How To Improve Your Client Communication [Process Week Post #1]

Welcome to Project Management Week on the Simplifilm blog.

We’ve spent a ton of time and effort on project management and improving our process.

We’ve learned this year that having excellent people in the production process leads to better creative work. So we’ve spent the last two months improving that process. 

HOW TO IMPROVE CLIENT COMMUNICATION

By establishing the way we communicate with clients we save a ton of time, energy and effort. By having sound communications you can:

  • reduce the time that projects are “out for revision”
  • reduce the number of revisions (which is what clients want)
  • increase – dramatically – the referral and rehire rate
  • spend less time going down paths that don’t work

Here’s why a process works. Projects are more alike than different. Clients themselves are more alike than different. What a client wants from a design team is to have an efficient, well handled, beautiful project done perfectly. Design teams want the same thing.

So we’ll state all that.

First, the obvious things are table stakes. Having good manners, being nice, speaking in terms of how decisions benefit the client all apply, but we’re already doing that.

This week is all about improving client communication.  So without further ado, here’s how.

Idea #1: You Must Have A Plan To Communicate Your Process

We have a memorized and rehearsed on-boarding call. This creates a “performance” mindset that helps us set the tone.

We also have a process roadmap that we share with our clients so that they can ‘keep score at home’ and follow our process (especially in relation to the deadline). We also get to say what will happen when a client is late on something (that sometimes it has an increased impact).

Our plan includes:

  • Onboarding call: an initial call that displays mastery and sets the tone.
  • Process roadmap: our “as you go” list of things that still need to be done.
  • Process messages: scripted, predefined messages that share with the client how much we’re in control.

Since we’re a video agency and all of our clients get videos from us, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every thing that we do.

We simply write out what must be done.

Your business may have different needs, but you’ve gotta have a plan in place.

Idea #2: You Must Communicate Completely

The easiest way to explain complete communication is to share with you what incomplete communication looks like. Let’s take the example of sending a first version of a video:

Dear Steve,

Here is your delivery- hope you like it.

-Chris

Now, what we’re doing wrong here is this:

  1. We don’t tell them what type of delivery it is. They don’t know if it’s a draft, a final copy or just a random thing.
  2. We don’t tell them what the next steps are. Do we need something from them? Will they get something?
  3. We don’t tell them when we need action.
  4. They don’t know what the consequences for inaction are.

Imagine the back and forth – how many more emails this badly written email will cause.

Let’s change this to something useful:

Dear Steve:

As promised, here’s the initial version of your video.

What we’d like you to do is to get us feedback tomorrow by 10am – we can do a call if you’d like, or you can fill in this form [LINK].

After we get your confirmation, we’ll usually need about 2 business days to make any changes. We’ll confirm our timelines again at that time. Do remember that this video is needed by September 22, so if it takes a while to get feedback that could be an issue with our timeline.

Thanks!

Chris

We call this method Exactly What Now, Exactly What Next, and Exactly When. When we use this consistently, all of our projects go much more easily.  We also spell out the consequences for inaction here.

Idea #3: You Must Gently Remind People Of Business Arrangements

One of the silly things that happens on the Freelancer blogs and groups is that they expect the client to have memorized all of the terms of their agreements. When a client forgets, they are enraged! How dare they!

Occam’s Razor applies: The client wasn’t evil, he simply forgot. Remember: they signed the deal ages ago. It was one of 6 competing proposals. In fact, when’s the last time you remember every detail of your own…home mortgage?

Often, a client will ask for extra things. They’ll do this at all times in the process, and you so you have to remind them of their business arrangements.

PROACTIVE REMINDER EMAIL: Glad we’re done! Just wanted to let you know that now that the script is finalized, any changes will mean a change order (which will obviously have a nominal fee).

The other thing clients will do is ask for changes that aren’t covered.

The answer, of course is always yes. No matter what they want. But it’s a different type of yes. See below.

CLIENT: Hey we’d like another script change here.
YOU: Absolutely! We’re happy to arrange that for you, and we’ll be eager to get going. As you may recall, we’ve finalized the script. To change it at this point will be just $1500, and it will cause us to shift the deadline from September 20th to October 2nd. Once you confirm that’s OK we’ll make the change!

This starts a conversation, and often times a client will be happy to order the extra work. (Note: all change orders must be profitable, not just churn. You have to be fair to your own company and have profit in every action you take, otherwise you’ll get hurt. Ask me how I know).

Conclusion: The Rewards Are Great And The Stakes Are High

We know that we get better referrals when we stick to the process. Referrals and rehires where all of our profits come from. And whenever we have regretted something, when our company has underperformed, it’s because we’ve abandoned our process.

My friend Steve Curtain talks about how to do better than going through the motions here on this post.

Some client cultures will do all they can to disrupt this sort of thing. They will stall, they’ll complain, they will stop what they are doing to keep things from happening. Even when this happens, stick with it. Because you can seriously limit the damage that they can do and have a profitable, fun business.

We commit to process so that every client under every circumstance has the best shot at getting a great result with their projects.

Tomorrow’s post is about how to prevent project management issues from happening.

Tell me what you think – what’s the most important part of client communications?

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