Amy Kapell shows you how to turn your everyday communications into a charming experience your clients and colleagues will rave about
For any competitive industry, and certainly the digital space, the creation of high quality work alone isn’t enough. While you may win business on the basis of your work, you don’t keep that business, grow that business or evolve that business into a long-term partnership without something else, without a little something extra. That something extra is enchantment.
What is enchantment?
Enchantment isn’t hokery-pokery or mysticism, nor is it purely esoteric. Neither is it fleeting; a one-time act of creating delight. It’s not even about being an enchanting person (though that can initially help). Client enchantment is the end result of engaging in a set of customisable tactics and strategies, based on the belief that looking at the world through the eyes of another is fundamental to client services.
Enchantment elevates those involved to a higher level of engagement, respect and trust, and occurs over an extended period of time. You don’t do enchantment; you achieve it.
Before we discuss tactics and strategies, it’s necessary to understand some core principles of client enchantment, specifically: caring about your client, enjoying what you do, and customising your communication.
Care about your client
Think back to the last time you felt cared for. How did you know the care was authentic? Chances are it was because it was based on an understanding of your unique needs or situation, and someone wanting the best possible outcome for you. This is how every client should feel about the person providing them service. That’s how every client should feel about you.
The good news is that it’s not hard to learn how to genuinely care about your clients. Your ability to care about them comes from knowing something about them; about their work environment, their motivations, their hopes, and maybe even their fears. We’ll talk a little more about this later.
Enjoy what you do
People want to work with those who enjoy what they’re doing. This is particularly true when striving to enchant your clients. If you’re passionate, geeky or just plain enthusiastic about what you do or a particular part of a project, let it be known to your clients.
You don’t have to derail a meeting to do it, but a simple aside here and there over the course of a project can easily and genuinely convey your enjoyment of the subject at hand. A client that knows you’re engaged and enjoying what you’re doing is a client on the way to enchantment.
The next time you’re in a meeting or a presentation and you realise this is an area that really interests you, look for a brief moment to make a comment to that effect. Use the example below as a thought-starter:
“I know this sounds geeky, but I’m really excited these 2,000 articles are getting pulled into a relational, searchable database. This will be so helpful for users looking for this kind of information.”
You’ll be surprised at how much clients are enchanted by the knowledge you’re enjoying their project.
Customise your communication
No two clients are the same. As such, you can’t employ the same tactics and strategies for every client and expect them to work equally well … or even at all. One client may only want the high-level view. Another might want to know all the specifics. Some clients hate email; others love it. Certain clients might prefer you get straight to the point while others like it when you tell that one joke you know.
We customise the projects and solutions we provide to our clients. In much the same way, if we seek to enchant our clients, we must also customise how we communicate with each of them.
Think about two current clients you know fairly well. Write down how you think each of them prefers the emails they receive to be written, how they like meetings to run, whether they like to talk on the phone or in person.
Now consider how you communicate with each of them. Do you treat them the same? If yes, knowing what you know about their differences; why? If not, how does your communication style differ between them?
If you’re working with a client who’s very new or for whom you can’t answer the previous questions, ask them directly what they prefer. They’ll thank you for it — and be enchanted you asked.
How do you achieve it?
The pursuit of client enchantment lasts as long as the client relationship itself. The longer you work with clients, the greater the set of tactics and strategies you can employ. Below are some tried and true approaches that have proven to help achieve enchantment time and time again.
Get to know your client
As a professional service provider, part of your job is to understand your clients — their needs, their challenges, and even their idiosyncrasies. This knowledge is vital because people who know each other work better together.
Without this knowledge, incorrect assumptions can be made, important information can be ignored and context can be missed. For example, maybe your client’s team is getting divided into two different organisations and that explains why he’s been so distracted lately.
Whenever possible, go to where your clients are — and do so regularly and informally. There’s a lot of talk about getting clients ‘out of their environment’ but it’s just as important to also see them in their own environment. Maybe your client’s always late to your calls because she’s in back-to-back meetings, often on the other side of a large campus. The more you know about your clients and the larger world in which they live, the more effectively you’ll be able to understand how best to work with — and enchant — them.
Pick a few current clients and write down the answers to these sample questions:
- What is a typical work day like for them?
- Where does their project with you fall in their list of priorities?
- What’s the biggest challenge in their current role?
If you can easily answer these and similar questions, congratulations! You know your clients well.
If you can’t, and want to make strides toward client enchantment, you need to spend more time getting to know your clients and their particular environment.
Write client-friendly emails
If your clients are like mine, they receive hundreds of work emails per day. And for days on end, email may be the only form of communication you have with them. In that environment, how do you make sure your emails get read without your client feeling like you’re haranguing them?
You think like a (good) email marketer. People open emails from senders they trust and like, with subject lines that are compelling. Clients are no different.
Client-friendly emails have:
Descriptive subject lines
Don’t write them as categorical topics (e.g. ‘Your SEM Campaign’). Instead, include high-level calls to action (e.g. ‘Your SEM Campaign — what is the strategy for December?’ or ‘FYI ONLY: Your SEM budget numbers’).
Scannable body content
Don’t write a narrative email unless your client expects it — busy clients don’t have time to read them. If the subject is that complex, schedule a call and follow up with an email summary for reference.
Instead, break content into bullets or a scannable list wherever possible. My rule of thumb is to keep each paragraph to roughly two or three sentences. If you need more sentences, start a new paragraph.
Call(s) to action
Don’t pepper your questions throughout the body of the email. Do include a call to action in every email, even if it’s: ‘No action needed.’ Your client deserves to know what to do with the information you’ve provided.
The next time you feel the need to write a lengthy email (this often happens in project management), write the email like you normally would. Then step away for a few hours. When you come back to it, reduce the length by 50 per cent, but without sacrificing the pertinent information your client needs to answer your question or understand the situation. Then reduce it again by another 25 per cent. It’s hard, but it’s possible.
In the chaos of our busy work lives, clients find people who know how to communicate efficiently by email very enchanting.
Look around corners
My colleagues and I have a philosophy we call ‘looking around corners’. It’s our description for constantly planning for the worst-case scenario. Some would call it healthy paranoia — I call it good client management.
Say you know your client is juggling seven different initiatives and you need his final approval on a design you emailed him last week. You have a 15-minute phone call with him in which to review. Looking around corners would be to anticipate he wouldn’t have ready access to last week’s email, so as a backup you have the design ready to share as soon as he joins the call.
Take a pending deadline or deliverable and brainstorm five potential worst-case scenarios — how could it possibly go wrong? Now develop contingency plans for each. Make this thinking such an ingrained part of your process that you do it all the time, and soon you’ll hardly be aware you’re doing it.
Looking around corners means you’ll be in the constant practice of solving problems. There are few things more enchanting than someone already having a solution to a problem that hasn’t happened yet.
Keep your commitments
Doing what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it, is one of the easiest and most obvious paths to client enchantment. However, it never ceases to amaze me the number of people and agencies out there that don’t do this one simple thing. Short of catastrophic events, there’s no excuse for not doing what you said you’d do.
Keep all your client commitments — even the small ones.
Are some people ‘un-enchantable’?
There will always be those who refuse to be enchanted. It’s true. It happens. And it will continue to happen. But in my experience, the number of clients who can’t be enchanted is less than 5 per cent. For the rest, their lack of enchantment often means you haven’t yet found what makes them happy or what they need.
If they seem unhappy, reach out to them and offer to have a conversation. This is your opportunity to uncover what they really want and possibly learn more about them at the same time.
If they seem disengaged or unimpressed, don’t jump to the conclusion they aren’t enchanted. If you’re unsure, simply ask: “Is there anything else I can be doing to help you?” You’ll be surprised how people will open up at that question and what a positive conversation this can be, even when nothing’s the matter. That’s enchantment at its most engaging.
Where do we go now?
I believe anyone can achieve client enchantment. If you feel like you’ve already done so, then on behalf of clients everywhere, thank you. Please pass on what you know to others. We can always use more enchantment in the world.
If you haven’t yet achieved it, start trying out the activities I’ve outlined in this article and see how they work for you. These are but a small subset of the tactics and strategies available for enchanting your clients, but they’re good starting points.
Who knows? With enough care, customisation and enjoyment, maybe you’ll be enchanted, too.
This article originally appeared in issue 273 (November 2015) of net magazine.