The Soft Skills of Client Communication

The Soft Skills of Client Communication

When we make mistakes as freelancers, consultants, and service providers, the consequences can be harsh.  One simple mistake can cost you the business of a client – which could be months or years of revenue.  An area that I think many of us could get better at is what I call the “soft skill” of being a consultant.  Let me illustrate what I mean by this with a quick story.

After having played poker home games with friends throughout high school, I couldn’t wait to turn 18 and test my skills for real.  I read a few books and then eagerly deposited $100 on my 18th birthday.  Things went well almost immediately – mostly due to the lack of skill of other players rather than my own prowess!  Regardless, my bankroll kept growing month after month and year after year.  The result? A 4 year career playing, coaching, and investing in online poker.

Here’s the catch: I was far from the best poker player at my stakes.

What did I have that my opponents didn’t?  The soft skills.  What I lacked in talent, I made up for in other areas.  I put in more time at the tables.  I was able to control my emotions better than others, so I didn’t bleed stacks of chips when I was feeling frustrated.  I ate well, exercised, and practiced proper posture when playing.  The combination of all of these (and more) skills that seem so unrelated to poker actually gave me a significant edge over my competition…even if they were significantly better than me on a raw technical skill basis.

The Soft Skills of Providing Services

These same lessons apply to all of us in the consulting business.  You can drastically improve your relationship with your clients not with your technical skills, but by taking care of all of the little things that don’t really matter much to you, but your clients LOVE.

Reliability and Responsiveness

I’ve worked with many clients over the last two years and every single one of them agree that reliability and responsiveness are the two qualities they use to judge the quality of a consultant.  As technically minded people, we can often get caught up in the little details of our jobs.  While these are crucial to the success of your engagement, they’re not what the client cares about.

Clients want results.  They want people who are going to deliver results reliably, but also make sure to have open lines of communication as the project progresses.

By improving your abilities in these two skills, you’ll not only keep your existing clients longer, but also develop massive amounts of goodwill with them that lead to referrals and more clients down the line.  The truth is that most people are average at best here, so simply by putting in a little effort you can outshine them fairly easily.  There is no better illustration of this than the Craigslist Penis Effect, first mentioned by Ramit Sethi.  It says:

The Craigslist Penis Effect describes situations where everyone else is so horrible that, by being even half-decent, you can dominate everyone else and win.

Action: Write “reliability” and “responsiveness” down on a sheet of paper.  Take five minutes to brainstorm where you have failed at reliability and responsiveness.  Then, commit to changing one area this week.

Don’t Make Them Think

Clients aren’t experts at what we do.  That’s why they hire us!  Too often I see consultants fail on epic proportions when it comes to clarity in communication.  I’m talking emails, questions, phone calls, or text messages that only serve to open up a long chain of messages rather than get something done.  It’s important to realize that our clients are busy with THEIR day-to-day operations and all the plethora of other tasks that they have on their plates.  They’ve hired us to eliminate the need for them to think about this aspect of their business.

Here’s an example of a common email that clients will get from consultants:

Hi Client, very excited to get started on this project.  When can we meet this week to talk about the first month’s work?

That’s a terrible email.  We should ask ourselves, “How can I make this as easy as possible for my client?  How can I save them from having to think too much about my communications?” when we speak with our clients.  A few tips:

  • Give them a maximum of two decisions to make in any email (preferably one)
  • Spell out exactly what you need them to do
  • If you’re scheduling a meeting, then throw out 2 times: one preferred and one backup.

Let’s rewrite that email:

Hi Client, very excited to get started on this project with you.  I would prefer to meet this week and speak about the project on Tuesday at 1pm, but am also free Wednesday at the same time.  Could you let me know which of those times work for you?  If neither work, throw a few times back and we’ll figure this out.  Thanks!

In that email we’ve taken away the need for them to think.  They can just send back “Tuesday 1pm” and you’ve cut the discussion to one message from each of you, instead of a back and forth that could span hours or days.

I’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making it easy for your clients.  There are hundreds of other applications of this principle…find them!

Action: Take a look at your emails with past and current clients.  Read them with clarity and the “make it easy” mantra in mind.  Note the sentences and emails where you were extremely unclear and made it difficult for your client.

Become a Soft Skill Samurai

I’ve lost more clients because of a lack of good soft skills than I ever have because of a simple failure to achieve results.  It’s the number one problem for a lot of us service providers, so follow the action steps and work to improve!  As you get better, you will see results spill over into every area of your life.

About Kevin Espiritu

Kevin Espiritu runs Supreme Strategies, a San Diego Inbound Marketing Agency. He also serves as the Marketing and Operations Manager of serpIQ, a SEO competitive analysis and reporting tool that cuts your SEO research time in half! Connect with him on Twitter.

  • http://communityseo.com Anand

    I find going over client communication and improving language is key. We’ve been live for 2 months, and I have reworked our email content (across 12 templates) twice already.

    Good (effective) communication is crucial in every aspect of social interaction.

    • Kevin Espiritu

      Complete agree Anand. It’s something that is not my strong suit and I’ve really had to work at it. Fortunately, weaknesses can develop into solid strengths :)

  • http://twitter.com/mitchellbwright Mitchell

    I’m a big time failure in this. I find that I don’t communicate to the client in the manner that they need. The clients that have been happiest with my services were the ones that I kept in the know.

    On the other hand, it’s important to treat each client how they want to be treated. I’ve had some clients that want mostly to be left alone once work starts. Others want very frequent updates. It’s important to keep abreast of how the client wants to interact.

    • Kevin Espiritu

      I was MUCH worse at it than I am now. Took me quite a while to learn this lesson the hard way…and I’m still actively working on it every single day.

      I agree with your second point. I think there are two general types of clients: the “experience” clients and the “pragmatic” clients. The experience clients view buying your services not only as a way to get results for their business, but as a way to buy a trusted advisor…someone they can bounce ideas off of. The pragmatists are more results-oriented and are often OK with only hearing from you once a month. I think the pragmatists can make you a lot of no-hassle income, but the experience clients can refer you like crazy and be a lot of fun to work with as well.

  • http://www.ezmaal.com hyderali

    Good Post Kevin!

    Even, I was also a big time failure in communication with client. My email were good but they were like aggressive-kind-of-email as told by my own client. I don’t know how but I used to treat every client they want to be treated but still they were not satisfied with me. It took me long time to know my weakness & I overcome this problem after consulting with my colleagues & peers who helped me a lot.

    Thanks

    • Kevin Espiritu

      Thanks!

      Yea, I’ve done the same thing. Something that worked VERY well for me is taking 5 minutes, turning off all communication and distraction, and “being” the client. Then you can really understand where they’re coming from and write an email that delights them instead of infuriates them :)

  • http://www.highonseo.com Matt Antonino

    I think this is often a very forgotten skill. When I interview potential hires (at this company and my last) I always wanted to know “Are they going to say something or do something to a client that is so incredibly stupid I won’t be able to look at them again?” I think people get so caught up in their technical abilities that they forget a simple “thanks!” goes a lot further than +2 on your latest SEO ranking.

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