14 Jul How to Improve your Communication with Clients
When it comes down to it, the vast majority of problems both in our personal and professional life are to do with communication. Whether it’s a lack of clarity, the tone, level of detail, or just a general lack of it, communication issues can make our lives more difficult than they need to be.
Communication problems can cause a myriad of headaches. From arguments (‘why didn’t you tell me you were going to be late?’) to missed or lost business (‘why hasn’t the project been completed by the date?’)
Communication issues are one of the main reasons cited in divorce cases. The relationship between an agency and a client shares many similarities with a marriage. Two separate entities being bound together for a common goal that may have bumps and challenges ahead. A 2015 study by the Association of National Advertisers found that 74% of businesses that employ a creative agency anticipate a long-term relationship and the agency plays an important role in their success. The agency/client relationship is a marriage that needs work to avoid going sour.
Here are three common communication mistakes that can throw a spanner into the works of even the most harmonious of professional relationships.
The cliche says that assuming ‘makes an ass of out u and me.’ This is true. Making assumptions when it comes to workloads, timelines, logistics or availability leaves you open to bum-clenchingly awkward conversations.
‘I thought you’d done that’ or ‘I thought it was obvious’ aren’t statements that should be said in any situation. It leads to individuals becoming defensive and blame being thrown around. Not exactly a productive way of working.
If you’re in danger of making assumptions on a project, it’s always best to clarify with the other person/department/business.
This isn’t showing weakness or a lack of understanding. It shows the opposite, that you’ve foreseen potential pitfalls and want to address them before they become an issue. Colleagues and clients all prefer to know exactly what hymn sheet they’re working from when it comes to work being assigned and deadlines.
No alarms and no surprises
You can plan a project meticulously. Everybody knows their roles, the timescales are agreed with the client, things are looking perfect. This is where fate steps in and decides to mix things up a bit. Your development team contract norovirus, the printers are the victim of a cyber attack and there’s a postal strike.
At this point, it may be a good idea to provide a status update to the client. This shouldn’t be a whining cry for sympathy, but a statement of facts outlining what has occurred and what your plan of action is.
This obviously doesn’t mean that clients need an hourly update on projects. ‘Going to the loo, then making a coffee expected delay: 5 minutes.’ However, if there is a potential problem, a stage completed or something of genuine interest, or significance; let them know. They’ll appreciate it.
People like being kept in the loop, even when it’s bad news. This allows them to make contingency plans of their own. It’s when bad news and excuses come as a nasty, last-minute surprise that tempers are more likely to be misplaced and relationships strained.
To use a Titanic analogy, it’s better to warn clients of a potential iceberg ahead, than to let them find out by crashing into it.
Surprises should be kept for birthdays, not for projects.
Get out of your silo
We are all very busy in our departments (definitely busier than that other department you have to deal with, a bunch of slackers). Keeping our noses so close to the grindstone means that occasionally we don’t see the bigger picture.
This means that up-selling and cross-selling opportunities can be missed. This not only means that the agency is potentially missing out on additional revenue, but the client may be missing out on more services that could enhance their project.
The remedy for this issue is two-tiered and luckily for this blog is based on communication. Hurray!
Firstly, it’s definitely a worthwhile exercise for departments to have internal meetings to brief each other on what projects are being worked on. Not only does this keep everyone organised but it offers the opportunity for best practices and new thoughts to be presented on existing work. This type of meeting then should be held across departments within the agency. Depending on the size of the business, it could be all staff or just the heads of department.
The key benefit of these pow-wows is a fresh perspective. You’re organising an event for a client? Have you thought about social media? A video? Sometimes we are so focused on doing our own job we can’t see the wood for the trees.
This internal knowledge sharing is imperative for the client services teams. As one of my colleagues said recently, “client services’ knowledge base needs to be a mile wide, but an inch thick.” They can’t offer services to clients that they aren’t aware of themselves.
Obviously, it’s better for client services to have an in-depth knowledge of all areas of the agency’s offerings, but a working familiarity allows them to suggest options to clients before inviting the specialists into a client meeting is a good step.
The second stage of this communication remedy is passing this holistic knowledge of the agency’s full capabilities to the client.
The onus shouldn’t be just on the account managers to keep themselves up to date. The various departments can’t ASSUME that the accounts team knows everything that’s going on in the agency. They’re probably busy too (I’m too busy to find out how busy they are).
However full everyone’s schedule may be, it’s important to find time to arrange these meetings. Breakfast or lunch is good times, as long as the food is provided. That goes without saying, if I’m getting up early, you’re providing the bacon sandwiches.
It’s too simplistic to say that sorting out your internal and external communications will end all of your problems, but I bet that if you look at the root cause of a lot of your woes, communication will be there.