How to make clients happy through open communication

Kill them with kindness and properly met expectations.

Photo by Aysia Stieb

There’s open communication, and then there’s effective open communication. Remember when your mom told you to clean your room, but didn’t say when she wanted it done by, then she’d come home from work and get mad that there were still clothes everywhere? It’s kind of like angering a client with a delayed delivery date because she sent the brief over four days after you needed to kick off the work. Except you failed to tell her exactly when you needed it.

Effective open communication with clients is the same as what you want to have in any healthy relationship. You both have the same goal in mind, you want the other person to be happy, and you have to work together to get there.

The definition of communication mentions “exchanging news or information.” The emphasis on the involvement of two parties is important, but to ensure you and your client are on the same page, you have to do a lot more than exchange a few words here and there.

Let clients know when & why.

If you’ve called a meeting to go over progress on the home page design, outline the agenda before so your client knows why you asked for their time. If you need feedback by the the end of the day to move forward with phase two, state that at the top of your email. If you have to push back delivery, explain and show them it’s because their competitor announced a new logo that looks too similar to what you’ve been working on. You can share a piece of information, but it’s not complete communication until you’ve also included how, when, or why.

Make sure they feel heard.

Communication is exchanging information, but there are important nuances to make sure the giver of the information feels it’s received properly. Active listening is a huge one. Make eye contact in face-to-face meetings. Take notes on paper, but don’t have your computer open in front of you. For phone conferences, shut down your email client so you’re not distracted by pings. You want to make your client feel you’re only focused on what they’re saying. In later conversation or communication, refer to what they said before so they know you’re hearing them.

Get the information you need.

That could range from how to shape the next iteration of the project to client frustrations. To get that info, ask for it. Shape questions in a way that elicits the answer you need, but doesn’t feel too blunt. If you want to gauge your client’s happiness about how the work is shaping up, don’t ask, “So, do you like the work?” Instead, ask “Do you feel anything is missing, or off?” This will better help your client make a more pointed assessment and offer any feedback. Whatever you do, don’t get defensive, but do ask questions where you don’t understand. If you’re unsure what your client’s concern/misunderstanding/frustration is, you’ll never find the solution to make them happy.

Find the right time to talk and share info.

Some clients may want daily updates while others feel overwhelmed by frequent messages. Suggest a cadence of communication, then check back in with your client to see if it’s too much, or just right. You also want to make sure you communicate at appropriate times throughout the work. If you have impressive news, share it immediately. Your client will be delighted with the unexpected good update, and they’ll also be pleased to know the work you do for them isn’t for checkpoints, it’s a constant hustle.

Find their preferred communication channel.

It doesn’t matter what you say to your client if it doesn’t hit their eyes and ears in a way that makes the most sense for them. If it’s a major checkpoint and you have a ton of visuals to share, try to make the meeting in person so you can show them firsthand and observe their reactions. If it’s a simple progress update, ask if a bullet email will suffice. Regardless of the communication channel you land on, always check back in to make sure it was the most effective choice.

Pro tip: Always take notes for phone calls or face-to-face meetings so attendees have a record and reference point of what was discussed. Send it out to everyone involved in the project to ensure you’re all on the same page, and agree the notes are an accurate representation of the meeting.

Be honest and push back when needed.

If a client’s ask is impossible, tell them no, and why. If a client request isn’t right for the project, respectfully let them know why you think so, and rely and touch on your past experience and expertise in the matter. What you don’t want is to lead the both of you down a rabbit hole only to hit a dead end and have your client say “Well, why didn’t you speak up before?”

Provide added bonuses.

You’ve heard it before, and it’s even more important when it comes to pleasing clients — Make yourself indispensable. Stay on top of their product and industry and send them regular updates on what you find. Comb your network to see if there’s anyone you might make an introduction to that would be valuable to their business. Present ideas and examples of how to push creative even more. You want your client to feel they’re your number one priority, even when you’re not working directly on the assignment.

Effective open communication will help clients feel engaged with the work, and help them trust you more as a true partner. If you already find yourself down a dark road with a client and aren’t sure how to switch things up, put this post into practice and openly communicate the changes you want to make and how you think it will improve the work.

Wake is a design app built for open communication and collaboration for teams. It fits seamlessly into a designer’s workflow, so fast and frequent sharing with clients is straightforward and simple. Try it out today!