How to talk to your clients
I’ve had the pleasure of working with many clients ranging from individuals who want to build a product and enterprise clients as well. In every role I’ve had for the last six years it has been client-facing. I’ve learned a lot during my days at ExactTarget and now at Xhatch.
How was your day?
The most important thing you need to remember about your clients is that they are human just like you. This blog is focusing on human interface (for now). Clients have good and bad days, just like you, whether it is at work or at home. Take a few minutes to greet them and ask how things are. It is a nice way to set the tone of the conversation.
Do not expect the client to understand everything
This is probably the most frustrating thing for me. When I hear someone complain about a client not understanding something, I think “Well, they shouldn’t. That’s why they paid you to consult and help them build it.” Now of course, there are limits, but try the best you can to explain to your client what you are doing in different ways.
If it is too technically complex for comprehension, then draw diagrams or use analogies so there is some mutual understanding before diving deeper.
Repetition is okay. Repetition is okay.
It is never a bad idea to repeat yourself. Often when a client will explain something or provide feedback, I will wait until he or she is done and say “Okay, I just wanted to repeat what you said to make sure I understand. The features you need in v1 are…” to make sure that no assumptions were made incorrectly. You will rarely see a client get upset about you wanting to make sure you understand.
When closing a meeting, I will repeat the overview of what was discussed to make sure that nothing was left misunderstood.
“This town is a part of us all… a part of us all… a part of us all! Sorry to repeat myself but It’ll help you remember!” —Marge Simpson
Never say “no” or “we can’t”
I need to jump out right away and say this does not mean “always say yes” or “yes we can” to your clients either. The reason this is important is just the communication between people. When you say “no” it immediately dismisses the question/request. However, if you say things such as “Yes, but ____” or “We are not sure, but can take a look” it instills that you are listening to their needs and taking such actions. Now, the result might be that you cannot do something in the circumstance, but at least the client felt they were heard.
Does this make sense?
This is probably the phrase I say the most on a call with a client, especially in the beginning when we are doing discover and requirements gathering. Never assume a client completely understands what you are presenting so it never hurts to have checkpoints during your meetings to make sure everyone is following. Most of the time things make sense but it is good to see that nobody is falling behind in the conversation.
When in doubt, over-communicate
I travel a lot and work with a lot of clients remotely. Even though it does not matter where I am, I like to give them the courtesy of updating them. I tell them when I might be traveling so they know I will be out of reach.
My rule is “try to answer their question before they even ask it.” If a phase of a project still needs more time, I email the client to let him or her know that we’re still working on it and we will reach out if we have any questions. If the client sends an email with a lot of questions and I am busy working on design work, I just write back a quick email acknowledging I received it and will take a look later.
Think of it as a long-distance relationship. It is better to over-communicate to ensure everyone understands the context of actions so nobody misunderstands something like delayed responses.
Again, try to answer the questions before they even ask. I do not think most of my clients even expect this, but I think they appreciate that you are thinking of them.
I have rarely had a client from Hell, and I think most are actually enjoyable. The most important things are to remember that they are people trying to work on a project and may not understand it. Take time to make sure they are getting it and over-communicate.
See how I repeated myself?