Five Tips For Client Management
Whether we’re freelancers, business owners or corporate employees, most of us will directly handle clients at some point. These could be businesses we are supplying to, key accounts we work with on a long-term basis or — in the case of freelancers and entrepreneurs — simply our customers. Clients, like potato chips, come in all shapes and sizes, and are accordingly easier or harder to work with. Projects, too, are each unique and need to be approached as such. There are, however, certain basics that all of us should keep in mind when working with any client, as they are essential for any healthy working relationship that is mutually beneficial.
I’ve found the following tips to be extremely helpful when working with clients, both as a business development manager and as a freelance writer, and I’d like to share them with all my fellow service providers out there. Consider these part of “Client Management 101” — the absolute basics, right up there with arriving for meetings on time and spelling the client’s name right.
Get the client’s expectations sorted out before starting anything.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have seen far, far too many clashes occur because the service provider and the client weren’t on the same page. Before starting any project, big or small, have a thorough chat (telephonic or face-to-face) about what the objective, scope, stages and outcomes of the project are. Go into every detail that you aren’t sure of and clarify anything the client may need to know. Come to a consensus about exactly what you will provide and how any changes will be incorporated. And make sure both of you are clear about how the client will be charged and under what circumstances you can ask for additional charges. Again, this point may seem superfluous to mention, but a huge fraction of issues arise simply because of miscommunication or faulty expectation setting — both of which can be avoided by making optimal use of this initial discussion.
Follow up — frequently — to ensure that you are on the right track.
It is essential to stay regularly in touch with the client to ensure that the work is in line with the expectations set at the beginning. Often, despite clearing things out at the beginning, there could be misinterpretations when it comes to executing the work. For instance, if your project was to redesign a client’s website, you may assume that the colour scheme needed to be redone as well, when in fact the client wanted the old colour scheme — by checking up with the client early on, you can make the changes and avoid a lot of rework. There may be things the client forgot to mention at the start, or there could be a changes in requirements owing to external factors (for instance, maybe you were asked to design a new logo as one of your deliverables, but someone from the client’s in-house team designed a logo and now they don’t need one from you anymore) — in such cases, staying regularly updated ensures that you’re neither missing anything nor doing unnecessary work.
Provide deliverables ahead of the expected deadline.
Do this whenever possible, especially when deadlines are lenient. It may be tempting to procrastinate until the last minute, but put in that extra effort and send along the email, the article draft, the product brochure or whatever was asked for ahead of time. This is an indication to the client that you’re efficient, reliable and truly invested in this project. It also acts as a ‘wow’ factor that will help your client form a more favourable opinion of you, and that’s always a good thing. On a related note, if you are unable to meet deadlines owing to a valid reason, say so clearly, offer your apologies and assure them that they will get everything else on time.
Confront any arguments with a polite demand to know what the issue is.
At some point, all of us will encounter a client whose natural response to any problem is to start arguing. In such cases it can be hard to keep your cool, especially if the problem in question wasn’t your fault. Instead of leaping into defense mode, however, the best solution is to ask — politely but firmly — what exactly the problem is and how it falls short of the client’s expectations. This will help draw focus to the heart of the matter, and also encourage your client to talk about the problem rather than complain about it. At the same time, don’t start apologising unless it was truly your fault — and even if it was, focus on providing a solution rather than merely apologising. Mistakes will happen, and hardly any mistake is irreparable — something you should always remember as a professional.
Convey a sense of confidence in every interaction you have.
Your client relies on you to do something he or she can’t do alone. If you come across as highly unsure of your own abilities, or if you are unconvinced yourself about the product or service you are pitching, you can’t expect your client to be convinced either by the product or by you. One of the most important to-dos, therefore, is to be thorough about the nitty-gritties of what you are offering your clients, whether it’s product details or policies related to the services you provide. This doesn’t mean that you have to know everything — there will always be details you aren’t sure of or data points you need to check. In which case, what you need to do is state — confidently — that you will verify that point and get back to the client as soon as possible. Don’t appear ill at ease about not knowing a certain fact — at the same time, don’t pretend to know if you don’t. Clients won’t expect omniscience, but they will expect you to be serious about helping them as effectively as you can. By being confident, you are projecting that you are sure of what you are doing and that they can trust you.
Client handling is a tricky game, with infinite subtleties and no right answers, and the success or failure of a client relationship often depends on more than the purely professional equation. By keeping the above points in mind, however, you will set yourself up as a service provider who is courteous, efficient, trustworthy, and committed towards doing a great job. And as such an individual, you will naturally attract the goodwill of your clients and be well on your way to mastering the art of client management.
Originally published on LinkedIn.