Good communication is vital to building long-term relationships with clients. Research shows that businesses lose clients primarily due to communication problems that lead to a negative experience. As a remote worker, this makes communication even more vital as it is the most effective way to build trust and retain business when you have minimal contact with your clients. So, if you’re looking to enhance your client relationships, here are some practical tips to optimize your communication efforts.
Remote workers face unique challenges in the remote world, especially when communicating with clients and building relationships. This is due to several factors. First, whether you’re a telecommuter or a freelancer, chances are you work independently and are not required to check in with clients frequently. In addition, meeting in person may not be practical due to location or lack of meeting space. Other obstacles to communication can include things like phone charges, different time zones, and a lack of technical expertise.
With the technology we have available today, there is no lack of ways to communicate. You can send written information via email, text, or instant messaging application. Using a telephone, cell phone, or your computer, you can speak to your clients. Or you can see and talk to your clients by video conferencing or even meeting in person. No matter which communication mediums you decide to employ, there are a set of practices that you should incorporate when communicating with clients. Below are 13 principles that will help you communicate effectively with clients and ensure your business success.
1. Set Expectations
Every client will have their own communication preferences. This includes what type of information they want to receive, how often they receive it, and in what format they want to receive it. For example, some clients will prefer the phone, or email, or video calls. They may want a weekly report, daily update, and/or notification when milestones are achieved. They may want expansive details or just an overview.
Understanding what communication your client expects from you is key to developing a positive client relationship. When you first start working with a client, capture this information. From this, you can develop a communication plan with clients that keeps them happy and satisfied.
2. Make a Plan
Developing a communication plan for your clients can be an invaluable tool to help you stay on track. Try creating a chart of your communications. Include how you will make contact as well as how often and what information you need to provide. Make sure to transfer this information to your calendar so you can receive reminders and adhere to your plan.
The information does not always have to be strictly about the business you have with the client. You can also use your creativity and identify information that’s useful or interesting such as related news articles or upcoming promotions. This proactive approach to communicating with clients will promote relationship building.
3. Embrace Active Listening
Active listening embraces actual listening to what another person is saying rather than just hearing them speak. Most of the time when people are in a conversation, they are not really listening. They are just waiting to make their next comment. This leads to missing or misunderstanding key messages.
Instead of thinking about what you want to say next, focus on what the client is saying. Take notes in order to improve your concentration and listening skills. Then, once the client has finished speaking, review what they have said to make sure you have accurately understood their message.
You can practice active listening even if you are communicating with clients via email or messaging apps. Make sure you fully read and understand the entire message. When responding, begin with a short summary of what they wrote to ensure accuracy.
4. Avoid Over-Familiarity
With the proliferation of informal methods of communicating with clients such as texting or messaging apps, the tendency is to loosen the rules of business formality. A certain amount of informality may be necessary and even positive when developing relationships. However, communication can become too casual and come across as disrespectful. Remember that this is a business relationship and a minimum level of professionalism is almost always required.
How do you do this? Identify a strategy for maintaining professionalism in each communication channel. For example, when video-calling, always wear business casual clothing and sit in your home office. It’s best not to call from the beach in swimwear. When emailing, always include a professional greeting and signature. Don’t just launch into the body of the message. When texting or messaging, capitalize and use complete sentences. No abbreviations, OMG!
5. Stay Positive!
There is nothing more off-putting than a Nervous Nellie or a Danny Downer. When communicating with clients, be positive, optimistic, and upbeat at all times. Clients have their own problems and they don’t want to hear that the job you are supposed to do is a problem, too.
This is not to say that you won’t encounter problems when doing your work, or that you shouldn’t report them. You will, and you should. However, it’s all in how you frame it. Below are three easy ways to ensure positive communications:
- Avoid negative words and rephrase in a more hopeful way. To take a well-used example, there are no problems, only challenges.
- Always report the upside—because there is one, even if it’s only that you’ll know better next time.
- Supply a solution. If you must give your client bad news, make sure you provide them with a way to resolve the situation.
6. Be Upfront with Mistakes
Don’t hesitate to come forward when a mistake is made. This will only come back to haunt you, and it may cost you a lot more than a little embarrassment in the end. Remote workers already struggle with building trust and loyalty with clients, and mishandling a situation like this can destroy the relationship.
So, what do you do when you make a mistake? First, apologize, admit your mistake, take responsibility, and empathize with how your mistake will affect the client. For example, “I’m sorry that I made this mistake. I understand that it will set you back a week on the timeline.” Following that, you can explain what happened and how you will prevent it from happening again.
7. Demonstrate Empathy
As mentioned above, empathizing with clients can go a long way to building a good relationship. If your client does not feel that you understand them or their business, then they will doubt your ability to fill their needs.
Take the time when communicating with clients to put yourself in their shoes. Identify what challenges and pressures they are facing. If possible, work to alleviate those pressures. However, just by acknowledging them with your client, they will feel like you are on their side and looking out for their best interests.
Transparency refers to ensuring that your clients have all the information that they need. Whether your client wants all the details or just a bird’s eye view, it’s up to you to make sure they get the information they need. Skipping this step can lead to problems if mistakes are made and the path leading to the current situation has been obscured or withheld. When communicating with clients, make sure to walk them through all of the necessary data to keep them fully informed.
Not all clients communicate in ways that are familiar or comfortable to you. Unfortunately, this is not your client’s problem. You need to adapt, adjust, and learn new ways of communicating with clients as necessary to promote trust and build relationships.
While this may mean learning new software, it also may include going back to more traditional communication methods. A client’s preferred communication method will depend on many factors including their personality, industry, work history, and perhaps most tellingly, age. Usually, younger clients will be more fluent in new technologies than older clients.
As you plan and implement your client communication plans, monitor the results closely. Pay attention to how your communications are received and the responses. Ask for feedback on a regular basis and implement changes as necessary.
11. Avoid Jargon
While a lack of regular communication can cause problems in client relationships, sometimes the problem lies with the words used. A lot of times your client will not be an expert in your job field, and depending on the nature of your job field, you may have a significant amount of jargon or industry-specific terms that you use regularly.
It’s important to be sensitive to using words or concepts that your client may be unfamiliar with. When in doubt, don’t use them. In fact, you may benefit from learning the language of your client’s field in order to establish rapport.
12. Don’t Overcommunicate
Today, almost everyone’s inbox is filled to overflowing every day, not to mention social media news feeds and internal messaging applications. Clients are like everyone else. They’re always dealing with information overload. Make sure that each communication is meaningful and contains important information. If you send too many messages without useful content, you run the risk of your client becoming frustrated or ignoring your communications altogether. When you have something really important to say, you may not have an audience. That’s problematic.
13. Follow-up and Summarize
After communicating with clients, take some time to go over the communication and summarize the important points and action items. Then, follow-up with your client with this information to make sure you are on the same page. This is a vital step that prevents misunderstandings and provides a trail of communication that can be reviewed in the future.
Being a remote worker can make communicating with clients a challenge. Despite advances in technology, it is still easy to have miscommunications and misunderstandings that can cause you to lose clients. However, by incorporating the above tips, you can build positive and productive client relationships based on mutual respect.
iStock image: fizkes
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