I quickly grow tired of all the low-quality, filled with fluff, how-to articles that float around the internet so I wanted to quickly let you know this is not one of those articles. With that in mind, let’s get down to brass tax and what you need to do in order to develop strong client relationships. These principles stem from my own personal experience as an Account Manager working with dozens of clients.
1. Have Clear Expectations
The most important time for establishing a strong relationship is in the beginning. Relationships, both personal and professional, always begin in a honeymoon phase with each partner excited about the relationship with high hopes for the future. With the excitement of a new relationship you may be tempted to overpromise on the work to come. Don’t.
Set clear expectations that will govern the relationship over the coming months and hopefully years. Choose goals and deadlines for the project that are clear to both you and the client. When establishing these deadlines make sure to add wiggle room for yourself in case you run into unforeseen issues. If everything goes along smoothly you get to over deliver what you had under promised.
How should the client contact you? Can they call whenever they like? I have found in my own work that phone calls need to be scheduled so I have time to work on projects and not be constantly answering phone calls about the work.
What about emails? When can they expect responses from you? A practice I would recommend would be to let your clients know that you read and respond to emails twice a day at certain hours of the day. This gives them an expectation of when they can receive a response and an understanding that it is their responsibility to send in their questions on time to receive responses.
Clarification may also be needed for:
>The particulars of the work to be done
>The format and content of reports
>The detail of updates
>What to do if you are on vacation or otherwise unreachable
2. Understand Your Client
This may seem like a no-brainer but I really mean understand your client. What are they hoping to accomplish with this project? How does it fit in with the rest of their business plan? Why did they choose you and what do they expect? Understanding where they are coming from may remove the mystery from their actions.
Know the client’s industry along with its terminology and lingo. One of my clients works in home construction specifically in providing mobile, manufactured, and modular homes? Do you know the difference between these three? I certainly didn’t, but I made sure I found out. Now I can speak with the client about his business and market the company effectively.
What about the personality of your client? Do they enjoy conversation before business or do they want a report on the numbers. Not everyone is the same and certainly not everyone is like you. Cater your communication to them.
Just as it was important to have clear expectations so is maintaining clear communication. Remember those planned updates you scheduled and the established email rules? Make sure that you follow them. By being consistent and reliable you sustain the satisfaction with which the relationship began.
If the client does have an issue or a question, make sure that you listen and understand their issue completely. Ask any questions you need and only after you really understand the problem offer your advice. Answering before listening is only frustrating and fruitless for both you and the client.
As the months progress you will find the majority of your client woes can be avoided by maintaining clear communication.
4. Be Honest
Honestly is the best policy. This continually proves to be true in both and applies to both the good times and the bad. When the work is going well let your client know, without hyperbole how the project is going. When you find yourself in a dip have clear communication along with plans to fix the situation. Do not lie about circumstances and do not overpromise your solutions or you will find you are just creating problems for yourself down the road.
With so many unscrupulous companies out there make sure you stand out as not only a top notch business but a partner that can be trusted. Clients can quickly discern when they are being manipulated and they will react harshly. Remember, this is their livelihood. Years of trust can quickly be destroyed with what you might consider a white lie.
5. Be Human
I consider this principle the most difficult but most valuable. You need to maintain a business relationship with your client but at the same time develop the trust that often grows from friendship. Understand who they are as an individual, what they hope to accomplish.
If you are having a hard time figuring out how to get this started try adding a personal note to the end of your emails. ‘Hope you had a good weekend,’ before your signature can get the ball rolling. Of course remember to mirror your client. If you note they bring up friendly conversation themselves go for it. However, if they don’t respond or seem bored with the personal talk keep it strictly business.
Remember as well to allow your personality to come out in communication but of course only the best parts. No one appreciates sarcasm regarding their business. You may also consider networking with them professionally, adding them to your LinkedIn network. This may provide dividends for you and client in a future relationship.
6. Avoid Negativity
This applies not only with your clients but with your boss, coworkers and personal life. Bemoaning a situation benefits no one. If your client runs into an issue try and solve it. Come up with three possible recommendations with one being the strongest. Present your ideas as well as your preferred recommendation to the client. If you can provide solutions to their problems they will bring their questions to you which may mean more business.
If you open up your inbox to find a client has sent you four emails over the weekend you know what I am talking about. This can either be a bane or a blessing.
If you try and deal with every particular issue you will find yourself drowning in work and growing frustrated. However, when a client sends so many emails it means they either have too much time or are deeply interested in their success. I doubt they have too much time and interest is something that can be directed.
Give your client their own set of tasks. For example for link building opportunities for a client site I had planned on answering a popular question online by creating a tutorial in the site’s blog and then answering the question on different sites; adding links to the full tutorial. Writing the thing was going to take most of my time so I asked my overenthusiastic client to write it for me.
After I edited and placed it on the site we were able to start on building links. Half the work was finished and I wasn’t receiving three emails over the weekend.
While there may be a number of other principles to help strengthen client relationships these have been the ones I have found most applicable in the workspace. Strong relationships mean future business as happy customers are often your best sales people drumming up referrals. Value your clients and they will value you.
Photo Credit: Garfield Anderssen,