It used to be (back before the Internet, smartphones and social media) that if you wanted or needed to speak to a client, you picked up the phone – or you sent her a letter. Today, however, there are many ways to communicate with clients. However, not every method is right for every situation or for every client. Indeed, choose the wrong communication strategy and you could wind up alienating valuable clients.
To help you navigate the various options, we’ve compiled a list of the most popular, and effective, communication methods (listed alphabetically) and included advice from client communication experts regarding when and how to use each one.
Top 8 client communication methods
1. Email. Email allows you to “communicate in a way that respects the client’s time and attention, as both are scarce resources,” says Anne Janzer, an author and marketing consultant. “That means sending short email messages, with the most important content in the first sentence and a clear subject line [as] some people never read past the first line of any email.”
Email is particularly good “where multiple parties need to be kept in the loop on something,” adds Adam Weissman, account supervisor, Max Borges Agency, a communications and digital strategy firm. “Plus, with email, there is always a record that is easily searchable.”
2. Newsletters. “It seems rather counterintuitive but we actually send a paper copy of a newsletter to our clients,” says Nick Espinosa, CIO, BSSi2, an IT services company. “I thought this was a bad move when we first tried it, but I was amazed at how many responded asking questions about articles. And I have actually spotted our newsletter on the desks of our clients!”
3. Phone. “When one needs to work with a client in detail and manage the nuances of the conversation, a phone call is still the best communication channel,” says John Kinskey, founder and president, AccessDirect, which provides virtual PBX phone systems. “At times a staff member will forward to me an email chain from a client and ask me how to respond. I say ‘pick up the phone!’”
Indeed, while good for certain types of communication, “email responses at certain points can become counterproductive,” he says, and can lead to misunderstandings. “With a phone call (using a VoIP desk phone) we have a chance to show that we care about solving a client issue quickly, along with apologizing for any misunderstanding,” he explains.
“We use email to keep a recorded history of client requests, but all of our client follow-up and engagement is done by phone,” says Espinosa. “As an IT service corporation we are following up with clients roughly 24 to 48 hours after work is completed. Our phone communication is constant and we consistently receive excellent reviews from clients,” he reports. “I personally use between 3,000 to 4,000 minutes a month on the phone, and it really pays off.”
4. Skype (or Google Hangouts). “For regular communications, we try to maintain a weekly or bi-weekly Skype call with clients, with or without video (based on need and bandwidth),” says Weissman. “These weekly ‘calls’ can typically last 30 to 45 minutes and offer a great way to connect multiple people in different locations.”
“Skype is great for conference calls and international clients, as it's free,” says Michelle Garrett, owner, Garrett Public Relations. “It's [particularly] useful when you have people in multiple countries coming together for a meeting.”
[Google Hangouts provides a similar free video chat and messaging service.]
5. Slack. “Slack, one of my favorite team messaging applications, allows me to stay in touch with clients on a day-to-day basis when launching a new campaign, or updating [them] on current project developments,” says Nina Tomaro, a content strategist. “It takes away from the clutter of email and keeps all communications in one location, where the client can choose to check and respond at their convenience.”