Key Components of Effective Client Communication

Here are a few things to consider about a skill that all of us, especially when working with clients, utilize (or should be utilizing) every day: listening.

  • We listen somewhere in between 125-250 wpm, and think at 1000-3000 wpm
  • 75% of the time, we are distracted, preoccupied or forgetful
  • 20% of the time, we remember what we hear
  • More than 35% of businesses think listening is a top skill for success
  • Less than 2% of people have had formal education with listening

In my role as Account Service Manager at Gragg Advertising, I’m frequently asked how good client communication is measured. But to answer that question, one must first understand what communication is and how it relates to effective client service. Webster’s Dictionary defines a version that closely aligns to the account service and/or client management role: “The imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.”

In my tenure at my current position, I have witnessed the extremes of communication. I’ve been privy to outstanding customer service-related communication on numerous occasions, both from the outset of a relationship and through the retention phase. Of course, there have also been times when certain individuals have wished the “recall” option on Outlook actually worked. When comparing these two extremes and then evaluating the steps taken to achieve each outcome, the specific tenets of effective communication emerge, creating a clear blueprint for future client interaction.

To begin, listening skills are perhaps the most important component of good communication.  When in a conversation, listen with full attention. Stop what you are doing, make eye contact and never judge the communicator on what is being said. In fact, here are some easy, effective steps that the best active listeners employ:

  • Step 1: Listen
  • Step 2: Ask Questions, Engage
  • Step 3: Reflect, Paraphrase
  • Step 4: Agree

Another important aspect of communication involves knowing when to be assertive. A certain level of assertiveness is great, and it can often convey intelligence and a familiarity with the subject at hand. But in certain client conversations, especially ones that involve less-than-desirable campaign results/performance, it is best to first listen to what the client is saying. Then, before asserting yourself by offering opinions and ideas, ask yourself some questions regarding the level of your assertiveness. Do you know what really happened? Do you have all of the information to make an informed recommendation? Will your assertiveness get you what you want? Is your client looking for answers, or simply making you aware of a situation? Again, assertiveness can be a good thing, but only when it is paired with a proper awareness of the situation at hand. Remember to stay humble, and know that while you may be the marketing expert in the room, the client may not always be seeking your expertise, but rather, using his/her platform to simply be heard or make a point.

Third, it is critical to understand and anticipate the needs of the client or account you are servicing. Knowing what a client is looking for ahead of time can help you navigate those less-than-desirable conversations more easily. Aside from the specifics of the account, vertical or business you’re looking to service, here are some basic things a client may be looking to get out of your joint relationship, some ‘needs’ that are universally applicable to most clients you will encounter:

  • To feel appreciated
  • To feel respected
  • To feel understood
  • To feel comfortable about a want or need
  • To feel valued

Finally, because we live and work in an increasingly digital marketplace, one of the biggest keys to effective communication is a proper understanding of the intricacies of email vs. verbal communication. Here are some general, high-level things to remember:

  • Non-verbal cues account for 65-90% of a message. All of this is lost in email or written communication.
  • E-mail messages meant to express mild displeasure can often come across as tirades simply through varying, subjective interpretations of a sentence or two.
  • Tips for email:
    • Avoid terseness: explain yourself thoroughly, leaving nothing to interpretation.
    • Read your email aloud, looking specifically for ambiguity. Try and anticipate how a client would read your words.
    • Use face-to-face/verbal communication if approaching sensitive topics.

Of course, behind the guise of successful communication, there are very simple and quantifiable ways of measuring the effectiveness of account service in agencies: client retention, bottom line financials such as OIBDA or EBITDA and client satisfaction surveys, to name a few. These tools allow an agency to track effectiveness of personnel against companywide objectives. However, there are times when improper communication or satisfaction levels can drive a wedge between clients and their agency. Our goal, and the goal of this discussion, is to mitigate these instances whenever possible, allowing for efficient, effective dialogue and communication with clients in the future.