It would be easier in some ways if you almost never had to interact with clients — if you could simply get your job done to the agreed level of quality and skip the often-awkward process of reaching out with updates or queries. Alas, that’s never going to be the case with the majority of clients. They know they have options, and will expect you to consistently prove your usefulness.
This isn’t all bad, though. Interacting with clients can be enjoyable, and tends to provide rich feedback that can be used to improve results and negotiate more lucrative deals. You just need to know how to approach client management — but of course that’s far easier said than done. What should you say? What can you talk about? How do you avoid making things worse?
Much of it comes down to practice, admittedly, because good communication requires iteration. Even so, the more you work on your client management skills, the easier you’ll find it to keep your campaigns thriving and your clients happy. To help you out, we’re going to run through some core tips for improving and sustaining your client relationships. Let’s get started:
1. Prove that you understand client needs
A key part of a prospective client agreeing to work with you is their belief that you’re more than just highly competent — you’re also fully aware of their unique professional situation and thus in a position to act accordingly. Every client needs a tailored approach for optimal success. You need to use empathy to imagine what it’s like to be them, and act accordingly.
Facebook might be much-maligned for how much data it stores, but it has such a vast user base because it’s so accessible, and it achieves that through maintaining an Empathy Lab that helps engineers understand how different users experience their designs.
It’s also a matter of courtesy. During the pitching process, you’ll no doubt have had several lengthy discussions with them, during which they’ll have talked in depth about their business. If you didn’t learn anything from them, how can you be trusted to do the job you were hired for? Ideally, you should come across as understanding their business better than they do.
So how do you prove this kind of comprehension? It’s easy enough. When you talk to them, ask questions about how things are going, and direct those questions in a way that makes it abundantly clear how well you understand their daily dealings. When you comment on what you’re doing, let them know how it fits into their overall goals.
2. Get on friendly terms as soon as possible
You don’t need to be particularly close to your clients, but you should always make a strong effort to get on friendly terms with them. The best way to do this is to show your personality. Relax the formality (while remaining fundamentally professional) and talk about your life. What motivates you? What are your daily frustrations? What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
When you start talking about your life in that way, your clients will probably feel inspired to reciprocate. It’s in our nature to want to connect with others, after all, even when we’re unlikely to start socializing together. It makes business dealings more pleasant — and the more you get to know someone, the more likely you are to take them at their word.
Embracing empathy also ties back into understanding their needs, because emotional intelligence is essential for figuring people out: if you can’t envision what it’s like to be in their situation, then you won’t be able to appreciate all their daily frustrations. When you know them better, you’ll have an easier time determining what’s grinding their gears.
3. Have a brand that’s worth supporting
On the whole, does your company come across as likeable? These days, it’s incredibly important that a business have a commendable brand — one with values that clients can readily support, a strong combination of professionalism and informality, and a steadfast commitment to providing an excellent level of service. There are plenty of companies that don’t do anything wrong from a technical standpoint, but are just… bland.
So how do you showcase your company’s best qualities? Social media is perfect for this. Through regular social media activity, you can make it abundantly clear how your company operates: what you’re invested in, what issues you care about, what kind of jokes you like, and numerous other things besides. You can set out your stall across multiple platforms and encourage your clients to follow your profiles.
Whenever one of your clients opens up Twitter and sees a post from your company that they quite enjoy, it’ll make them feel more positive about you and what you do for them. Whenever they check your blog and find valuable new content, it’ll remind them that you bring expertise to the table (answering industry questions is a key part of modern content marketing for this exact reason). This will improve the working relationship and keep them on your side.
4. Never leave important clients waiting
It’s hardly unheard of for a client to pop up with some requests at an inconvenient time. You have a lot of work to do, and suddenly a client that has been fairly quiet wants a lot of attention. It’s typically due to them forgetting all about your work for quite a while. When they remember, they panic, and want to know exactly what’s happening.
How you respond in such a scenario should depend on the importance of the client. If it’s a low-level project and you’re not getting paid a huge amount, then the client can wait — respond to say that you’ll get back to them properly as soon as you can, because that’s adequately professional if you haven’t promised anything more.
But if the client is very valuable to you, pull out all the stops to let them know it by making their request a priority. You do need to be somewhat careful with this, because always responding immediately might give them the impression that they can inconvenience you however much they want, but you can always have an extended chat with them to set appropriate expectations if their support needs are getting overly complicated.
5. Simply explain the value of what you do
You know the significance of the work you do, and your clients do in a roundabout fashion (or else they’d never have chosen to work with you), but they might not understand any of the specifics. They might have begun with vague notions of what you’d bring to the table, but only recently started to wonder about actual metrics (probably ROI in particular).
There are two common ways in which you can respond, with neither being great: you can try to gloss over the stats and just reassure them that things are going well (which will seem highly suspicious and unprofessional), or you can throw out-of-context stats at them in the hope that they’ll be satisfied with that data (they won’t).
Instead, you should take the relevant metrics and explain why they matter. If a specific metric isn’t where you want it to be, detail your plan to get it there. If you can set out the importance of what you’re doing in simple terms, your clients will feel better informed and most likely be happy to let you get on with it.
6. Be honest when you encounter issues
I noted that metrics won’t always be where you want them to be, and that’s not something to hide. No company, no matter how exceptional, delivers constant growth and performance — and if you try to keep your clients believing that things are always going perfectly, your lack of authenticity will soon become apparent, leading to a breakdown in trust.
The way forward is very simple: when the results aren’t quite what you want them to be for a particular client, or you’re having some kind of problem, just let them know. Additionally, don’t sugarcoat the situation or pass the buck. Explain very straightforwardly what you’re doing to make things better, and ask that they leave things with you.
There’s no reason whatsoever to be worried about this, because any client that expects actual perfection isn’t worth keeping, while a great client will always care far more about your honesty than your occasional issues with getting results. Business can be cutthroat, after all — when you find a company that will treat you well, you need to stand by it.
7. Stay proactive to keep them impressed
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to be proactive. We’ve looked at how to deal with client requests, but you must make every effort to avoid them by reaching out to make suggestions, provide updates, and generally catch up. Don’t let your clients forget about you, because that’s when they’ll start to question your value.
I’m not saying that you need to call them every day or anything that extreme. Just drop them messages on a regular basis, whether through email, social media, or whatever project management tools you share (e.g. Slack, Basecamp, or Asana). That way, they’ll never come to wonder how committed you are to meeting their needs.
Client management is a crucial part of raising client retention, and retained clients are more profitable, easier to deal with, and more likely to produce referrals. We’ve looked at various tips here, so keep them in mind when you’re trying to keep your clients happy — and remember that iteration is key for communication, so start speaking to them more even if you don’t feel entirely comfortable with it. You’ll get there, bit by bit.