This post is by Solo PR Pro Content and Community Specialist, Heather Rast.
Working with Kellye, you learn early on she’s smart about servicing clients. A recent project got us talking about ways to build trust after finding a new client and how vitally important it is to a successful relationship. This is a long post, so let’s dive right in!
Respect Their Time
As our society in general loses some of the courtesy and respect previous generations showed one another, I think we are well served to raise our awareness of other people’s time, personal schedule, and needs. This concept translates to:
- Promptly returning phone calls.
- Promptly replying to emails and thoroughly addressing all points raised.
- Log on to a scheduled call 2 minutes in advance of start time.
- Hold fast to estimated call end times, or (near scheduled end time) inquire if attendees are free to keep going.
Conform To Their Work Style
You’ve read how some people get all their writing in as the roosters crow? Or maybe heard the phrase “Call me anytime – I’m always working”? Consider establishing communication preferences part of your new client onboarding process. Sure, you may intuit somewhere around week 4 that your contact is always available at 8:30am except on Thursdays – but if you establish preferences for modes and times (Call? Email? Skype? Breakfast meeting?) early, then that demonstrates you’re thinking of all the details and willing to take some steps to accommodate the client.
Keep Your Commitments
This concept ties in with respecting someone’s time, but goes a bit further. Consultants can’t accomplish work without input (feedback, tangible assets, consent, etc.) from clients. You can’t expect a client to do their part to uphold a timeline if you’re not toeing the line yourself. This translates to:
- Keep appointments.
- Promptly getting back in touch with any follow-up items promised.
- Regularly communicate progress made toward an established deadline (this is a great way of demonstrating you’re always thinking of the client and it keeps the client up to speed in case others ask them about status).
Listen For Their Pain Points And Relieve Them
It can be hard to dig down beneath the basic barriers to being more productive we all share – too little time, too many meetings, too much bureaucracy. But if you listen closely enough for underlying root cause, you may just find ways to make your client’s life just a little easier. And that’s just one way to demonstrate your commitment and gain some trusted ground.
- Does your client have to take data you report and mash it into a bigger aggregate report for use by internal stakeholders? Offer to format your information so it slides in easily. Or offer to do the admin work yourself (if it makes sense to do so).
- Find flaws in your client’s processes they didn’t know they had, and improve upon them. What, he can’t give you an editorial style guide for the blog you’re assigned to write? Then offer to use the bits and pieces of info they can feed you and write a draft of one for them.
Establish Level Ground
Sometimes people can articulate the problems they want to solve. Other times they just know the outcomes they want. Come closer to delivering on client expectations when you:
- Ask them to thoroughly complete a project brief at the onset of working together. Some people will try to avoid it, saying it takes too much time. Those people will be very hard to satisfy because they haven’t zeroed in on their priorities.
- Get them to talk about projects that they consider to have been successes. What variables contributed?
- Get them to talk about projects that failed. What were the communication failures? Administrative or logistic failures? Learn from what worked and what didn’t.
Communicate Clearly And Openly
It’s true: we all have different attention spans and information requirements. Some people like to be carbon copied on all activity, even if they don’t have an assigned deliverable. Others don’t want the full picture, only to be looped in if a problem arises.
The way I see it, part of my responsibility (and maybe yours, too) as a contractor to push information out to the group public. This may mean:
- Writing conference reports detailing phone discussions or in-person meetings where decisions and task assignments were made and outstanding questions raised. I first experienced this early in my career on the agency side. Still a good practice, maybe more so with less frequent in-person meetings.
- Maintaining a central repository of messages and associated files. For projects or ongoing assignments with clients (not a simple, quick info exchange), I rely on project management tools like Asana to be a “hub” with clients. We’ll write more about collaboration and project tools later.
- Never assuming information/requests sent was received. “Well, I emailed her but didn’t hear back” is weak. Passing a hot potato doesn’t absolve one of responsibility.
Deliver The Unexpected
This may be where “nice to have” really adds value to a relationship and goes a long way to engender trust. I have a client for whom I do social media management. She had a Facebook presence before we started working together, but didn’t find much value in it. Of course the problem was a lack of understanding how the page could be used as a channel to inform and entertain fans as part of a larger digital marketing strategy.
In just under 6 weeks, we saw a huge jump in fan participation, Facebook check-ins, and new fans. Status updates are now reaching a much wider local audience, and people have started to use our Deals to save money at checkout. For a consumer retailer, these are great baby steps to improved word-of-mouth.
She didn’t ask me to explain how Facebook could help her business. She trusted me because she believed in the whole marketing plan I presented. But knowing her uncertainty, I generated a simple but very telling report to demonstrate the dramatic change with the Faebook page.
I gave her more than she asked for, something unexpected. And my little report reassured her I was looking out for her interests by making certain my work was moving the needle.
How do you help build trust with clients?
This post contributed by Heather Rast, Content and Community Specialist for Solo PR Pro. Heather is Principal of Insights & Ingenuity, a Cedar Rapids digital marketingcompany. She develops brand identity and marketing communications plans for small businesses that distinguish them from the competition. Her content planning and online community-building work for larger organizations helps them better serve their consumers.