How to Build Solid, Successful Client Relationships
Creating strong client relationships begins before even landing the job. The resume, portfolio, or referral a client receives is the first step to building trust in us as a company or consultant, our skills, and our work ethic. However, once we do get hired for a project, it is more important than ever to continue building that trust and create the “wow” factor that’s going to get us hired again in the future.
Check out these 4 tips we follow to earn and keep our clients' trust.
1. Set Expectations
This idea can be broad, but let’s focus on expectations for the project itself. First and foremost, this begins with scope. What exactly does the project include? What are the deliverables? At what point can we say that the project has been completed? Having a specific project scope documented and agreed upon is a surefire way to help avoid frustration and confusion during the project. If (and when) our client wishes to add more tasks or asks for numerous iterations as the project progresses, the scope document is always there for reference. This makes it easy to identify requests that fall outside of the agreed upon scope and affect the project’s timeline and completion. Is that to say we must stick to the original project scope? Absolutely not! Change orders are a common part of a project lifecycle and ensure that each additional request is integrated into the project on terms that are valuable to both the consultant and client.
The project timeline is another topic to discuss right from the get-go. While we always aim to provide the most accurate estimates for projects, it is preferable to err on the side of over estimation. If a project is finished ahead of schedule, it’s a win for everyone! If it is finished right on schedule, the entire team will be thankful there was that extra cushion to ensure work is completed to everyone’s satisfaction.
Our process is a collaborative one which means that each project will require effort from both our consultants and our client. Even if we are doing all the heavy lifting, we’ll always need our client to provide us with content or information to complete the job. It could be as simple as providing feedback or something that requires time and effort, such as creating new content for a webpage. Either way, everyone involved should understand exactly what their roles and assignments are and when certain tasks need to be completed. Deliverables or other tasks that are dependent on our client’s approval need to be clearly noted and communicated to avoid any unwanted delays.
2. Demonstrate Expertise
If we’ve been hired for a project, we’ve already gained the confidence of our client that we have the knowledge and skill to get the job done right. That may have been conveyed through a consultant’s resume, a project portfolio, or a formal project proposal. Sometimes it may be through someone else’s recommendation that our client should hire us! Even though we may have proven ourselves initially and landed the project, that does not stop us from continuing to provide insights and expert advice throughout the project’s lifetime. We know that if we want to be hired again, it is important to consistently show our client why we’re the right team for the job through the quality and value of our work.
Sometimes, demonstrating our expertise will simply involve handing off a completed project. However, when engaging with clients during a project, there are many opportunities where we can go above and beyond. For example, if our client asks us to do something, yet we know that following through with that request would not work well or not provide the best results, we can explain why we do not see it as an optimal path and provide alternative options that would better meet their goals. While our client may not always choose to take our advice they will know that we are invested in making their project a success.
It is important to keep in mind that our clients hire us for our expertise and to fill in when they need extra assistance on their team. When it comes to building a solid relationship with our clients, we must be able to explain our recommendations and concepts in ways that they will understand. Rather than using industry lingo and technical concepts that might not be easily understood, we aim to educate while we work together towards a successful project completion.
The most important voice during any project we’re hired for is our client’s. We are bringing their vision to life, and they should have plenty to say about how they want that to happen! While it is essential for us to share the knowledge and expertise we were hired for, it is equally important for us to show our client that their thoughts are important as well. If we disagree with what they’re saying or asking, a simple “I hear what you’re saying, but it might be a better option if…” could go a long way. If we don’t listen to our client’s opinions or concerns, they may never be satisfied with the end result of the project, and that means we may not earn their business for their next project.
The collaborative nature of our process means we see ourselves as part of our client’s team. We bring our technological knowledge and they bring their industry knowledge. Together, through listening to each other and with open, honest communication, we can define the best path forward for a successful project.
How many times have you heard the phrase “communication is key”? It’s the truth, and one of the biggest factors that lead to client relationship success! Of course, communication is a two-way street, but when we keep up consistent and detailed communication on our end, our clients are bound to be appreciative of our attentiveness during a project.
Communication has many different aspects; a main one revolves around answering emails or responding to phone calls. With this, timeliness is essential. A prompt email response can go a long way to establish trust and reliability. If an email seems urgent but we can’t respond at the moment, we can note that we received the email and will get them an answer shortly. This small action will confirm for our client that we are paying attention.
Communicating also has to do with making sure each party stays informed of progress and decisions being made before, during, and even after completion of the project. If progress is slower than anticipated, goals change, or one person is waiting on another to move forward, these things need to be shared as soon as possible to avoid project setbacks, disappointment, or frustration from our client. Also, informing our clients that tasks have been completed shows that we are making progress, which is something they need to know and will naturally keep our relationship strong.
All in all, communicating is a combination of all 3 ideas noted above. We communicate expectations before the project even begins, listen to everything our client tells us, and respond to all scenarios in a way that exhibits our professionalism and expertise. Simply taking 10 minutes to explain what we’ve done and why or how we’ve done it can go miles in building a strong relationship with a client – it shows that we’re paying attention and care about the project’s outcome. Following these practices with each client will lead to successful project outcomes, and long-term partnerships.