I have a secret to tell you:
When you offer freelance web services you are much, much more than “just” a developer, designer, or whatever “just” you think you are. You’re also the sales team, account manager, project manager, and consultant. There’s a lot of communication involved with a project (or at least there should be).
The quality of your communication can either tank a project or make it a roaring success. Below are some tips you can immediately employ to improve your client communication skills.
By the way, if you don’t work with clients directly, you can use the same communication skills for working with anyone in your business.
6 Tips to Boost Your Client Communication Skills ASAP
1. Listen actively
One of the greatest human needs is to be heard and understood.
How many times have you been in a conversation where you were formulating your response while the other person was still talking. Sorta hard to pay attention and think about what you’re gonna say at the same time, right?
Active listening means paying undivided attention to the speaker. If you want to deliver the right solution to your client’s problem, you need to soak in what they say and make sure you understand it. Here are some techniques you can use:
- Remember a few key points by jotting down notes during the conversation
- Clarify by asking questions to make sure you understand what was said
- Paraphrase what your client has said to demonstrate that you understand what was said
If you want to do some further learning in this area, pick up a copy of Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All.
Bonus relationship tip: Actively listening to your spouse or partner can greatly reduce conflict and misunderstanding. Trust me.
2. Empower with information
Not too long ago, I had an MRI on my left shoulder. When I showed up to the doctor’s office, I was led by a nurse into a room where she explained to me exactly what was about to happen. First, the doctor would numb my shoulder, then he would inject dye into the muscle, and then the MRI would start. She warned me it’d be loud and told me I’d be in there for 30 minutes or so.
Now imagine that same scenario except the nurse tells me nothing. The doctor comes in and surprises me with a rather painful shot (what was that?) and then I’m stuck in a very loud tube for an unknown period of time. I am anxious, unhappy, and (literally) in the dark.
Your job is to make your clients feel safe. You do that when you communicate up-front what to expect and continue to keep clients informed throughout the process.
3. Get beyond the surface
What your client asks for and what your client needs may be two different things. Asking lots of questions helps you uncover and understand what’s at the root of a client’s request.
Let me give you an example.
I have two big dogs and I’d been bathing them in a kiddie pool, but the pool was too small and flimsy. I needed something bigger and more heavy-duty. So I headed out to a nearby feed store and right out front they had these huge, galvanized steel horse troughs. I walked in and told the sales lady I’d like to buy one.
Instead of just ringing me up for it, she asked me a question: What do you need it for?
I told her and she immediately suggested a more appropriate, less-expensive option. By getting to the root of what I needed, she solved my problem and saved me money in the process.
4. Write good emails
I hate emails. There are times when dealing with my inbox drains my very soul. Can you relate?
You have it in your power to make other people’s inbox a brighter place. You do that by writing emails that:
- Are concise
- Lead the recipient to a decision
- Anticipate (and answer) follow-up questions
- End with a clear call to action
For a more in-depth look at these techniques, look at these expanded tips for writing great emails.
5. Address the elephant in the room
Nobody likes having difficult conversations, but your job is to address issues head-on before they grow into something bigger.
Is the project going to cost more than originally planned? Are you going to be late on delivering a particular milestone? Is there someone holding up the process on your client’s team?
Initiate a conversation about it immediately. Your clients don’t want to be surprised. When you get out in front of little problems you keep them from growing into huge problems. You also release the pressure valve for both you and your client when you get issues out in the open.
I had a great conversation with Karim Marucchi about this on my podcast.
6. Talk strategy, not tools
Odds are that your client doesn’t care which plugin you’re using on their website. Your client cares about reaching goals and solving business problems.
When you’re working as a business partner with your client, take off the developer or designer hat and step into the role of consultant. If your client wants to overly focus on tools, then it’s your job to shift the conversation back toward the bigger picture of the business problems you’re trying to solve. You’re the expert, so take the focus off of the tools you’re using to help your client reach their goals.
do communicate it
Communication doesn’t have to be difficult or scary. It just has to happen.
Are there other communication strategies you use? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.