Six Elements Important in Building Client Relations
As a project manager, it’s easy to make client relationships business-focused and detail-driven.
But, if you’re trying to cultivate a long-term partnership with clients, it’s essential to form deeper connections.
There are several ways to strengthen client relationships and take your leadership and project skills to the next level.
One of the most basic forms of communication is casual conversation. But it’s important to go beyond work-driven chat and take it a step further.
Small talk is sometimes ignored or even criticized as frivolous or unimportant – it’s base-level chit-chat. But, that base-level chit-chat is worth exploring.
Despite your perspective, it’s important to work on small talk with your clients. If you’re on a call with a client, take the opportunity to dig in and learn a bit about them. Talk about the weather. Maybe there’s flooding happening when they’re located. When you do that, you pick up on events happening in that person’s life. Ask them what they did that weekend. It’s simple and obvious, but you may find out golden information; these are major incidents that are important to the client. It provides leverage in working with that client in the future. Find out details about their family and team members – a daughter’s college graduation. Ask them about the items or nick nacks that you see in their office or background.
Research your client’s industry. Bring up relevant news that pertains to them during the conversation. How’s the economy affecting them right now? Small talk forms a bond that will lead you to better understand the client and what they need from you.
People do business with people. It’s that personal touch that will allow you to hold on to your clients down the line.
Meaningless chit-chat is a great way to segue into the project you’re working on and discuss its progress. But it’s important to be authentic with your clients. Many people can tell when there’s a façade or a person is hiding behind a mask. So be empathetic to them. You want your clients to know that you’re here to serve them. This builds trust and can take you further in your business relationship. Word of mouth is so critical in this industry. Your client will be more likely to continue with you and maintain that business relationship down the road.
To be authentic, make a point to remember the topics that have been addressed either in meetings or in person. Connect with them on those points when you meet again. It shows your clients you remembered their ideas or stories and found them important.
The intentional action of gift-giving shows your client you care about them and their business. In his book, Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention, John Ruhlin, calls giving gifts a “secret weapon.”
So, think of this generosity as a tool in your PM arsenal. When you’re communicating with your clients, you want to make sure your “ears are open.” Keep in mind the terms they reference; what do they like? It builds trust in the long term.
When you’re gifting your clients, take it beyond the surface level. Maybe your client idolizes a particular character on a sitcom, or they love a certain video game. This is a subject they may have quietly mentioned during small talk. Find a gift shop or online app that works for giving that special gift. It shows a deep nuanced sense of attention and understanding when you give a gift in this manner.
Keep a record of each client and ideas for gifts that would be ideal for them. Another gift idea is to start a client gift list in an online store like Amazon or a similar platform the client may have mentioned. Include items clients might like and build it over time.
Frequent Project Updates
It sounds obvious. Of course, you need to send work updates. But, it’s important when and how you send communication on the progress of your project.
Clients don’t like to be left in the dark, so be mindful of the clock when delivering your emails or phone calls. Let them know how your project is progressing. You don’t want them wondering where you’ve been or if you’ve even been working on the project.
Send regular updates. Weekly is ideal. Stick to a consistent time frame as well, so they know when to expect your update.
Meeting updates. Send a recap following each meeting, specifying what was said and future objectives. It might seem redundant, but it lets them know you’re keeping track of their expectations and have a strategy to tackle them.
Anticipate questions your client may have before you send an update. Are there issues or points the client should know about? Are there frequent inquiries your client makes about one element of the project? It will cement trust in the business relationship since any concerns will be addressed.
The zoom meeting is no longer a rarity. Many meetings nowadays are conducted on other similar platforms as well as through teleconference and even email.
There are three common methods of business communication. The closer you can be physically to that client, the deeper the interaction will be.
- Texting – shallow and surface communication done electronically. Texts can be easily misinterpreted. Without emojis to express the emotion in your message, the meaning and tone can get lost. There’s no face, no voice to connect words with intent. Use the wrong emoji and your entire intention could be ruined or even misinterpreted.
- Phone calls – less shallow since there is verbal interaction. Allows for more expression, but still much can get lost. There is the risk of you or the client becoming distracted.
- In person – the deepest level of communication. You have their attention. You can hear their voice and see their body language – there’s nothing that replaces that intimacy. Even if you need to catch a flight to do it, meet with your client face-to-face. Go for coffee and build that client bond.
Maintaining and Keeping Client Score Cards
Find out what success means to your clients and create an open platform of communication with them. To do that, you need a scorecard. This is your list of the client’s objectives and goals.
A scorecard not only helps you and your client, but it also helps all other supporting departments stay on track. Small talk and gift-giving will only get you so far if you’re not building a client’s business. You can’t enhance the relationship if you’re not delivering on promises.
It’s important to stay on track and follow the strategic path set out initially between you and your client.
It’s easy to go through the motions; get the job done. You are busy and may have many other clients, but building a strong relationship with each one is essential. From small talk to score cards, you are not only helping your client but growing your career as well as your company. There’s no downside. Put the effort into developing a long-term, authentic friendship with your clients and you will see rewards in all aspects of project management.
Brian Chaney is the founder of PMAcademy.io.
Ruhlin, John, Giftology: The Art and Science of Using Gifts to Cut Through the Noise, Increase Referrals, and Strengthen Retention.