Part 1: Mastering Client Communications
Highly-successful organizations communicate effectively to their clients. To keep customers happy and loyal, it’s crucial for a company to stay open and connected with them.
Accurate client communication, however, is hard work. You need to know what to say, how to say it and which mediums to choose. It’s also important to know when not to send a message at all.
Some of the hallmarks of good communication are active listening, clarity, brevity and a friendly, conversational tone. Here’s how to communicate effectively using:
- Phone or Skype
- Meetings or video conferencing
- Snail mail
Millennials – the generation that comprises most of today’s workforce – prefer email over other forms of business communication. Mastering the art of highly-effective emails is therefore a crucial skill.
Nothing builds a brand quite like the emails we send our leads and clients. Whether you’re a business owner, sales rep or writing on behalf of an entire organization, every email you send tells the reader something about you or your company.
Do your emails reflect a competent professional who cares about the client’s needs? Or do they portray carelessness and confusion that only serves to frustrate clients? Here are some ways to tell, along with a few crucial tips for effectiveness.
Know Your Purpose or Don’t Send the Email
While it’s good to regularly communicate with your clients, don’t email them just for the sake of emailing. If your clients don’t find your emails particularly necessary, they’ll start ignoring future emails whether they’re important or not.
Before you type a single word, ask yourself: “What’s the purpose of this email? Does it really need to be sent?” You should only email your clients if:
- You have a call to action (CTA) or something you want your client to do after reading your email
- You want the client to better understand something, such as a new product or feature
- You have questions or status updates related to a project they’ve hired you for
- Your client specifically asked you to email them a report or other information
If none of these criteria are met, chances are high that you don’t need to send an email.
Make Emails Brief or Choose A Different Medium
Once you’ve determined that an email is indeed necessary, the next step is to make sure it’s short and sweet. Speed is important in this environment of fast deadlines and short attention spans. Your emails need to respect the reader’s time.
If your message can’t be boiled down into a short, quick-and-easy email, break it up into shorter emails that are sent a day apart. If this isn’t an option, skip the email and ask your client if you could schedule a phone call or Skype meeting instead. Otherwise the email’s complexity will risk causing confusion and misunderstandings.
Spend Time on Clarity
Your clients should be able to fully understand your emails with one quick read. But such clarity isn’t always easy to accomplish.
A fast read requires a “slow write.” In other words, when something is fast and easy to read, it’s because the writer spent significant time crafting and revising it. Conversely, when the writer doesn’t take much time or effort, the reader is forced to spend a long time figuring out what the email is trying to say.
If an email is difficult to comprehend, your clients won’t read it at all. So, spend whatever time is necessary making your emails a breeze to read and understand.
Some important guidelines:
- Write so clearly that a sixth grader could understand it
- Remove unnecessary words
- Replace jargon with plain English
- Use a thesaurus to choose the easiest and clearest words
- Format your emails for reading ease (see next section)
Focus on Formatting
From the moment your lead or client looks at your email, it should appear easy to read. If it looks cumbersome and time-consuming, the email will go unread and collect digital dust. An easy, unintimidating email can be accomplished through good formatting.
- Use bullet points instead of long strings of words separated by commas
- Use bold headings (like the ones in this article) to separate paragraphs and key thoughts
- Don’t type in all caps; it’s harder to read and comes off as shouting
- Keep paragraphs short
Use Visuals if They’ll Help Clarify Your Message
New research has confirmed that Millennials absorb visual information better than written text alone. Again, since millennials comprise most of today’s workforce, this fact is significant. Consider the following stats from the research:
- Over 64 percent of millennials reported that they understand visual information faster than non-visual information
- 58 percent said they remember visual information for longer periods of time
- 54 percent said they remember larger amounts of information when it’s presented visually
Add infographics or diagrams to your emails if you think they’ll clarify your message. But don’t add such elements unless they serve a purpose.
Keep Emails Conversational
Yes, you can be conversational and professional at the same time. In fact, being overly-formal is usually the sign of an amateur rather than a professional.
People like doing business with people, not corporations that speak in difficult lingo or legalese.
And while some of your emails might be sent out by automated processes, they should still sound like they were written by a living, breathing person.
Write your email with the same tone and sentence structure you’d use if you were speaking face-to-face with your client. If your email sounds like a written script when you read it out loud, rewrite it with a more conversational tone.
As Ernest Hemmingway once said, “The first draft of anything is garbage.” (Only his original quote used a stronger word than “garbage.”)
With any written communication, you can never proofread too much. You’ll always find typos, awkward sentences and unnecessary words in your first draft. Chances are, your second draft won’t be perfect either.
Proofread your emails at least three times before sending them. Always look for ways to make them clearer and easier to read.
Get “Fresh Eyes” to Read Your Email
After you’ve done significant proofreading and polishing, have someone with fresh eyes read it. This is a person who hasn’t seen the email yet and knows little or nothing about it.
Here’s why fresh eyes are important:
When you’ve spent a lot of time proofreading and editing an email, it starts becoming too familiar to you. The tendency is to lose your ability to detect awkward sentences in that particular email. Because you know what your email is supposed to convey, your brain starts glossing over the words and sees your intended interpretation.
Your readers, however, don’t know your intended interpretation. What looks familiar and flawless to you might be confusing and frustrating to the recipient. A proofreader with fresh eyes is often able to see flaws you’ve missed.
Make Your Subject Line Count
Just like you, your clients receive hundreds of emails every day. So, make sure your subject lines cut through the clutter. Rather than being vague or clever, subject lines should tell the client exactly what to expect when they read your email. Otherwise, don’t expect a high open rate.
Some people like to write email subject lines last. This way you can make sure it tells the recipient exactly what the email entails.
Phone or Skype
Although millennials tend to not like phone calls or video conferencing as much as email, there’s a time and place for them. Speaking directly to a client might be needed if:
- Your topic is too long or complex to send in an email
- You anticipate client questions or points of clarification
- A live brainstorming session is needed between you and the client
- You need to discuss a particularly urgent matter, such as a PR crisis
- You need the “human element” to come across strongly, such as in the case of an apology or unfavorable news
When you feel a phone call is needed, schedule the call beforehand rather than doing it unannounced. Nobody likes surprises, and no one likes to be unprepared for a conversation.
When calling or Skyping a client, it’s important to follow the same guidelines you’d use for good email communications – only in a way that’s audible rather than written. Also, a strong aspect of listening is important while on a call.
- Truly listen to the client rather than tuning her out to plan what you’ll say next
- Stay on point and have a purpose
- Keep it friendly and conversational, without using a script
- Be clear and brief
- Limit jargon and use plain English
Meetings and Video Conferencing
When several people need to collaborate together in real time, meetings or video conferencing are the best options. It’s true that meetings are notorious for wasting time and being inefficient. Many people try to avoid them whenever possible. But if you’ve determined that a meeting is necessary, consider the following guidelines to make your clients happy rather than frustrated:
- Make 100% sure that everyone who needs to attend is invited, and un-schedule anybody whose attendance isn’t crucial
- A couple days before the meeting, provide an agenda so participants can plan their contributions to the meeting
- When you invite the attendees, explain why the meeting is important
- Manage meetings and video conferences by the clock, making use of every minute and respecting everybody’s time
- If the meeting is in-person, ask all attendees not to check their phones or emails until the meeting has ended
Even if you’re not one to enjoy texting for business purposes, consider offering your cell phone number anyway. According to research, 75% of Millennials prefer texting over phone calls.
Texting is appropriate for client communications when the information is particularly urgent. Texts are usually seen by the client the moment you send them, and they have a higher open rate than emails.
There are drawbacks to texting as well, of course. It’s easy to misinterpret text messages, and there’s always a chance you could receive messages at inopportune times such as your days off or during late-night hours. Nonetheless, texting is becoming more commonplace in business environments.
A few tips:
- Only text clients who have given you permission
- As your business relationship strengthens, occasional happy-birthday texts or other well-wishes are appreciated
- A smiley emoticon will help set a happier tone if the message is urgent
- However, for professionalism, use emoticons sparingly
- Limit your message to one, 160-character text
In this digital age, receiving mail from someone you know has a special appeal that email doesn’t achieve. There are many instances where sending letters to your clients can set you apart from competitors. Nothing says “warm and friendly” like:
- Holiday cards and birthday well-wishes
- Handwritten letters of congratulations for business milestones, positive press coverage, successful product rollouts, etc.
- Surprise FedEx packages with appreciation notes and Starbucks or iTunes gift cards
- Get creative and think of other occasions to write notes and show your clients you care
Communication is a Mindset
While there are certainly many best-practices and do’s and don’ts, communication can be viewed as more of a mindset than a set of rules. Always strive to operate with an attitude of availability and openness to your clients. And always use a combination of logic and empathy when it comes to communication.
Ask yourself, “If I were the client, how would I like to be communicated with in this situation? What messaging would I like to see? What would I not want to hear or see from somebody?”
Also, remember that good communication takes time to master. Continually look for ways to improve. Eventually, your efforts will pay off in the form of stronger client relationships and a steeper competitive advantage.