So I unexpectedly ended up working in a form of customer service at my job, and while I would have dreaded the prospect before, I’m now glad because I’ve had the opportunity to grow immensely in terms of learning how to communicate professionally with clients. I’ve also been a client myself and seen what works and what doesn’t work in terms of communication. So, here is my summary of things I’ve learned for How To Communicate Professionally With Clients, speaking as someone who began with absolutely no knowledge in this area:
- Always thank the client for whatever they’ve done. The words cost nothing, and thanking people tends to make them feel good.
- Keep the client updated on what you’re doing. You don’t need a play-by-play, but if a client offers thoughts/suggestions and you don’t reply even just to say “Thanks, I’ll work on it and get back to you as soon as possible,” clients are left wondering whether you saw their message at all, whether you’re silently rejecting their ideas, or (for those with anxiety issues) whether they’ve done something wrong. It’s not a nice feeling.
- Whenever you are not sure of what the client wants, ask them to clarify. People usually don’t get upset about being asked to explain what they want, and being clear and communicative can save a lot of time, instead of doing something the client completely does not want, which wastes everyone’s time and can lead to frustration.
- If you can’t do what the client wants, explain why, and end with either alternative options or other ways to move forward. Most people are reasonable when you explain your reasons for not doing something. But if you respond without any clear instructions for next steps, a client may feel like you’re either stonewalling them or you’re implying you don’t want to accommodate them. Which doesn’t feel good for a client who is paying for your services.
- It’s always nice to end your communications with invitations for further communication from the client. My most-often used sentence when I messaged clients was the ending: “Thank you, and please let us know if you have any further questions or concerns.” It makes you look friendly and open to clients sharing whatever thoughts they have.
- There’s a difference between truly nasty clients vs. clients who have high standards. Clients who are demanding because they have high standards may be annoying to deal with at times, but they are reasonable. That kind of client just wants the best results possible from the service they’ve paid for, which they honestly have a right to. Antagonizing these kinds of clients is never going to lead to positive results—it’s just going to lead to everyone feeling frustrated.
- When you’re communicating in a professional context, remember that disagreements are usually not personal. In a way, this is ironic coming from me—I’m extremely sensitive and liable to take many things personally. But honestly, this is true. Dissatisfied clients are typically dissatisfied with your service/product, NOT with you personally. This is even more true in the context of, for example, an artist who works on commission: art is extremely subjective, and a client who doesn’t like your work isn’t saying “You’re a terrible artist” or “I don’t appreciate how much time you put in,” they’re just saying “This isn’t the product that fits my needs.” Taking things personally is the way to make communications turn unpleasant really quickly.