At Optimum7, we often discuss different approaches to client consultation. At the end of the day, our clients rely on us to guide them with their business, marketing and technology needs while expecting increased brand visibility and business. I was thinking about this the other day after a Monday staff meeting and a heated discussion. So I decided to put it in writing.
When I think of the word “consultation,” many terms come to mind such as ethics, expertise, efficiency, leadership, professionalism and diversity. This list comprises what I think are the fundamentals of consultation. Please bear in mind that you cannot pick and choose here, this is a collective list. Only if you utilize a majority of these suggestions, will you be able to handle consultation work in an efficient manner.
noun: client; plural noun: clients
A person or organization using the services of a lawyer or other professional person or company.
- Tell clients what they need to know, not what they want to hear.
Making a sale and pushing an upsell is always good. However, a deal is only a good deal if it’s good for both sides. DO NOT try and “con” your clients. DO NOT skirt the real issues because the client may not like what the real story is. Tell them what they need to know and guide them in making their own decision. Remember, if you keep telling clients what they want to hear, you will keep sounding more and more like a salesman or a phony. The right clients will recognize your integrity and that is the best sales characteristic there is.
- Pick up the phone, answer that call or make that call no matter how hard the call/communication might be.
The client might be dissatisfied. The client might want to cancel services or might just be pissed at you. You might think that the client does not understand the services or is very difficult. No matter what the reason is, NEVER be scared to communicate! Do not ever AVOID the client. Ignoring the client and shying away from a discussion or a confrontation can only make things worse.Deal with issues as they come so that they do not add up. If the client is dissatisfied or pissed, address it in a timely manner. Try and understand their position and empathize. If the client does not understand, be as patient as possible and explain it to them again. However, do not waste time. (Resources are always essential in consultation.)
- Respond to client requests within 24 hours. If it’s a task that will take longer, confirm within 24 hours and get back to the client ASAP, or provide an ETA.
I know that many programmers, designers and technical people will disagree with this. J However, it’s still true. Twenty-four hours for an issue resolution or a confirmation of receipt of the request is more than fair.The clients are looking to you to address their issues. It might be a basic issue; it might be a stupid issue to you. Nonetheless, it’s still an issue for the client. If you can fix it in 24 hours, do so. If not, confirm receipt and provide an estimated deadline for resolution. This will give you time to address the problem and remind the client that you are on top of the job.
- Check the status of your clients’ performance on a weekly basis. Review your internal checklist and report any negative flags.
In technology (design, programming, integrations) and marketing consultation, we work with retainers or monthly maintenance fees. Even though these fees might be recurring, this does not allow us to forget about the client just because we get our money.The client is looking for results and the only way that will happen is with attention from the consultants. No matter what your expertise might be (design, programming, eCommerce, social media, sponsored search, content marketing, copywriting, conversion optimization, analysis etc.), you must have an internal weekly checklist for every client’s objectives and performance metrics. These internal elements must be reviewed weekly and the client should be updated. If there are any negatives or improvements to be made, necessary tasks should be created.Also, remember to update the client on good things that are happening, too, such as a milestone or an improved metric. Again, if you do not tell the client, he will never know.
- Remain professional and do not get emotional – even if the client does.
Please grow up! Do not get upset when the client tells you that you suck, tells you that you do not know what you are talking about or compares you to previous companies that failed him. Keep your calm and remain professional. The first thing I usually say is “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way…” then I continue, “It’s certainly not our intention to frustrate or disappoint you.” Then, I go into addressing their problem. Unfortunately, you HAVE TO know what you are talking about. You must not BS your way with any client, much less a dissatisfied client. Yes, sometimes the client might be completely wrong or the situation might be unfair. However, this does not change the way you should address the issue. Remember, the client’s perception is the client’s reality.
- Invest in clients! Take the time to give them explanations. They do not know what you know. Never look down on clients.
This is a motto of mine: “Invest in people!” So, why not do the same thing with clients? Great things take time. Believe me when I tell you that great clients will take time as well. Do not rush clients into a service or a complex execution. Take the time to understand them, their business, operations, goals and long-term objectives. Only then will you be able to provide top-notch services and suggestions that will make a positive difference in their business. Only then will you earn their respect. Remember: respect is not given, it is earned!Do not look down on clients just because they do not know something or understand your geeky lingo. They do not need to know all of that. It is your responsibility to explain it to them.
- Set the right expectations. Communicate to the client what they should expect and when they should expect it.
Expectation is everything in consultation. It’s the difference between a happy or disappointed client, a good or difficult client, a reasonable or emotional client, but most importantly, a short term sale vs. a long-term client.So, do not overpromise. Do not delay essential tasks. Create an execution timeline, share it with the client and follow through. Confirm with the client so that you can go back to that confirmation if any disagreements arise.
- If you don’t know something, don’t shy away from it. Tell the client you don’t know, but also get the information from a coworker, research, etc., and get back to the client with the answer. NO BS! Mean what you say and say what you mean.
- Do not let the client control or dictate your actions. That is not leadership. You must lead the client by guiding, redirecting and otherwise focusing on the things you know through your own expertise, not the whims and imaginations that some clients may have.
- Do not confuse leadership and assertiveness with condescension. You can lead and be strong without making people feel like they are being talked down to
I sincerely believe that if you follow this regimen, you will have more fun with consultation than heartache. You will be able to minimize misunderstandings, frustration, and panic moments and ultimately make your clients happy. Bear in mind that there will always be dissatisfied and unhappy clients no matter what you do. Do not let that bring you down. Keep on keeping on.