need from the ones that don’t fulfill our purpose.
Here is an overview of the different modes of communication and when to use them:
- Email: Emails are best suited for giving updates, asking for permission, sharing heavy files and having a permanent record of data. A majority of working professionals prefer communicating over email because of its portability and accessibility.
- Phone call: When you’re professionally related to someone, the act of calling them on their cell phone can be frowned upon. This can be avoided by setting aside a time during the day when people can reach you via a phone call. Also, keep phone calls as a last resort when your client is not writing back to you about an important update for the product. Use this mode of communication in an SOS situation.
- Presentation: Presentations are the most appropriate when pitching an idea or a plan of action. Presentations give you the space to express as many ideas as you want along with the necessary and relevant side resources such as images, videos, graphs and charts. Pitching something using a presentation makes you come off as someone who is prepared and is well-versed with the work that needs to be done.
7. Speak clearly
Be it bad network over a phone call or an unstable internet connection during a video call, the risk of miscommunication or a gap in communication is very high.
With everything happening online these days, one needs to take extra measures to ensure that their message has been delivered to the respective party.
One way to ensure proper execution of communication is asking for clarification and confirmation. Your internet connection may not support you during an online meeting, but what you can do is ask for clarifications in case you missed out on something.
It never hurts to get your doubts cleared. Put in that extra effort and save yourself from regretting later.
Aside from the above-mentioned macro tools for improving communication between you and your client/s, keep in mind also the aspect of Flexibility.
In the current times that are dominated by boundary-less work hours, make sure to engage in flexible practices as per your and your clients’ needs.
How do you deal with miscommunication with clients?
Communication, being an integral part of our daily lives, is prone to ineffectiveness on our end, as humans, for various reasons. While some reasons may be out of our hands, many of those are fixable.
Dealing with miscommunication that has taken place between you and your client might not be the highlight of your tenure of working with them. But it is important to address it and bring to light your professional intentions.
Here are some effective client communication strategies to help you overcome the awkward phase that lingers after the damage:
Don’t avoid difficult conversations
Like every other relationship out there, your professional relationship will suffer from highs and lows as well.
Make it a point to confront systematically, and avoid avoiding a difficult conversation.
Avoiding it won’t make it go away. Instead, work on providing actionable feedback.
Maintain monthly strategies
Monthly strategies are nothing but a set of long-term and short-term goals that are designed keeping in mind the deadline set by the client for the product.
This setting is helpful in terms of re-assuring your client about your commitment to the project.
It is an effective tool in guiding you to stay on track and meet your daily/ weekly goals.
The contemporary take on effective communication has changed, leaving a lot of room for new, malleable and resilient trends. Your interaction with every client will be different for obvious reasons.
Make sure to be mindful of the context and use whatever tool/s best suits the situation and the project you’re working on.