Before you ever became a business owner, you were a customer. Even if you jumped into entrepreneurship straight out of high school, you had inevitably bought some candy from the convenience store or clothing at the mall at some point. And, during your consumer journey, you probably experienced at least one instance of poor customer service. Think about how that made you feel. Not great, right?
Now that you have your own business, it’s no surprise that you want to excel at and improve your client communication at every turn. When you work at a large company, there’s often a department dedicated to customer service. But when the entire company is just you, client satisfaction can (accidentally) slip and falter. As such, it’s important to know how to make customer service and effective communication an ingrained part of your indy company culture. Here are some tips on how to keep your clients happy.
Be Clear and Precise
When you start any new client relationship, make sure you have a detailed, easy-to-understand contract in place. One of the biggest causes of dissatisfaction (on both sides) is shifting responsibilities after work begins. “Scope creep” is something I hear many of my self-employed friends complain about all the time. But with detailed contracts, there’s no room for this type of change in work, and everyone knows what to expect.
Of course, clarity and precision are required in other aspects of your client relationship, as well. All of your written and verbal conversations should be as detailed as possible, and you should always confirm that all parties understand each other. When in doubt, check in. A simple, “I’m not sure I know what you mean. Could you explain further?” is better than doing something incorrectly and potentially ruining a professional relationship.
Lead With Positivity
Have you ever thought about the energy with which you approach your work? No one wants to deal with a Negative Nancy. When your tone, word choice and mannerisms are positive, your clients will feel increasingly comfortable with you and even more excited to work together. Positivity can defray an awkward conversation or calm an anxious client. When you’re getting on the phone with a client, put on a smile or think of something funny. Your tone will automatically change, even if you’re faking that smile.
How would you like it if your realtor never returned your phone calls, and you missed out on a house you were all starry-eyed for? (This happened to me. I did not feel happy.) What about if you took a day off of work to wait for an at-home delivery that either never showed, or came hours after they said they’d arrive — and you’d already left by then? Trust me, you wouldn’t like it very much. Being on time shows your clients that you respect them, highlighting that you’re professional and true to your word. If something goes awry and you have to miss a deadline, communicate with your client sooner rather than later.
All of your competitors can provide quality service, just like you. What you do to wow your clients is what will set you apart from all the other people they could hire to do the job. Suggesting small upgrades or turning work in before it’s due shows that you’re willing to work harder and smarter than everyone else to keep your clients happy and improve their overall satisfaction.
It may seem obvious, but fostering effective communication with your clients starts with listening. Don’t assume you know what they need or tune them out if you’ve heard the same story over and over. First, you may assume incorrectly, or you may miss key pain points you could be using as a means to over deliver. Second, people like to feel heard. Who cares if this is the third time someone is explaining why they think their washing machine broke? Listen. Let them know you care by hearing what they have to say.
Apologize (If Necessary)
Let’s face it: Even though we try as hard as we can to improve client satisfaction and not mess up ever, sometimes we all drop the ball. Maybe you spaced on an appointment or turned work in after it was due. Don’t slink away and act like it didn’t happen or avoid client contact altogether. Be professional and direct, and take responsibility. Your clients will respect you for owning up to any mistakes, and the situation will be easier to resolve.
Say “Thank You”
Above everything on this list, gratitude goes the farthest in keeping clients happy. It’s also one of the simplest tools to master. If everything is going well in your client relationship, you can insert simple messages of appreciation into your regular communication. When sending an invoice, include a note that says something like, “Thank you so much for your continued business.” Before a client call ends, thank the participants for the time they took to meet with you. It doesn’t matter if they weren’t the people who asked for the appointment in the first place. Just acknowledging that you know they’re busy and that you appreciate their participation on the call is important to strengthen the relationship.
For rockier client relationships, gratitude is just as (and possibly more) important. The easiest way to improve your client satisfaction is to express appreciation if and when they point out a mistake you made — even if doing so makes you feel vulnerable. A sentence such as, “Thank you for bringing that to my attention” is the first step to putting someone at ease.
Happy clients lead to client referrals and more business, so improving your client communication and treating your current contacts well will help to keep you busy and employed. Don’t skip any of these steps as a solo entrepreneur.