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How to communicate with clients, and why it matters

October 2, 2018

Team Management

In any deal, and in every business, our clients are central to our work. After all, they’re why we’re here. We can’t do business without them. We need them and they need us. The relationships we build and maintain with our clients determine how we work. Though there are expectations on both sides of the deal, and sometimes things go wrong - or at least, not to plan - dealing with clients and balancing the relationship with the demands of the work can be stressful at times. In fact, let’s be honest, some clients can be pretty difficult to deal with at times.

As with everything in the world of work, it all comes down to effective communication. We need to create a culture with our clients, based on open, honest and clear communication on both sides. Building a shared experience around a shared vocabulary, and understanding each other’s perspective on the job builds trust, a crucial element in every successful working relationship.

Our relationships with clients are ultimately about one person talking to another, so keeping things human and informal is a good footing to work from. People appreciate us taking a friendly approach, and it helps us empathise with the client, to see things from their point of view. The personal touch works every time. Without fail. It’s not unprofessional, either. In fact, it’s the opposite. Our clients will see us as having their interests at heart, wanting to deliver what they expect and in the way they expect again. There's that trust again.

We need to understand our client’s expectations clearly. What do they want, and when? Obviously, each client, every deal has different influencing factors. But we all have a unique insight into the work we do, and it’s important for us to be able to use that knowledge to guide our client to the project's end point. Understanding the clients values and knowing what drives them will help us engage them, and once we are in that position, its easier for us to target the communication, to keep it specific, focused and reliable.

We should also remember to ask questions, to get feedback on how we’re progressing and how they feel about the project. It makes it easier to head off any potential problems further down the line, by opening up to our clients and encouraging them to share any constructive criticism. It’s not always easy or comfortable to hear feedback, but it builds that essential trust and strengthens the human connection between us.

What if something goes wrong? How do we limit the damage, minimise the fallout, and keep the peace? Firstly, we need to keep calm and move quickly. The longer a problem is left, the bigger it becomes and the more damage done. Here’s where that empathy comes into play. By understanding the client’s perspective, we’re better equipped to turn the negativity around and solve the problem. What if it’s the client’s fault, though? What if they messed up? It doesn’t matter. The blame game won’t help. It’s counter-productive because it just involves more negativity and there’s a good chance it won’t end well. It might be a tough call, but taking responsibility for it, owning it and tackling it head on would build a new respect in the client. And if they scream and shout? We listen. And if they’re angry? We just listen. Let them get all out, without reacting, then we can move forward to find a solution. It’s always important to remember that there is a solution. They'll remember our patience, and the fact that we took it as seriously as them. Even if it **was** their fault.

The customer isn't always right, but they are always there. We need them. It’s crucial that we bring our clients in, that we collaborate with them, communicate regularly, and involve them in the work through feedback. Its not us or them. It’s us AND them. After all, our clients are why we’re here.

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