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.”
“We use Slack to get clients out of email and into a chat room format,” says Kate Finley, CEO, Belle Communications. “We can make communication much more personal [using Slack] and decrease the need for lengthy meetings or the trap of multiple correspondence channels like text, email, phone and social media.”
6. Snail mail. “Don’t dismiss ‘snail mail,’” cautions Deborah Dumaine, CEO, Better Communications Writing Workshops. “Today almost all of our communication is delivered through our phones or computers. To stand out to new prospects [and even existing clients], a mailed letter can make a far bigger impression than yet another email in an overflowing inbox,” she says. “Letters are so rare that people can be intrigued and will open them. Try it.”
7. Social media (LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter messaging). “One of the most significant upsides of staying in touch with clients over social media is that you’re meeting consumers where they’re already spending their time,” says Bruce Milne, executive vice president, Socialware, which helps clients manage social media across the enterprise. “Use social media networks to regularly share content, updates and your own tips with clients, thus establishing yourself as a credible expert in your field and a top-of-mind choice when your type of services are required. In situations where discretion is necessary, [use] Facebook Messenger, Twitter direct messages (DMs) [or] LinkedIn InMail.”
Another advantage to using social media is “communications can be attended to at a client’s leisure,” he adds. “That means you [don’t have to worry about] interrupting [an important meeting or] dinner [or messages] getting buried in their email inbox.”
8. Texting. “I always give my clients my cell number and let them know it’s OK to text me about urgent matters,” says Tomaro. “This not only helps me stay on top of things that need my immediate attention, but shows my clients I truly care about their business.”
“Some of my service providers (doctors, salons) have moved to text messaging, which is really effective as a way to remind clients of their appointments and of special deals they may have going on,” notes Garrett. “It gets my attention much more so than an email that just sits in the inbox with dozens of other messages.”
“As businesses look to woo the critical millennial market and break through today’s cluttered communication channels, SMS/text-based messaging is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to accomplish this goal,” explains Tim Fujita-Yuhas, director Product Management & New Product Strategy, OpenMarket, a mobile engagement solution provider. “Businesses should also look to text-enable customer service phone numbers to streamline requests internally and to allow clientele to reach out and interact when it’s convenient for them.”
How to choose the client communication strategy that’s right for your clients
“The best way for businesses to stay in contact with clients is to discuss with them the best means of communication,” says Kyle Brigham, director of Accounts, Marcel Digital, a boutique digital marketing and web development agency. “Give them the opportunity to tell you how to reach them best. [And] never assume one [method] of communication works for everyone.”
“Once you have [ascertained] their communication preferences, record that information in a customer relationship management program,” says Zach Schaefer, president, Spark the Discussion. “Then follow the preferences that they [have] given you. The worst thing a service provider can do is ask their clients about their communication preferences and then ignore that information.”
Remember to be respectful of clients’ time (and patience)
Whichever method of communication you use, “make sure you are delivering value in your communications and ensure the method and frequency of communications is welcome,” says Erika Goldwater, vice president of Marketing, ANNUITAS, a demand generation company. “Contact or notify customers with useless information or a few too many promotional emails and you may lose them as customers.”
This article was written by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff from CIO and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.