How to Communicate With Clients
Anyone that has started their own business or worked as a freelancer knows that one of the mot difficult tasks is effectively communicating with your client. Effective communication can build a strong foundation of trust which in turn translates to a healthy relationship, repeat work, and referrals.
Don’t get ahead of the client technically.
This is something that everyone can relate to, no matter the industry. Never dump a bunch of jargon on someone that they’ll never understand. There are 2 things that can happen if a client feels out of their depth, they’ll either start to think that you’re trying to blind them with tech-speak to make something harder than it is and charge more, or they may decide that they are out of their depth, and are likely to pull the pin on any work opportunities. So just ask what their level of understanding is? Sure sometimes this works, but you really have to be able to read the person you’re speaking with, if they are a little more relaxed and jovial, then some people don’t mind you being blunt about it, and then you can build from there. If someone seems a little standoffish or defensive, asking them outright may either insult them, or make them think that if you know they have limited knowledge, you may take advantage. Don’t be afraid to ask some leading questions, even start of with simple things such as what features have they liked in other works. Sounds simple enough, but if someone says they like the ‘Flash’ elements or the forum, then you’re better off than if they responded ‘moving words’ or ‘place for people to put messages’. Ask about if they’ve used any websites in their previous jobs, if they know who’ll maintain the site. More often than not, if they say they haven’t thought about it, they aren’t too technically minded and hadn’t considered such things, or there will be someone else in the company that you’ll liaise with later.
I myself, like many people, are very visual thinkers. For all the coding and development work I do, I can’t get my mind around anything that doesn’t consist of 3 different colours and arrows. Clients are no different, but they will understand you soo much more if you can visualise everything with them. I recently sat in on a Microsoft Partner giving a sales pitch of SharePoint to a prospective client, and for every main feature of configuration option, he was able to provide a working version of this on existing customer’s sites. “You what to know how folksonomy works? Here is something we did for …” This works wonders, not only did it show the client exactly what he was talking about, but it also showed that he had the capacity to deliver.
Remember you do this for a job.
That could mean any manner of things, but it refers to something that we can all do from time to time, and even happened TO me the other day. I had a consultant in installing a new set of FTP appliances on my network, very expensive and complicated little things. As he sped through the technical details and the how-tos, I could tell that he had done the same speech 1000 times before, and flicks through the details like I flick through gears getting to work of a morning. It becomes soo automatic, but he forgot, this is my first time working with some of these concepts. My point being, try and keep in the back of your mind, whilst you know exactly what a forum is, don’t forget to tell the client its features, or how best to use it. Or even keeping with the anecdote, i know how ftp will work with their site, does the client even know what ftp is?
There is no such thing as a stupid question.
You’ll never know exactly what your client is thinking, or what they understand. I’ve seen a lot of clients get nervous in meetings and often feel intimidated, and if thats the case you’re not going to get the best out of them. From the get go, make sure you speak to them, not like you’re giving a speech at an assembly, and let them know that you encourage them to jump in with any questions at all. You also don’t have to wait for the client to ask questions, often you’ll notice by body language or facial expression if someone isn’t following you. Don’t be afraid to ask if they need you to clarify. It gets easier over time. Even after 1 or 2 meetings you will start to pickup on thing such as key areas that clients find difficult, things that get users excited about the project, and you’ll even build up a collection of witty anecdote or analogies which you’ll repeat nearly every client meeting you get. These started off as being a bit of a chore for myself, especially when I was still building confidence, but now the customer engagements are one of my favorite parts of a new job. I really enjoy meeting the people, and having a discussion on how I can really help them achieve their goals.