Effective Communication With Clients
I’m sitting writing this blog post in the middle of panto rehearsals (shhh don’t tell anyone). We’re in rehearsals four times a week now as we head towards the performance dates, so as you can expect things are getting hectic.
But, while one of the dance routines is being practised, I’ve decided that this week’s article should be about something that is really important …
Just because you know something, don’t expect everyone to know what you are talking about.
While choreographers are needed for dance routines, they have to translate their ideas into something that even the most inexperienced chorus member can understand. Directors have to have a vision and convey that to the actors. Script writers have to create scripts that allow for artistic interpretation, but give enough information to allow the actors to understand the plot. It’s no good having the knowledge unless you can communicate it well to those around you.
It’s the same with work. I sometimes forget that I have a different vocabulary to some of the clients I work with. Where I routinely work with styles, templates, proofs and the like, I occasionally need to take a step back to make sure that whoever I work with understands what I am saying.
But at times it can be very difficult to figure out – you need to communicate well without being condescending!
So, before each job, there are a few easy ways to figure out what your client knows:
- Ask them. Ok, it sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many people probably don’t give it a second thought. No client is going to be offended if you ask them how confident they are when working with a specific piece of software (like Word).
- Ask to see an example of their work before you start. If you are editing for them, a quick look at the formatting marks and use of styles can give you an indication of their proficiency level. Chances are, if a client is used to working with styles and indents, they will be using them already.
- Give the client plenty of opportunity to ask questions. We don’t want to start a client relationship that lends itself to hand-holding or inappropriate use of our time, but questions at the beginning of a job, perhaps an email saying ‘Before we start, do you have any questions’ could save you time down the line.
- Ask the client to tell you how they feel more comfortable working. If you are not working with a fellow publishing or editing professional this can make them feel less daunted and more included in the process, and may also give you an idea of their proficiency. For example, a client may not want to see a lot of tracked changes in a document, or may want to see everything, but in a format that they are used to (for example in balloons rather than in-text).
- Take a step back and communicate in plain English. While dumbing down can be seen as condescending, if you are not sure whether the client will understand your technical speak, ditch it and use plain language. Do not see it as dumbing down, and do not talk to your client as if they were a child, but ditch the jargon and communicate on the same level. I may know a lot of fancy words, but I don’t use them every day (and some people I know will probably say I never use them). Jargon can be seen as exclusive and totally unnecessary, so use it sparingly.
Having worked in the information industry since I left school many, many moons ago I know that I can be guilty of underestimating my knowledge base. I forget that I take for granted things that others don’t necessarily know, but at the same time I am totally in awe of the knowledge of others. Sometimes you just have to stop and think ‘is this common knowledge’ – if it’s not, it’s time to ask if you are communicating with your clients effectively.