Mastering the Art of Client Relations

master-client-relationsHow comfortable are you with your clients?

Do you feel like you understand what they need and want? Would you rate your communication with your clients as being excellent? Do you think they would come to you for ideas? Are you the first freelancer that your clients turn to when they need something done?

If you’re like most freelancers, you probably don’t know your clients very well. You do your best to make your clients happy and provide quality work, but your communication is limited to when there is work being done.

Many articles have been written about client relations, but not all of the advice that is out there works all of the time. Every client is different. What works for one client may not work for another. In fact, developing good client relations is more like an art than a science. In this post, we’ll discuss the art of client relations and how you can take some steps to master it.

Client Relations as an Art

Creating an art piece is different from following a recipe. Someone who is following a recipe can usually duplicate the results as long as they use the same type of ingredients. The recipe works the same way every time. In fact, this is true of any proven method. For example, if you follow the directions carefully for changing your car’s battery and use the same quality battery each time, you should get the same results.

In contrast, an artist relies on their creativity and intuition. The results may vary, even if the same artist does several works. Sometimes that artist will succeed in creating a masterpiece. Other times, the artist’s final work will be less than satisfying.

The same thing happens with client relations. A freelancer can treat two clients exactly alike. While one client may be thrilled with the way that a freelancer relates to them, the next client could be very unhappy. Yet, the freelancer has done nothing different.

Freelancers are often handicapped when it comes to creating good client relations. Many of us do most of our work from home. We rarely see our clients face to face and most of our communications are through e-mail. We hope that our clients are happy, but we never have the opportunity to see the expression on their faces or read their body language or hear their tone of voice.

Each client is different, and what makes one happy may not satisfy another. It takes a great deal of creativity and intuition to successfully deal with clients. Yet, with careful determination, it is possible to develop a mastery of client relations.

Steps to Mastering Client Relations

While there are no guarantees that you will get the same result with every client, there are some guidelines you can follow to improve your client relations. Here are several steps you can take:

  • Be patient. It can take a lot of time to develop a strong relationship with a client. You will be earning their trust and they will be earning your trust. That trust doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t panic if you aren’t there yet.
  • Learn to listen. The most important skill you can have when it comes to customer relations is that of listening. If you deal with clients mostly through email, learn to ask lots of questions to make sure that you fully understand their needs.
  • Put yourself in the client’s place. It’s a cliche, but it really works. Think about what you would want and how would feel if you were in the client’s shoes. Don’t deliver anything less to your client.
  • Think the best of your client. When something goes wrong between you, it’s tempting to think the worst of your client. Did the client miss a payment? Rather than assuming they are a deadbeat, first give them a chance to make it right. They could have made an honest mistake.
  • Be creative. When you interact with the client, think of what you can do that most freelancers wouldn’t. For example, if you can’t meet face to face with a client because of geography, then why not see if you can arrange a video call with your client? Your client will appreciate the effort and you will set yourself apart from other freelancers.

By looking at client relations as an art rather than a set technique or method, you will free yourself from some of the stress associated with following a process that doesn’t really work all of the time. You will also remember to think outside the box when interacting with clients. Finally, your client relations should improve because you will really be meeting your client’s needs.

Have You Mastered The Art of Client Relations?

Are you already a master in the art of client relations? What steps did you take to get there? How have you solved some of your most challenging client relations?

Are you still trying to master this art? What do you struggle with the most?

Why not share some of your experiences in the comments?

Image by arcticpuppy

Comments

  1. says

    Great article for anybody in any industry/service. I’d probably add just one item: Honesty.

    It be taken for granted, but unfortunately there are many out there who may not be as honest as you. As a professional, we need to be professional.

    Am I a cynic? Maybe. I’ve been naive and sometime just plain stupid. But I’ve learned to embrace those with whom I’ve had long-term business relationships (client & vendor) and to listen to my inner voice when something just doesn’t seem right.

  2. says

    Excellent suggestions.

    A good number of my clients work geographically close and I often meet them face-to-face for briefings and interviews. I find this fosters relationships and leads to repeat business and larger projects.

    “Put yourself in the client’s place.” Yes. It helps to focus on the added value you bring. Not just that you deliver a certain skill–marketing copywriting in my case–but time-savings and convenience via strategic insight and project planning, for example.

    I keep in touch with my clients regularly and try to personalize communications. I rarely send out mass emails. Instead I’ll send along a link to a post or article I think they may enjoy. I send snail mail New Year cards to a number of clients. I congratulate them on weddings and births. And I hand write thank-yous after important meetings.

    This may sound like a lot of work. But I’m more interested in finding and retaining the right clients–like-minded marketers and business owners who appreciate and can afford my services–than a lot of unqualified prospects.

  3. says

    Those are all great points. I do not feel that you can master the art of client relations via email. You must talk on the phone, skype, ekiga, etc. to really get an understanding for what you client my truly want or need.

  4. says

    Thanks Joann!

    I guess I did take honesty for granted, but in my opinion that just goes along with being a professional. But, like you said, there are those who won’t be upfront — so, I think it makes a good addition to the list. :-)

    Lorraine — You make a great point! Not every prospective client is right for every freelancer. There must be a match between skills and needs.

    Hi Jordan! Well, I think this is a personal preference. Believe it or not, I have clients that I have never spoken with (one such client has sent me business for nearly 7 years). Other clients prefer an occasional phone call. To master customer relations I think a freelancer needs to discover what the client is most comfortable with.

  5. says

    Wonderful post! I have to say listening is the number 1 in my list. When you actively listen, you gain so much insight into your client’s thinking, needs, & wants. And I totally agree with Lorraine; picking up the phone is so important & often overlooked in our digital age.

    I have many local clients & when I’m close to their office, I don’t hesitate to drop in & say hi. It’s all about fostering friendships.

  6. Courtney says

    Terrific article Laura! It’s sometimes tempting to assume the worst and then things unravel from there. I always cringe when I see people complaining about clients on Facebook and Twitter. Even without using names, it makes the wrong impression and can really hurt your business in the long run!

  7. says

    Hi Nikki!

    I heartily agree. I think listening has become a lost art in our culture (and I’ve been guilty of not listening as well). I put “be patient” first because I see that as a related skill and it’s something I always try to remind myself.

    Good point Courtney–We talk about bad clients some here, but for the most part those are based on clients I read about from other freelancer’s rants. Even with that, I try to make the point so general that no client would read it and think to themselves “that’s me for sure.”

  8. says

    Client relations is definitely an art. And a nuanced art at that! Most of my clients are not local, so I make an extra effort to respond to emails quickly, be on time, meet deadlines and do little things like answering my phone with “Hi [name]” so that it feels more personal.

    If things get stressful or tense on the phone, I’ve found that going the extra mile (like saying, “If I’m quiet, that only means I’m taking notes”) helps them relax and know that you are listening.

    Great topic, Laura! Thanks for posting this article.

  9. says

    As a supervisor at UPS in my youth, the best piece of advice I received was learn three things about your employees. What this did was it allowed me to connect with my people on a different level.

    I use this same approach when dealing with clients, granted, you can’t get a call and say “tell me three things about you.” But what you can do is listen, people let personal stuff slip out all the time, you have to use your common-sense and pick and chose the items that are appropriate to bring up later on. Like if the client says a kid was sick in passing, the next conversation you have with them ask how their kid is doing. This should, most of the time, open the door to ask more questions to get to know them better.

  10. says

    Great comment Benjamin!

    I think it is very important to see your clients as real people with real problems rather than just the entity at the other end of the paycheck. Which, as you point, all boils down to listening.

  11. says

    I always try to “break the ice” whenever I can with a client usually with a little humor or friendly joke. Suddenly you and the client appear as human beings to each other instead of an email address.

    While there will always be those clients who you’ll never speak with at all, you’ll likely fall of their radar at some point. Better to try and establish a rapport any way possible which goes far in prolonging your relationship.

    Good idea from Benjamin’s above about asking three things of your clients. I’ll definitely have to put that to use.

  12. says

    I will usually keep the first meeting completely professional and wait for them to initiate the ice-breaking moment. If they don’t, I will continue to treat the relationship completely professional. As in, no jokes, no witty comments etc.. Every communication with them is strictly professional.

    This way I have usually only have clients at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Those who are ‘casual’ and those who are ‘professional’. No in-between clients which i’m not sure how to treat.

  13. says

    This is a great discussion!

    Daniel and Johnny, I think it’s possible to get to know clients as individuals and still retain a professional distance. To me it’s the difference between getting to know them as people and getting to know them as buddies. Both are possible, but the freelancer must decide which is most appropriate.

  14. says

    Client relations are really important as it determines whether you will be getting any more business from your current clients and it also helps you to do the most appropriate work for each specific client. I always do my best to remain professional but I definitely think I can improve on my communication skills and put myself in the client’s shoes more often.

  15. says

    Hi,
    Let me add one suggestion to the above post: once you have learnt what works for YOUR clients it is good to put all good practices in writing as a ‘client service code’. It can be anything from a 1 page list (works for small businesses) to a 40 pages manual (I have developed such detailed codes for +2000 employees institutions).
    This way you can keep yourself on track. In case you have a partner/collaborator/employee that also deals with client such a code will help you keep consistent way of dealing with your clients.
    Cheers

  16. says

    Great article, thanks! As Joann says – you can’t understate the importance of honesty. Nobody likes being lied to, and if a client were to find out, word would quickly get around that you can’t be trusted.

  17. says

    Client relationship development is a long term process and can allow a company to build trust and a strong bond with the customer long after the initial sale has taken place.

    If the organization does not see this area as a strategic component of their business, it will struggle to maintain long term clients and be pressed to find references for new opportunities.

    Gravity Gardener

    http://gravitygarden.com/build-customer-loyalty/customer-relationship-jobs.html

  18. says

    I like most of the articles on this website. Current article is not among those I like. The article consists of common statements, which are so obvious that it is not worth to write about.

  19. says

    certainly like your web site however you have to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very bothersome to inform the truth however I will certainly come again again.

  20. says

    I am not certain where you’re getting your information, but great topic. I must spend some time studying much more or understanding more. Thanks for excellent information I used to be in search of this info for my mission.

  21. says

    Hi there! This post could not be written any
    better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this page to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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