Client communication: A guide for freelancers and small business owners
August 9th, 2022 | Contractor Resources, Small Business Resources
It doesn’t matter if you’re a one-person freelance operation—it’s still worth giving your clients the white-glove treatment. According to HubSpot, 90% of clients would buy more from companies with great customer service.
As a small business owner or independent contractor, you may not have a dedicated customer support team. That’s okay! Secure repeat customers by building core client communication skills—like empathy, patience, and active listening.
Why is client communication important?
The quality of your work matters—but it isn’t the only important factor in your business’ success. Good communication also goes a long way toward gaining client trust and building a solid reputation.
Word of mouth spreads quickly
Think of the best and worst customer experiences you’ve ever had. Chances are, you told a friend or two what happened to you as the customer. Because human beings are social creatures, those friends probably told others, too. And the cycle went on and on.
As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure that whatever clients have to say about you is positive. A good client communication strategy is the first step.
When you communicate with clients well, they’ll likely tell others about it. Soon, a bunch of people will see your brand in a good light and likely patronize or refer you to others.
Clients expect fast responses
This Hiver report shows that to about one in three customers, good service means having their issues resolved quickly. If you treat customers well by consistently addressing their messages on time, they’ll trust you to have their backs.
Imagine contacting a brand to complain that the computer they delivered to you has a broken screen. You wouldn’t want to explain your situation to more than one agent before the company resolves it. It’d be much less stressful if one support rep just confirmed the company policy on broken items and responded quickly with a way forward.
Just like you, customers want quick, stress-free service—and effective client communication gives them that.
Good client communication values to hold
Embrace these values to maintain healthy client relationships and steady sales.
Be open, honest, and accountable to your clients about the status of your work—whether things are going well or not.
- Clients deserve to know what their money is going toward. What specific offerings are you delivering to them, and what part of their budget is going to each one?
- Mistakes and downward performance trends can fester if you don’t address them early. Say you run digital ads and a recent campaign hasn’t been performing as well as planned. Mention it in your weekly or monthly report and outline what you’re doing or plan to do to fix it—maybe adjusting the ad copy, visuals, or budget.
You won’t always agree with clients or be able to solve their problems, but empathy will help you maintain a positive relationship regardless. When you look at situations from your client’s perspective, you’ll better understand their challenges and goals—helping you serve them.
Imagine you run a copywriting agency and a client asks for a design to go with the copy you’ve written for them. If your company doesn’t offer design services, you can show empathy by:
- Acknowledging the importance of graphics to the copy.
- Communicating that you’re unable to meet that need.
- Recommending a design agency or DIY tool their team members can use.
Though you couldn’t meet the client’s needs, your helpful response shows that you care about their success.
The ability to stay calm when communicating will come in handy for you as a business owner—especially when dealing with angry or difficult customers.
Consider this scenario. You run a small makeup brand, it’s 3 pm on a Friday, and you’re tidying your books for the week. You’re knee-deep in work when your business line rings. It’s a customer calling to complain that the new powder palette she bought from you is broken.
The customer goes off on you, calling your brand fake and inferior. If you react angrily, she could post about her experience online and would probably never buy from the brand again. But if you respond patiently by apologizing and offering a replacement or refund, she may forgive all and stick with the company.
Will your clients always be right? Of course not. But by maintaining a calm tone of voice and committing to diffusing as much tension as possible, you’re more likely to find a solution and mend the relationship.
Every client’s communication style is different, so be ready to adapt.
Some clients like a friendly work relationship, while others prefer a straight business approach. One customer may be okay with sharing everything about their business, while another may ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and still tell you very little.
Prepare for varying client scenarios and be open to change. This mindset will help you secure and maintain all kinds of customers—from the happy-go-lucky clients to the strictly-business folks.
6 tips for effective client communication
Needs, expectations, and communication preferences vary from client to client. Use these client communication best practices to build and maintain a good rapport with your customers.
1) Set business relationship expectations
It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into a project. If it isn’t what the client was expecting, there’s a good chance they’ll be disappointed.
Make sure you’re on the same page with clients by following these communication best practices:
- Establish service-level agreements (SLAs) that cover product or service deliverables and performance metrics they can hold you to.
- Sign a contract that contains the terms of your transaction—who’s supposed to do what and what happens if anyone fails to fulfill their part of the deal.
- Use invoices and receipts—these show how much the client should pay for a product or service and the amount they have paid so far.
- Set a warranty period so customers know how long they have to exchange a product or request a repair.
- State your return policy, including whether clients can return or exchange bought items and the conditions for doing either. It could be that customers can’t return a damaged item once they’ve taken it out of the store, or they need to bring it back within three days to be able to get a refund.
- Confirm the persons of contact (POCs)—who in your company they’ll be talking to about work and payment.
These measures show professionalism and protect you in case of future conflict with payment or service delivery.
Say a customer asks you to create a report that’s outside the scope of your agreement. If it’s not too much work, you may do it to maintain the client relationship. But if it’s way beyond the contract, you can politely decline or ask for more pay by citing the terms you initially agreed to.
2) Align on a channel of communication
When it comes to client communication tools, there are several possibilities—including help desk software, Zoom for virtual meetings, Slack and Microsoft Teams for collaboration, social media like LinkedIn, and others. Figure out which channels customers prefer by committing to research.
For example, studies show that Gen Zs and millennials prefer email over phone calls, while people above 54 years old would choose phone over email.
Once you align on communication channels, collaborating with and reporting to clients will be easy. Mutual communication channels help you focus and save time because:
- You and your clients won’t be hopping from one channel to another, having disjointed conversations and losing track of messages. Instead, you’ll both focus your attention and resources on mastering select channels.
- With the few channels in your client communication plan, you’ll establish smooth rapport and limit time spent on following conversations across several platforms.
3) Standardize client onboard
Set up a standard process for client onboarding to speed up their time to value—how quickly and effectively your product or service starts to deliver on its promise.
During onboarding, there are several ways to educate your customers, including product manuals, social media posts, emails, blog posts, and meetings. But the way you approach customer onboarding and education will sometimes differ across industries.
If you sell consumer products like clothes and shoes, standard customer onboarding may look like in-store chats with clients, user manuals, order confirmation emails, and styling videos. Say you run a small skincare company that sells sunscreen. You can just add a small product manual to every order so customers know how to use the sunscreen optimally.
For subscription software like productivity apps, a short sign-up form, instant account verification and activation, product tours, and FAQs should do the trick. These steps will help clients sign up quickly and start using the tool while you still have their attention.
At the same time, the onboarding process for service-based businesses like digital marketing agencies could involve:
- A kickoff call.
- Weekly or biweekly meetings.
- A research plan for learning about new clients and their preferences.
- Recommendations on how to improve the parts of their marketing they handle themselves—like SEO or strategy.
Whatever type of business you run, the goal is to start serving customers as quickly as possible.
4) Ask customers questions
You can never go wrong asking questions—whether it’s to learn more about your client’s target customer or find out what pain point led them to seek a solution like yours. By asking the right questions, you get into the customer’s head and can see things as they do and meet their needs accordingly.
Learn about customers at different touchpoints by surveying them at these stages:
- Pre-sale: Ask potential customers questions about their pain points to help them realize that your offering is right for them.
- Why are you looking for X solution?
- What do you currently use to meet this need?
- After-sale: Run regular meetings and feedback surveys to gauge customer satisfaction, identify upsell opportunities, and respond to changes on your client’s team.
- How do you feel about the work we did on X project?
- Do you think adding Y to your current strategy would boost results?
- Now that you’ve switched to a four-day workweek, can we cancel the recurring Friday meeting and reschedule?
- Churn. Though the client is ending their contract with you, questions at this stage will help you see where you may have made mistakes and how you can improve in the future.
- How could we have served you better?
- What could happen right now that’d make you change your mind about churning?
These questions show clients that you’re invested in their success and build trust.
5) Actively listen to your clients
Asking your clients questions isn’t enough. Be sure to also listen attentively to their answers, so you’re not forgetting things they said or making assumptions about their needs.
During virtual or face-to-face meetings, declutter your mind by:
- Removing distracting items like a TV from your environment or changing your location.
- Avoiding multitasking and dividing your attention.
- Using a meeting agenda to stay focused.
Along with active listening, pay attention to your client’s body language to pick up on non-verbal cues like a nod of approval or a dismissive hand gesture.
The more you pay attention to clients’ input, the better you’ll understand them—helping you minimize mistakes and collaborate successfully.
6) Ask clients about their interests
Some conversations with clients need to be strictly business—but don’t forget to connect with them human-to-human, too! Talk to clients about their interests to:
- Show that you value the relationship.
- Discover some common interests that may bring you closer.
- Find ways to meet their needs better.
Ask customers about their day or check in about their favorite pet or recent vacation. This casual small talk will add a personal touch to your interactions and strengthen your relationship.
Pair client communication techniques with excellent record keeping
Now that you’ve mastered client communication, the last thing you want is a money dispute with a customer because of an incorrect financial report. Boost your customer communication and avoid conflicts with clients by keeping proper records with Neat.
Neat is an all-in-one financial management tool that lets you control your business’ income and expenses. Try our software today.
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