Sharpen Your Client Communication-Platinum Rule (part 3)

Sharpening your client communication is one of the most important ways to ensure that you are treating your clients the way that they want to be treated (Alessandra’s Platinum Rule).  Here are three suggestions to communicate really well:

  1. Listen first…then speak.
  2. Ask questions instead of telling.
  3. Avoid vague-isms.

Listen first…then speak: Jack Welsh once said about a consultant that he worked with, “He is a really great advisor….he listens better than anybody else.”  Notice that Welsh didn’t say, “I love listening to my advisor.” He wants to be listened to!  There’s a gem of wisdom I share in Loeb Group communication, client service and management skills workshops, “…When a person has the experience that they’ve been listened to and understood, they let go of their preoccupation with their own thoughts and feelings. The door to their mind swings open and makes it much easier for them to hear you.” (Dr. Rick Brinkman, author of Dealing with Difficult People)  Try listening to what you client wants to say before you launch into your messages.

Ask your client questions instead of telling: People in client service businesses assume that because the client is paying them, the client wants to be told what to do. That’s not always the case. In fact, more often clients want you to help them discover the key to success vs. dictating it to them.  In fact, asking smart, thought-provoking questions is often far more impressive to a client than having all the answers. What questions have you asked your clients recently that challenged their perspective or truly got them to think? What questions could you ask to drive new insights and mutual understandings? What questions could ensure that they’re focused on the core vs. tangential issue. Think about what questions you can ask that will not only get you the information you need but bring the client to a higher level of understanding and clarity.

Avoid vague-isms: We invite misunderstanding and client frustration when we use language that isn’t crystal clear or don’t clarify when the client uses vague language.  A vague-ism about project scope might be to say or hear, “Just run with it.” Really? How far should we run with that idea? “Or you own it.”  What exactly is ‘it’ and what do you really mean by “own” it? Is that authority to approve deadlines and budgets? How about when the client says, “I’d like your proposal to be more creative” or “strategic.” The only way to make sure that any revisions you make will hit the nail on the head for the client is to ask a few questions to understand what’s currently missing and what they’re looking for. Another example is, “Do a little research on ABC topic.” Is “a little” a 15-minute Google search or a focus group in one vs. ten markets?   Or “Get back to me ASAP.” Who ever really means “as soon as possible?” Chances are the client wants your response by 3:00 not as soon as you can wrap up the other work you’re doing.

Sometimes we just need to listen, ask questions and clarify in order to know what the client really wants.

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