When it comes to relationships, communication is everything. Poor communication can quickly lead to the demise of relationships, while good communication can help to sustain them in the long-term. The relationships with your clients are no different.
But while communication with your loved ones may come fairly naturally (hopefully, at least), effective client communication takes a good deal of practice and effort.
Whether you’re writing a client an email, talking with them on the phone, or having an in-person conversation with them, there are some communication tactics that you should abide by in order for that relationship to really last.
Here’s what they are:
1. Pay Attention to Your Tone of Voice
“It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Surely you have heard that phrase about a million times before. If you’re having an in-person or phone conversation with your client, pay attention to your tone of voice. Do you sound upbeat or bored? Happy or sad? If it’s one of the latter two, you might want to change that. Even if you have to fake it ‘til you make it!
2. Be Friendly
Whether you have a super upbeat and energetic personality or are more calm and laid-back doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that you are positive, friendly and personable. Treat your client like they are an old friend of yours. When you talk to them on the phone, ask them how their day is going and show a genuine interest in their lives.
3. Say “No” the Right Way
Nobody likes to hear the word “no.” Try to avoid this word in your client communication at all costs. If you have exhausted all other alternatives and “no” is the only option left, at least phrase the “no” in a more positive way. For instance, if your client asks if you can complete a project by a certain date, and you can’t, instead of saying “no, I’m sorry but that won’t be possible,” say something like, “I won’t be able to complete it by that date, but I can get it back to you in X amount of time. Is that okay?” The way that you phrase things makes a world of difference.
4. Practice Active Listening
A huge part of what makes a great conversationalist is someone who really listens. When someone else is talking, are you really taking in what they are saying or just thinking about what restaurant you are going to that night…or what you’re going to say next? We all have a tendency to let our minds wander from time to time, which is why active listening is not as easy as it sounds.
To become a better, more active listener (and better conversationalist), start here: Go to a quiet place with limited distractions. Don’t multitask (give the other person your full and undivided attention). Don’t interrupt. Take notes if you have to. And when the person is done speaking, paraphrase or summarize what was said, and provide feedback.
5. Be Consistent
You also want to make sure that you are consistent in your messaging and the way that you communicate with your clients. From their very first interaction with you, your clients will develop certain expectations. If you are friendly and concise the first time around and then come off as stand-offish and garrulous the next, your client will inevitably be a bit thrown off.
Think about your brand image, values and how you want to be portrayed. And talk to your colleagues. How do they communicate? Make sure that your team is all on the same page and that you are all presenting yourself in a similar fashion.
6. Speak Their Language
Part of great communication is adapting your style to the person that you are speaking with. If your client uses a very formal tone, respond in a formal tone. If they are more casual and playful, respond similarly. This doesn’t mean that you have to be an entirely different person or change the way you are—but if you want your client to feel a stronger bond with you, you should adapt your communication style to fit theirs.
7. Pay Attention to Formatting
When styling your emails or documents, pay close attention to the formatting. To make your message more readable, create lists whenever possible. Bold important words or phrases. And use ample spacing throughout.
8. Be Clear & Concise
Chances are, your client is short on time. And they don’t have time to try to interpret an email that you send them or a long, convoluted voicemail that you leave them. So don’t be vague. Be as clear and specific as possible in your delivery. And don’t be verbose. Cut to the chase and say what you have to say in as few words as possible.
9. Always Say Please and Thank You
Sometimes, it’s the basic, little things that mean the most. I was out at a restaurant a few weeks ago and each time the waiter came over, he said “thank you” (often when it wasn’t even necessary, like in response to my “thank you”)! It really stuck out at me. Especially because I had remembered that the last time I was at the same restaurant, the other waiter who served me did the same thing (excellent consistency in communication).
So if they aren’t already, make “please” and “thank you” a part of your vocabulary—and don’t be afraid to overuse them.
10. Make Things Easy for Them
Like I said, your client is short on time. So when you’re communicating with your client, you want to make things as easy as possible for them. For example, provide them with a direct link to whatever you are referencing to, so that they don’t have to look it up themselves. Before a meeting, provide them with some questions that you’ll have for them, so that they can be more prepared and won’t be caught off-guard. Think of every single way that you can save your clients time, even if it’s just 15 seconds.
11. Anticipate Questions
Before getting into each meeting, be prepared for the questions that you will probably be asked and know how you would respond to each one. When composing an email, avoid the perpetual and unnecessary back and forth, and think about questions that you client might have before they even get a chance to ask them. Are they going to ask you for an ETA on a project or to elaborate a bit further on a point that you made? It helps to reread your email once you are done drafting it and really ask yourself if you are being proactive and answering any possible questions that you can.
12. Ask Questions as Needed
On that note, don’t be shy about asking questions yourself. It’s always better to ask too many questions than to not ask any and end up more confused. Asking questions shows curiosity and it shows that you care. So chances are, you clients will appreciate it.
13. Pay Attention to Non-Verbals
Verbal and written communication isn’t the only thing that matters—non-verbal communication is just as important. When you’re talking with your client in-person, pay attention to how you are presenting yourself non-verbally. What is your posture like? How’s your body language? Are you making eye contact?
I’ll admit that there have definitely been a few times that I’ve been conversing with someone on my team and, after summarizing the main points that were discussed and the next action steps, we found that there was some miscommunication.
When you are wrapping up a conversation or meeting with a client or responding to one of their emails, paraphrase or summarize the main points that were discussed. This will accomplish two things: It will show that you were listening (as mentioned in point #4), and it will ensure that there are no mixed messages being exchanged. Don’t miss this step, because if you do, you may end up making a costly mistake that could have been easily avoided.
Lastly, in all of your written communication, proofread, proofread and proofread some more! The quickest way to undermine your credibility is to send out an email or document ridden with spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. So make sure that everything you send out is error-free.
The way that you communicate with your clients can determine whether those relationships are long-lasting or short-lived. So be intentional about your communication. Follow these tactics, and I’ve got a hunch that your client relationships will go the distance.