When it comes to maintaining long-term work relationships with your clients, communication is the best way to stand out. It truly is the difference between having clients that will be with you for 15 years and those that move on immediately after they finish their first project with you.
This is where most freelancers and agencies fall short because it’s easy to solely focus on deliverables. But falling into this state of mind as a business owner is what will, unfortunately, not lead to a memorable experience and will make you easy to replace.
Rest assured – here at Atarim, we’re dedicated to helping WordPress design & development businesses scale by managing effective & peaceful client communication. Overall helping them reduce overall project completion time. In this article, we’ll outline simple yet essential client communication rules that we’ve learned the hard way along my journey from a 1 to a 12-person WordPress web design agency…
Take Your Time to Familiarize Yourself With Your Clients
Long story short: Every client is different.
From the moment you first interact with a new lead, subconsciously take note of how they communicate, what their average response time is, and gauge what they would, in turn, expect from you if you are to eventually work together.
Taking the time to understand the principles of how they communicate with you provides valuable insight into the way they’d expect you to communicate with them too. While we’re not suggesting that you should meet every demand that they have and completely communicate on their terms, it’s a great way to ensure client expectations are on the same level.
Aside from this, there’s even more to learn from clients that you’ve been working with for a longer time. Make sure to go through previous projects you’ve done with them and take note of preferences they’ve made in the past with regards to things as simple as where invoices should be sent and what timezones they’re in so you don’t keep asking the same question over and over again. As your team grows, it’s important to store such information in a centralized location such as a CRM or Google Sheet so that anyone can access it and refer to it during the course of a project.
A crucial thing to keep in mind when it comes to your client relationships – much like any other – is to be completely straightforward with them.
Businesses love it when agencies and freelancers are transparent with their process and keep them in the loop throughout. Showing them that you’re not just trying to make work sound more complicated than it actually is really matters because there are a lot of bad actors out there. Similarly, don’t take transparency too far, most of the time clients aren’t really interested in how you do things – all they really care about is the outcome and timeline, so anything which could affect that should be communicated with them in a timely manner.
Learn How To React to Their Feedback
Maintaining confidence with clients is sometimes more difficult than it seems. During the course of working together, clients will often jump in with their own suggestions on what the best way to do what they’re asking you to do is. This may be like they’re telling you how to do your job but remember, although they hired you (as an expert) to complete a job for them you still need to be respectful of their suggestions.
And after all, if you really are sure of yourself, responding to their comments or suggestions should be easy to do…
Even if the end product you’ll be delivering is good, they may still have preferences on certain aspects of the project (which is their right), so do not be abrupt and disregard any suggestions that they make. Regardless of whether you completely disagree with your client’s suggestions, let them know why and have distinct boundaries.
One such example for a WordPress web design agency would, for example, be to not use whatever theme the client asks you to. A response to that could be something along the line of
“Hey, I completely understand why you might want to use [theme name], but I have more experience with [personal theme preference] and would only be able to deliver our best possible work if we are to use it…“
If you’re in the early stages of your business replying with statements such as the above can seem daunting and you really shouldn’t do it unless you’re in a position where losing a client that isn’t the best possible fit is something that you’re comfortable with – especially financially.
When it comes to the simplest of conflicts, they couldn’t be easier to resolve:
- Identify whether you’re willing to adapt.
- Let them know why you’d prefer to do things differently and how it would benefit them at the end.
- And most importantly, don’t push it – coming across as someone who is against change, unable to receive feedback and criticism is unprofessional.
If you disagree, there has to be a specific reason and logic behind it, not just an outright rejection of something you’re unfamiliar with.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Clients have their own obligations, problems and life. This is especially true when you’re working with larger companies where your point of contact may not be the business owner – and will in turn be someone who is acting as a middleman (or woman) to pass messages along which leads to important information being lost in the process…
When you show the client and even explicitly say to them that you understand the situation that you’re in so you can work to develop a cordial relationship with your main point of contact, this is the most rewarding approach in the long-term. Clients will feel as if you know their business, and understand the way things work there so moving on to work with another agency or freelancer would seem like too much of a hassle because that’s a learning curve that they would have to go through all over again.
Adapt to the way that you communicate with them. If they are informal with the way they address you, you should do the same. If they are extremely formal, and you are trying to play it safe, then you should maintain the same level of formality.
Honestly, I had no idea how much of an impact this had on communication and understanding, but not following this for the longest time led to clients feeling as if we were cold or just simply not on the same wavelength as their team. The moment I adopted their informal style of communication, their entire team welcomed me with open arms and started to treat me as a business partner rather than just some outsourced contractor.
While the previous section about adapting to the communication style of your clients is important, this doesn’t mean you should ditch everything you believe in.
Especially when there is a language barrier clients may often skip basic politeness once they’ve known you for a longer time (because it’s essentially implied), but this doesn’t mean you should do the same.
Don’t shy away from using words like ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’ and please, and even overuse them. These simple prompts in written communication are essential in showing your clients they’re a valued customer and you care what they say.
Even in situations where your clients are very direct, you should always match them with your standard tone of communication on that front. It’s not uncommon for clients to be pushy, overdemanding, and controlling especially when it comes to timeline and unrealistic expectations. While initially, it can seem that they aren’t respecting you or your time, the best way for them to notice this and come back down to earth is for you to communicate as you normally would.
Be Reliable & Consistent
The Key To Being Great Is Just Being Good But Consistently
One of the biggest client communication pitfalls is lack of consistency. Businesses want to work with people and other businesses that they can rely on. If your response rate is 24 hours one week, it can’t be 4 days the next week.
This fluctuation although natural on your end will come across as unreliable to clients so you need to deliver on the expectations you set from day 1. We’ve all fallen victim to setting high expectations and over-delivering in the early days of working with clients in an effort to impress them, but all this really does is harm us in the long-term because we set unrealistic expectations.
Changing the way you communicate with your clients frequently will make you appear unreliable, inconsistent and they just all-round won’t know what to expect which is obviously something you wish to avoid as it may make the client look elsewhere for their next project.
Show Up On Time
When it comes to time, this really goes without saying. but you have to respect your clients’ time. Make plans so you can be ready for meetings 5-10 minutes before they start to get into the right mindset and pull up anything you need to have ready for meetings. Being late gives the impression that you’re not taking them seriously which is obviously something you want to avoid.
Show You Care With Personalized Communication
As a service provider, it’s important that you develop an image when addressing clients and potential clients.
One way of showing that you’re different from the average service provider is showing clients or potential clients that you care. I consistently stay in touch with leads, and share industry news or information that they likely missed so they can capitalize on it (even if it is without my help). Being present for clients and potential clients to show them that you care stands out from the rest which only really care about doing work that is going to make a difference on the bottom line.
Obviously making money is extremely important, but when you reach the point where you can invest time into doing things that you believe in – i.e. what I would refer to as business development, that’s what will truly impress clients and make you an asset to their internal team.
Be Clear About Where Communication Happens
Inevitably all agencies and freelancers will need to use email. As much as we try to get away from it, it’s always going to be there because it’s the standard way to send invoices to clients and it’s the way businesses communicate with their accountants.
But, the most common mistake we see agencies make which leads to massive growing pains down the line is not using a centralized system like Atarim to handle client requests.
If you don’t keep this in check before you know it, you’ll end up using Slack, Trello, Basecamp, Teamwork, and 15 other services to communicate with all of the clients you have and managing everything across all these services is impossible to scale.
Take your time to develop an effective way to communicate with your clients. Create email lists for separate clients and projects. Make regular use of social media for your existing as well as potential clients – and don’t be afraid to be present on as many of these as possible. Be always available to your clients.
Atarim helps you maintain communication with your clients and makes it easy for them to get in touch with you directly from your website. With it managing dozens of websites and the most difficult of clients becomes easy and agencies reduce project completion time by an average of two weeks.
Jump Straight To The Point With BLUF – A Military Communication Standard
BLUF is an acronym used by the military – it stands for “bottom line up front” – and is a communication standard designed to enforce speed and clarity.
In principle, it’s very simple. Put the most important details that you can’t afford anyone to miss first. Don’t tease or wait before revealing your main point because people are busy and their time is valuable.
And always provide context. Whether you’re asking for help or organizing a call, the BLUf communications standard internally and with clients reduces the amount of mental energy the recipient of one of your messages needs to do to help you. This is a brilliant example of what not to do:
1:54 PM Hey, I need your help.
1:55 PM I have a question.
Asking someone a simple question like this just to gauge whether they’re available might not seem like it takes a lot of time but add up dozens, if not 100s of these per day or week and it adds up. Every time a notification like this pops up it takes their attention away from focused work leading to sloppy communication which becomes a huge waste of time.
What does this look like in practice?
Hey – quick question do you have any examples of web design agencies that are using Atarim as an integral part of their agency?
Nope – while this isn’t a huge waste of time like the first example, it still lacks important context that is essential to allow the recipient to fully help you.
Hey – quick question: do you know of any good examples of web design agencies that are using Atarim as an integral part of their agency? I’m looking for some examples that we can use for future case studies and some insight into the more engaged customers would be extremely helpful.
Note that, the context is important but it still doesn’t come first.
When the context comes before the “bottom line” (hence the name bottom line up front) the recipient of your message won’t get why the context is even important to them. But once they know what you need, they’ll care about why you need it so that they can tailor their response to what it is that you need something for as well as provide anything else that may be of use to you instead of providing something that may not be a good fit for what it is that you’re looking for.
Good Communication Leads To Exceptional Client Experiences
Communicating expectations and changes with your clients is definitely one of the more difficult parts of working with clients. It takes time to get right and you have to start from scratch with each new client.
Efficient client communication becomes even more difficult as you work with dozens of clients at the same time. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use Atarim, check out this post where we showcase 4 unique ways agencies and freelancers can use Atarim with clients…