Listen and ask
One of the basic rules of optimising communication is to find your clients’ exact needs. That may seem obvious, but details can get lost if assumptions are being made. As the professional or expert you may be tempted to skip certain steps and instead give the client what you think they need, and they may think you are aware of technical details you aren’t privy to. By digging for clarification you’ll better understand where they are coming from and in turn provide a better service.
Just as you get annoyed when a client isn’t available for feedback or sign off, they also need to reach you easily. Remember that they sign your cheque at the end of the day, and by giving dead silence you create uneasiness. Let your clients know what is the best way to reach you, and who else to contact if you aren’t reachable.
Keep a cool head
When clients have invested a lot of time and money in a project, their reaction if things go wrong can be extreme. Try to remain calm, stay in problem-solving mode and communicate how you are going to approach the issue. Getting into a screaming match, blame game or shutting down is likely to result in negative communication and lack of action. Communicate in a composed manner, and you’ll get more done and maintain your relationship.
If there are problems, it’s better if you initiate the conversation around them, rather than leave your client to find out for themselves. Be as transparent as possible; if you dropped the ball, own up. Be sure to offer suggestions on moving forward and be constructive. This may hurt in the beginning, but will make your life much easier in the long run.
Keep a trail of your discussions, meetings and agreements in writing and don’t put off getting things in writing until you are facing a crisis and everyone is fighting their corner. Agree terms, deliverables, fees, payment schedules and other details in writing as early as possible – that way both parties know what they have agreed to. Documentation doesn’t have to be extensive – a quick e-mail confirming things can be enough.
Puseletso Mompei is a Communications Consultant and Trainer. She offers communications and media training for corporate executives, spokespersons, managers, entrepreneurs, government officials, diplomats, academia and public relations officers. Contact her at email@example.com, or visit www.kwazicommunications.co.za for more information.