Effective client communication goes a long way toward developing trust and building a successful business relationship. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to manage communication with various stakeholders across multiple clients. You may be proactive in your communications, but what happens if the client goes silent? What happens if there's a misunderstanding?
When communication breaks down, projects can stall. Minor disagreements may snowball. Trust can be damaged. It hurts both your team and your client's teams. Fortunately, there are plenty of techniques that can help make conversations easier, foster better relationships, resolve conflicts quicker, save time on back-and-forth emails, and ultimately increase client satisfaction.
This post is for consultants, account directors, client success managers, and anyone whose role requires ongoing communication with clients. Read on for an overview of what good communication looks like and a list of 12 practical ways to achieve it.
What is client communication?
Client communication refers to the exchange of information and ideas between you and your clients in order to build a successful working relationship. But what does that really mean in practice?
Why is effective communication with clients important?
As a service provider, you and your team members are responsible for building and maintaining good relationships with your clients. That relationship spans the sales cycle, client onboarding process, service design and delivery, and beyond. Every interaction between your organization and your clients is a communication touchpoint, so it’s crucial to understand the importance of successful client communication. Let’s take a look at the benefits of excellent communication.
Effective communication is important because it:
- Builds trust
- Boosts alignment
- Fosters long-lasting relationships
- Encourages collaboration
- Creates accountability
- Helps avoid costly mistakes or rework
- Increases client retention
- Unlocks expansion opportunities
- Drives better outcomes
On the flip side, poor communication can be disastrous. It can result in a lack of trust, lackluster outcomes, a breakdown in the client relationship, and lost revenue for both you and your clients.
What does effective client communication look like?
Client communication doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach; it must be tailored to each client’s needs and expectations. That said, there are some client communication best practices to consider.
Effective communicators are respectful, empathetic, and patient. They seek to understand through active listening, asking questions and summarizing key points to make sure they comprehend. They consider cultural differences and adapt their communication style accordingly. They consider their tone of voice and how they are being received.
Effective communicators take notes, document client work, and ensure that all stakeholders are informed. They know which medium will communicate a message most effectively. They communicate clearly and follow up to make sure everyone understands. They respect clients’ time; they are consistent in their communication and respond in a timely manner.
When conflict arises, effective communicators face it tactfully but head-on. They assume the best intentions from the people they’re communicating with, never jumping to conclusions or placing blame.
Above all, excellent communicators are adaptable and open to client feedback. They know that they won’t always get it perfect the first time, but they continually work to improve the way they communicate with each and every client.
12 tips for improving client communication
Now, let’s look at 12 techniques for understanding client expectations around communication and communicating effectively in different settings. We’ll also share some templates you can use to communicate, collaborate, and document your client work.
1. Understand which stakeholders you need to keep aligned
To successfully collaborate with your client, it’s important for everyone to understand the key stakeholders and how they will be involved throughout a project or relationship. This minimizes confusion about who is who, clarifies responsibilities, and catalyzes a transition from strangers to true collaborators. It also allows you to ensure you’re looping in the right people at the right time and giving everyone the information they need to stay informed.
Resource: Stakeholder Mapping template
2. Define your communication channels
From written to visual to verbal communication, there are many different ways to get your message across. Take some time to define and document what communication channels you use and when to use them. Then, set expectations so they know what to expect and how best to reach your team.
Consider channels and approaches like:
- Live, in-person
- Chat and messaging services (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Slack)
- Text messages
- Phone calls
- Video conferencing
- Recorded video (e.g., Loom)
- Shared documents (e.g., Google Docs)
- Presentations (e.g., Mural, Google Slides)
- Visual thinking (e.g., Mural)
A lot of communication can happen asynchronously, without adding another meeting to the calendar. However, there are plenty of situations where you’ll need to rely on communication channels that are more robust — such as when you’re sharing new ideas, discussing complex topics, and working toward alignment or consensus.
Related: 5 techniques for building consensus and improving alignment
3. Create a hub for all communications
Your clients shouldn’t have to dig through their inboxes, messaging platforms, and various other tools to find the information they need. To avoid communications getting lost in the ether, create a hub for all client communications. Every memo, update, strategy document, meeting summary, deliverable — they should all be stored in this hub. That doesn’t mean you can’t communicate via email and other channels (as we talked about in #2 above), but make sure all important resources are also accessible in one well-organized space.
Your primary client communication tool might be a project management software, a shared wiki, a shared drive, a Microsoft Teams channel, or a virtual collaboration space like Mural. Many of our members at consultancies and other service providers stay organized by creating a Mural room for each individual client. Then, they use folders within the room to organize their murals by project, type, etc. Some even set up one mural whiteboard that serves as a virtual headquarters and houses important documents and updates. (Note: Mural also has integrations with the tools you’re already using in your tech stack — learn more here.)
Resource: Collaboration Hub template
4. Create shared norms
We’ve already covered the importance of defining communication channels and creating a single source of truth for all communications. Now, consider what other norms, assumptions, and expectations your clients may have — how do they align with the way your team works?
Set aside time with client stakeholders to walk through norms and expectations for collaborating and communicating. For example:
- What is the timeline for responding to your clients and vice versa?
- Are there particular workflows or processes that you should keep in mind when sharing information or deliverables?
- What is your expected meeting cadence?
- What is the best way to raise concerns or ask questions?
- When knowledge or ideas are shared asynchronously, how will everyone ensure commitment to receiving, reviewing, and understanding the information shared?
5. Confirm understanding
Avoid misunderstandings by confirming that you understand what your clients are trying to communicate. A simple way to do this is by repeating what they said back to them in different words and asking them if you understood correctly. When in doubt, double-check!
Be sure to hold a discovery session with clients at the start of your projects. Discovery meetings help you align on expectations, understand the problem they're facing, and set the stage for future collaboration.
6. Coordinate communication across teams
You know the nuances of your org structure, but your clients do not. To put it bluntly, they don’t really care whether information is coming from your Sales team, Account team, Customer Success team, Marketing team, etc. — it’s all coming from your organization, so it should be consistent.
Create your own internal channel to communicate about the client and coordinate any communications with them. Make sure everyone who works with the client knows what’s being communicated to avoid any discrepancies, duplicate work, or confusion.
7. Build trust
Good communication helps build trust, and in turn, trust makes it easier to communicate. When trust has been established in both directions, a genuine relationship can start to develop, which can help you get better feedback from clients and work together to continuously improve upon the work you do.
Trust takes time to build with new clients. It requires being honest, being communicative, and proving yourself over time. However, you can also promote trust by creating opportunities for connection between your team and the client’s team. In other words, find ways to connect on a human level. One powerful way to do this is by using warmups and icebreakers.
Warmups and icebreakers are an incredible way to get to know your collaborators and stakeholders on a more personal level, especially in a remote or hybrid environment. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of meetings to get to know one another, break down perceived barriers, and get everyone communicating from the jump.
Resource: 25 Icebreakers for Virtual Meetings
8. Check in asynchronously
Cut down on those mundane meetings that take up too much of your day! Asynchronous (or async) check-ins are an efficient and effective way to stay connected with clients without unnecessary meetings. They're also a great tool for easily exchanging status updates, ideas, or feedback at times that work best for everyone's schedules.
Resource: Kanban Board template
9. Encourage participation from everyone
Communication is a two-way street, but what happens when someone isn’t proactive in their communication? This can be especially challenging during meetings. Some people may be introverted and hesitant to speak up. Others need time to collect their thoughts before contributing. Or, if you’re working with a hybrid team, the folks who are dialing in (versus attending in person) may not feel comfortable cutting in.
It’s your job to make sure everyone has the opportunity to participate and contribute. Take steps to be inclusive, encouraging all stakeholders in a meeting to share their thoughts, voice concerns, or ask questions. As the meeting facilitator, you can do this by asking to hear from those who haven’t spoken yet. You can also provide a channel of communication for people to continue the conversation after the meeting is over.
Related: How to Empower Introverts to Contribute in Meetings
10. Share difficult news tactfully
It is important to be upfront when communicating bad news or discussing tough topics. It’s essential to be thoughtful about your tone and communication methods. Using a compassionate, friendly tone when going into a troubling conversation can help mitigate tension. Speaking in an understanding manner, creating space for questions, and being transparent with those involved will guarantee trust in the dialogue between you and your customers.
Pro-tip: A stakeholder engagement plan can help teams plan out how they'll engage and communicate with their stakeholders.
For example, if a project has fallen behind schedule, communicate that directly and as early as possible. You don’t want to be stuck scrambling at the last minute because you had hoped you would catch up and meet the deadline. People tend to be more understanding when things go wrong if the news is communicated in an open and honest way. On the other hand, trying to sweep issues under the rug negatively impacts trust and customer satisfaction.
11. Set clear next steps and action items
Include time in every meeting agenda to agree upon next steps and action items. Make sure to communicate and document what everyone is responsible for, key due dates, and how to move forward after the meeting.
Resource: Meeting Notes template
12. Follow up promptly
When you schedule a meeting with a client, block off time immediately after the meeting to synthesize your notes and follow up with the client right away. Send over a summary of the meeting, any artifacts from the meeting (e.g., a mural whiteboard or a slide deck), and the action items you agreed upon.
Client communication goes beyond a meeting notes summary
Client communication can be complex. Use these 12 tactics to communicate effectively and build long-lasting relationships with clients.
Get more resources and tips for client collaboration in our free guide, the Client Collaboration Cheat Sheet. It’s designed to be a quick reference for you to keep in your (metaphorical) back pocket as you prepare for, facilitate, and follow up after client meetings.
Want to take client collaboration to the next level? Download the Client Collaboration Cheat Sheet