How to Manage Clients
If you have a front-facing role at the company you work at, it means you will have to manage clients regularly.
Client managing is a skill that has to be learned with time, but luckily, it can be an easy skill to acquire if you follow a few simple rules.
Before Meeting the Client
Client management happens before you even schedule a meeting. It begins when the client first reaches out (or whenever you are assigned a client). Before meeting them, it is in your interest to thoroughly revise any document the client has shared with you.
If, on the other hand, the client has not shared with you any written document, the best thing to do is to research the client. The more you know about the client, the better you can help them. If you get accustomed to what they do, what services or products they provide or what methodologies they use before meeting them you will know how to approach the meeting and what potential issues they might be facing.
If you are working with a team on this client project, I highly suggest you gather before you convene with the client. This will not only allow you to feel more comfortable during the discussion, but it will make you more credible and knowledgeable in the client’s eyes. It will also enable you to establish a meeting agenda.
Moreover, it will give you the chance to establish what will make the meeting a success. Therefore, agree on what information you have to get from the client during the session. Here you will also have the time to note down any questions that could direct the client towards giving you the information you need to obtain. Moreover, you can structure any question you wish to ask logically by theme.
Once all these details have been arranged it is time to schedule the meeting. When you agree on a time and date with the client, remember to share the meeting agenda to allow the client to come prepared. It will enable them to have any document you might need ready for you or gather any data you might need.
Sharing the meeting agenda has another vital purpose. Some clients enjoy talking, which can mean they will derail from the topics that need to be addressed. If you have a plan, you will redirect them towards the matters to be discussed. Similarly, if you have a more introvert client, it will allow them to have guidelines to follow and not have to rely excessively on small talk.
When sharing the program, remember not to share the questions you have prepared, these will have to be answered in person and will be needed to guide the client to give you the information you need.
Regardless of whether the meeting is held remotely or in-person, you should always establish a relationship with the client.
The best way to do this is by making them feel at ease; therefore, smiling and providing the client with your undivided attention is the best way to do this. Giving your client your undivided attention means not engaging in any activity which is not client-focused. That email you just received? It can wait until after the meeting. The same goes for the text which just lit your phone up like a Christmas tree.
If you find it difficult to concentrate on your client, use technology to your advantage, most phones and computers nowadays have “do not disturb” option embedded into them, use it. If your phone is a significant distraction, consider using a free app like Forest (iOS, Android), which will discourage you from picking up your phone.
The best way to show the client you are paying attention to them is by engaging in active listening.
As active listening requires you to remember what is being said, you should take notes during the meeting or, at least, have a designated note-taker. In any case, I have a whole article dedicated to taking notes in meetings which can help you out.
Even if you opt for designating a note-taker, I highly recommend you have pen and paper at arm’s reach, just in case you need to note down any follow-up questions to something the client has said. The same goes for if something the client said is unclear, note it down and get back to it later. It is tempting to interrupt the client and ask them at the moment, but this means interrupting your interlocutor’s train of thought, which could cause them to forget to tell you something that might be important for you to know.
Although I am a tech lover, I find typing notes very distracting during a meeting, regardless of whether it is held in an online or physical environment. In both cases, the tap, tap, tap on your keyboard can be both noisy and distracting, plus most people cannot type as fast as they can write.
Furthermore, a laptop can act as a barrier, as it can make a meeting feel more formal than it has to be, especially if it is the first meeting you ever have with a client, causing them to close up and, again, not share with you all the information you might need.
If you have to present any kind of data or retrieve information during the meeting a laptop is necessary, therefore you should have a computer available, just avoid using it as a barrier.
Throughout your meeting demonstrate you are paying attention through verbal and non-verbal communication. Show you understand the issues the client is facing, emphasise with them but do not pity them.
Use language such as “I understand…” or “I see where you are coming from…”, this will make the client feel understood and encourage them to go into more detail about the issues they are facing. Give a summary of what they said so that you both make sure you understood correctly and demonstrate you were listening.
Remember to make eye-contact (if you are holding a virtual meeting, remember to watch in the camera lens now and then to make it feel like eye contact). Lean in towards the speaker (or a little towards the screen. Not too much or the webcam’s narrow framing will make it appear as if you want to get into their ‘virtual’ personal space) when your interest peaks.
The power of silence
Occasionally you will face a not talkative client who will answer your questions with short, not detailed and unhelpful answers.
If this is your case, stay silent for about 10 to 20 seconds.
It will cause an awkward silence, which you will have to fight by continuing to staying silent. On the other hand, the client will overcome it by filling in the silence by telling you more about the question you had previously asked. Therefore, providing you with more details and, most likely, with the information you need.
Once the meeting is over you are expected to follow-up. This means emailing the client, sharing a few bullet points that summarise the topics discussed during the summit and writing what has been established.
Use this email as your chance to remind them of anything they have agreed to share with you, but you have not yet received.
Following-up is extremely important as it manages expectations on both sides. Most likely, after the meeting, you will both go off and do your own thing. You will work on the client’s project while they will go on with their day-to-day work and will likely meet again or get in touch in a week or more.
During that time, perspective shift and memory is flawed. Therefore, the client might remember incorrectly what you had agreed on and what they should expect. If, on the other hand, you have sent a follow-up email, you can show them written proof of what they had agreed on and what they were to expect.
It is in your best interest to prevent future issues or misunderstandings with your client. After all, they will be your best form of advertising if you do a great job.