Despite the pandemic, some of us have seen an incredible upturn in workload, and most have had to handle this surge in responsibility while working remotely. Remote workers face unique challenges, particularly as it pertains to forging new relationships while strengthening existing ones.
Suppose you’re a freelancer or are working independently. In that case, you may not need frequent check-in with clients. Additionally, meeting face to face may not be practical due to the social distancing guidelines in your country; never mind the ability to access an office. Other things to consider when communicating remotely are things like different time zones, expensive phone or internet tariffs, or a lack of technical know-how.
With the influx of technology we have at our fingertips today, there are endless ways to make a connection with remote work tools, text, video calls, and instant messaging apps. You can stay in touch with your team, improve your skill set with personal development courses online, while staying up to date on projects with a team collaboration tool and continue sales prospecting as usual with cloud-based CRMs.
Beyond technology, there are a few more practical ways to build and maintain client relationships wherever you’re working from. Let’s examine some.
Establish a routine
Creating a communication plan with clients is your first step to staying on track. If this is the onset of a new relationship, have an open discussion about contact frequency and format. Ensure this is transferred across to your team, so there are no missed conversations.
This information needn’t be strictly professional, either. You can use your creativity and identify information the client may find useful like news articles or product promotions. This proactivity lends itself kindly to good relationship building.
To help break the ice, have an icebreaker question or questions ready to go at the start of any meeting. Not all client relationships need to stay strictly in work boundaries. If you’re having a video chat, try putting something interesting or quirky in the frame in the hopes it sparks a conversation.
Source: Adobe stock
Get your technology on the same wavelength
With the myriad of communication tools available on the market, it’s essential that you ask your client their preferred method of contact, and ensure you’re set up to match it.
A client’s preferred communication method varies according to their personality, age, industry, and other factors.
Some people don’t like appearing on camera and would prefer all meetings done over the phone. A landline isn’t the best for this, given limited capability and the cost of a phone call these days.
If you are dealing with clients regularly on the phone, look into a VoIP line for home offices. A VoIP line works over the internet and can improve quality. It also can link up with your CRM to help track and record conversations with third-party integration.
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If the client is happy to video chat, ensure you’ve got the right software and hardware to ensure no awkward freezes or too many “can you say that again-s?”
Try not get too familiar
Because it's so easy to call or text a client, there's a tendency to forget business formality. While, as we mentioned earlier, there is a need to speak more casually, if it gets too casual, it can wade into unprofessional and disrespectful territory. This is a business relationship, not a friendship, and must be treated as such.
You do this by curating professionalism across communication channels. On a call, make sure you greet and leave the conversation accordingly. No "hey" or "cheers." On a video call, lose the sweatshirt and wear something more suitable. When texting, avoid emojis and text speak. Don't just launch into a conversation either.
Acknowledge if you've made a mistake
If you've messed up, then don't hesitate to make it known. Leaving it hanging will only haunt you, and may mean more than just embarrassment at the end of the day. Working remotely makes it harder to gain trust and loyalty. And mishandling a situation where you're the one at fault will only make this much harder.
If you've made an error, apologize, admit you were wrong, take responsibility, and clarify how this may impact the client. For instance, "I apologize, I missed that; unfortunately, it will set us back a few days. I ensure it won't be repeated." Following that, explain how it happened, take accountability, and work on making sure it doesn't happen again.
Source: Adobe stock
Be an active listener
Active listening means just that, listening instead of just hearing. It can be hard to listen or get your point across in a remote setting; you may be missing out on a point or on context if you’re just waiting to comment.
Instead of thinking about what to say next, listen carefully to what a client is saying. Take active notes while working on your comprehension ability. Then, once a client has finished expressing themselves, relay their message back to them to ensure you’re both on the same page.
Active listening isn’t just for the phone or video call either; it’s across written communication as well. Make sure you’ve thoroughly read and understood a message before composing your reply. When responding, include a summary of their wishes to ensure consistency.
Don’t get lost in the jargon
When you’re in the office talking to your peers, you can drop all the acronyms and code words you want, because you’re speaking the same lingo. Often, your client may not be an expert in your specific sector, and so your industry-related terms may as well be written in Mandarin.
You must be sensitive to the words or terms your client may be unfamiliar with. If you’re not sure, avoid them altogether. In fact, communicating in this way may help both of you - as you learn to present your ideas, topic, or concepts in a way that forces you to think differently about their positioning.
Working remotely can make client communication challenging. Even if you’re armed with your CRM, your project planners, an all in one desktop app that collects all communications, and a million post-it notes, there’s still plenty of room for error. However, by remembering all we’ve mentioned above, you can create and maintain productive and friendly client relationships no matter where you’re working from.
Sam O'Brien is the Senior Website Optimisation & User Experience Manager for EMEA at RingCentral, a Global VoIP, video conferencing and call centre software provider. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams. He has written for websites such as UC Today and Martech Advisor. Here is his LinkedIn.
Headshot: from RingCentral