Communication is an important facet of developing relationships with your clients. What some consultants don’t understand is that little things they do – or don’t do – can affect their credibility and their professional reputation negatively. Here are five subtle things you can do that make a big difference in establishing your image as a professional as well as earning the client’s trust.
Better Client Communication
- Make phone calls with a voice mail message in mind: Perhaps this has happened to you. You call someone and get their voice mail. You didn’t count on that and when you hear the beep, you stumble over your words and sound like a certified idiot. You wish you could just hang up and start over. I’ve been on the sending and receiving end of these messages and both are uncomfortable. When you do this with a client, it undermines your credibility. Whenever I need to call a client, I stop for 30 seconds, take a piece of paper – sometimes just a Post-it note – and jot down a few of my talking points. If I get their voice mail, I’ve got a nice outline to use to leave an intelligent message. And you know what? If they answer, I still have a well thought out message to present to them.
- Address the recipient in every email: I see a lot of emails where people just start typing what they want to talk about. It’s a pretty abrupt way to start communicating to someone, especially if you’re talking to a client. Just putting the person’s name softens the tone of the email. You don’t have to start out with “Dear” or any other formal salutation. This is also a benefit when people are cc’d on the email. Not everyone looks to see who the email is to and who is copied. Specifying who the email is to makes it clear.
- Proof read every email: I took a typing class in college, although I think they call it “keyboarding” nowadays. After many years of typing programs, proposals, reports and emails, I’m a pretty good typist. I laugh when I hear those Dragon speech recognition commercials because I can type almost as fast as I think; or maybe I just think as slow as I type. Anyway, as much as I am able to keep up with my thoughts as I go, I always go back and proof read my emails and I’m amazed at how often I have typos that I need to correct. It’s a habit that’s saved me embarrassment many times. I often get emails from people who obviously don’t proof read and it makes them look unprofessional. Sometimes, I can’t even figure out what the hell they’re trying to say. Proof reading should be done for all emails, but it’s most important for the ones you send to your clients.
- Have a purpose: I marvel at the time that gets wasted in meetings by people who just need to speak to let people know they are there and engaged. I see it particularly when someone’s boss is present and they need to remind the boss of their presence. My favorite tactic is when they adamantly agree with their boss. It allows them to tell the boss they’re listening while doing a little ass-kissing at the same time. I’ve been in meetings where I wasn’t asked a question and didn’t have any value to add, so I kept my mouth shut. If you’re just there to get information, it’s OK to stay silent. If you have a question, stop and ask yourself if it’s necessary to ask in the meeting, or if you can pull someone aside afterwards to ask. Otherwise, don’t waste everyone’s collective time.
- Say thank you: Consultants are often stereotyped as being arrogant and condescending. I’m amazed how often they live up to the stereotype. Many consultants believe that they are smarter and better than most of their clients and it shows in their attitude. They’ll ask the client for some information and once it is received, they go on their merry way providing the client with their indispensable expertise. In reality, the consultant is there to serve the client. Consultants have a lot of expertise and may be experts an many things, but the client is just as knowledgeable of their own business and, by the way, controls whether your firm gets any more business. Thanking them for information that you request or for doing a favor shows humility and indicates to the client that you respect their time.
None of these are earth-shattering tactics, but they are little things that make a big difference.
What tactics have you found that have helped you be better communicators with your clients?
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.