Let’s take a detailed look at the topic of communicating with clients.
Many of the tips that are mentioned can apply to communication in general, but this post comes specifically from the perspective of a designer/client relationship.
1. Start with a Solid Foundation
Communication is of critical importance during the early stages of the client process. At this time you will need to get to know the client’s business as well as possible. You’ll want to understand the products and services that they offer, their corporate culture, and what makes them unique to their customers. Additionally, you should get a solid understanding of their customers and what they will be looking for when they do business with your client. It’s also important to understand the client’s specific goals.
By taking the time up front to communicate with the client and to build this solid foundation for the project/campaign you can save time and avoid miscommunication later.
Some clients may be hesitant to dedicate much time before the project begins for this type of communication. When that is the case it can be helpful to explain that all of this is important in order for you to provide marketing recommendations that will truly work for their business and for their customers. Emphasize that taking this time up front can help to make the process smoother and quicker, and will avoid costly mistakes later.
2. Have a Method or a System
It is a good idea to have a standard process for client intake. In addition, it’s also helpful to have a method or system for client communication beyond this point. If you are just responding to emails or phone calls as they come in with no records or organization, chances are you could benefit from putting a system in place.
3. Do More Listening Than Talking
It is important to emphasize the need to listen and let the client provide you with the information that will help you to do the best job possible. Of course there will be plenty of times where the clients should be doing the listening, but especially during the initial stages when you are just getting to know about their business, be sure to place the most value in listening to what they have to say.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Misunderstandings will always lead to wasted time, so don’t be afraid to ask the client questions that will help you to get on the same page. Your clients are busy – so they may be in a hurry when you are talking to them, but don’t let that discourage you from getting the information that will help you to do your job for them.
Many clients won’t give a lot of information to you about their business or their customers unless you ask because they may not see the need for you to fully understand their business. So you may have to be proactive and ask a number of questions.
5. Be Patient with Your Explanations
The typical client does not have a great understanding of advertising/marketing, and that is why they are hiring you. As you are explaining things to them throughout the process, be patient and remember that this is probably not an aspect of their business that they are very comfortable with.
6. Explain Your Reasons and Thought Processes
As you give your opinions throughout the process it is important that you also explain to the client why you are giving that advice. Clients will often want you to do something that you don’t think is a good idea. When those situations arise, rather than just doing it the way they want or doing it your way with no explanation, take the time to demonstrate to them why you think it is important and what the potential impacts can be.
Clients will typically see things as they appear on the surface, but from your experience you may know that there is more to be considered in the situation. When this is the case you need to explain to the client the other factors that are involved and why you feel a certain way based on the research you have gathered on their business at this point.
7. Give Advice When Needed
Be a consultant to your client. Clients know that you have more expertise in this area than they do and they’ll trust that you are interested in doing what is best for them and their business.
Don’t be afraid to advise clients based on your professional experience.
8. Avoid Jargon
One of the biggest frustrations for clients is when you talk to them with terms and phrases that they don’t understand (at least explain what they mean).
9. Avoid Assumptions
Assuming that the client understands certain things or that they want something a particular way can lead to miscommunication. If you’re unsure about something, take a minute and ask the client rather than assuming and causing a lot of work that needs to be re-done later.
One thing that can help your communication, particularly when you are explaining things to clients or giving them choices, is to use real-world examples. Explaining options over the phone or through email can be challenging, and at times ineffective.
10. Make Your Communication Count
Because your clients are busy, most of them will not want to be constantly receiving emails or phone calls about the project/campaign. Try to put your questions together in one email rather than sending 4 different ones. Additionally, make an effort to be as clear as possible when you communicate so there is no need to go back and forth several times just to understand the issue at hand.
11. Put it in Writing
One of the reasons that email communication is effective is because it gives you and the client a record of what has been said. There may be times where it is necessary for customer service or for legal purposes to have a record of what was said, by whom, and when. Aside from email, other types of CRM tools can also help for record keeping.
For situations where you are talking to clients on the phone, it’s a good practice to type notes after you get off the phone to summarize what was discussed, and of course you will want to include the date and the names of the specific people that you spoke to.
Another option is to send a summary of the conversation to your clients by email. This may be overkill for short calls just to discuss one point, but it could be helpful with longer, more detailed calls.
12. Keep it Professional
While you are communicating with clients, whether it be face-to-face, telephone, or email, always stay professional. Clients are paying for your services and they will expect you to conduct your business in a professional manner, so avoid things that could cause them to see you differently. That’s not to say that you can’t get to know your clients on a more personal level, but remember that what you say and write can impact the client/agency relationship.