Good communication is important.
Great communication is desirable
Bad communication can be bad for business.
This week I’ve come across all three.
A lovely example of great communication came from a large retail company. In July I bought a USB cable for my iPad. By October it had stopped working. It took me two months to get to Inverness, so I duly took the cable … and couldn’t find my receipt. Bugger – no receipt usually means no replacement. But a lovely lad in Stormfront treated me well, he explained that I had plenty of time (there’s a three year warranty) and that if I’d lost my receipt I could take in a bank statement, as long as it showed the correct amount and that it was paid to the store all would be well. I bought the cable in Stirling. No problem, he said.
Yesterday I managed to get back to Inverness, with a one line statement from my bank. Another lovely chap was pleasant, polite and within minutes I had my new cable. No quibble, no hassle. And a new receipt should this cable prove problematic.
You may think that’s just normal customer service, but believe me it’s not. It was a breath of fresh air. As a result I have a new cable, the shop has a new customer (I’ll definitely be going back) and I’d recommend them to anyone.
In total contrast, another company proved so bad on my trip in December that I ditched them there and then and found a company to replace them. Let’s just say it was a large communications company who can’t communicate for toffee. I was stopped from going into the shop as there was a ‘queuing system’ and I had to report to an employee before being allowed to enter (despite there being no queue and no notice of one), and when I did see an assistant he proved so rude and uninterested in my problem that I made up my mind there and then to finally take my business elsewhere. I’m still waiting for the refund the assistant said he would process ‘later on, if I remember’. Great service, eh?
This week’s bad communication wasn’t actually so bad when I think back to December.
The difference between keeping a customer and losing one can simply boil down to how you treat them. I’m sure many of you have stayed with a provider because, although they may not be the best in the world, they are a pleasure to deal with.
When running your freelance business, you strive to be the best you can be, but how you deal with clients has a huge impact.
It’s true, there are clients from hell who are demanding and those that don’t really know what they want, as well as lovely clients you relish working with, but you have to communicate with them as best you can. And don’t forget – they have to deal with you too!
How to communicate and stay sane.
Putting in order the way you communicate with clients can help streamline your freelance business and keep stress at bay. But I’ll freely admit, sometimes I stray from the path – each client is an individual and sometimes, just sometimes, a more informal form of communication is needed.
The five step process:
- Stop talking and listen
The first thing to do when you are contacted by a client is to ‘hear’ what the client is saying, and in what language. Do they comfortably use jargon or are they unsure even when using everyday language? Listen to what your client is asking for and then translate it into what your client is actually asking for. Even if you communicate by email, ‘listen’. You are the professional so use your professional intuition to get to the real meaning of what they want.
2. Ask questions
Don’t assume you know the answer to those questions that you do need to ask. Follow up on what your client is asking for.
Ask about things like:
who else is working on the project,
what has already been done,
3. Establish (and manage) expectations
When talking with a new, or returning, client you have to establish what service you will provide and what you won’t. This is one way of trying to put a halt to scope creep (but let’s admit it, it just ain’t that easy!).
Once you have established what is needed, get in writing what is expected from both sides, even if that’s just in an email. Make it very clear what you will be providing and what you won’t. Mention that anything extra will incur charges. I repeat, get it in writing.
But don’t forget what you expect from the client; give them details of your payment terms and methods, and send them your terms and conditions if you have any (although I must admit, with individual clients rather than companies, my T&Cs can be informal – I’ll do this and in return you pay me this).
However you do it, you must manage expectations or you can end up doing extra, at no charge, or the client can come back unimpressed when they don’t get what they expected.
4. Establish (and manage) delivery
When arranging delivery with a client you both have to be very clear on when the job will be coming in and being delivered.
This is one of the biggest problems publishing freelances tend to have.
It’s not uncommon for a job to be booked in and the project timeframe to slide. Before you know it the job is expected to come in a few weeks late, you are left without work in the meantime and the delivery date does not change. This leaves the freelance trying desperately to meet unrealistic deadlines, working long hours and juggling jobs when the next project is on time.
Try to have something set in place for when delivery doesn’t happen. If possible have it in writing that if delivery is late either the deadline will be extended, or there will be increased renumeration. But remember, shit happens, so each project should be looked at on an individual basis, even if your contract states how late delivery will be dealt with.
Don’t forget it works both ways. Don’t commit to unrealistic deadlines and if something happens to affect when a project will be delivered, tell the client as soon as possible.
5. Ask for feedback
Heavens, this is the difficult one!
I hate asking for testimonials and feedback, mainly because it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. However, it’s something freelances need to do, so a bit of perseverance is needed. Ask for feedback on your invoice, in your correspondence or via a feedback form.
Unlike 9–5ers we don’t get job appraisals or yearly performance reviews, so part of good communication is to ask for feedback in whatever way you feel most comfortable.
Communication is never going to be easy; there will always be something to watch out for when dealing remotely with clients, but following these five simple steps will hopefully make work easier. Stop talking and listen, ask questions, establish (and manage) expectations, establish (and manage) delivery, ask for feedback.
How do you deal with client communication? Is there something I’ve forgotten? If so let me know in the comments below.