By John Boyanoski, President, Complete Public Relations
You’d think after 100,000 years of human speech, we would have come up with something that everyone understands and uses.
But we’re humans, and that would be too easy.
Communication is the key to business success, but very few of us are talking the same language or even using the same patterns. There is no best way, because there are so many ways, and you need to know them all if you want to succeed.
Think about all the ways you communicate in the office, at a coffee shop, or at a networking event: face-to-face, phone calls, emails, texts, Slack messages, Facetime, and conference calls.
And those are the ones that I feel comfortable with. I am sure there are others (looking at you, Snapchat) that I have yet to figure out.
I have clients who have all different kinds of needs, and learning how to manage all of them effectively and efficiently remains a daily challenge. No client is truly alike. No person is truly alike. Creating strong communications channels may be one of the toughest parts of the client relationship.
So how do you figure out the best ways to communicate with your clients and partners?
- Ask questions: I learned very early that the best way to communicate openly was to find the way the other person wanted to communicate. If you are emailing a client and that client doesn’t check email, then work grinds to a halt. Vice versa, if a client mainly gets stuff done via text and you don’t, then you need to adapt.
- Streamlining the process: One of the best things I found to make communication easier was to make the process easier. If you ask someone for simple information, you may not always get the best answer. You have to give real parameters on what you are asking for in order to get the right answers. For example, if I need biographical information for a new client, I could ask them for it. I may get a few sentences, or I may get pages to sift through. But if I ask for the specific information I need, such as hometown, education, work experience, etc., I can get the information I need faster. However, streamlining has to be convenient in order to work. If someone has to take numerous steps that are cumbersome in order to get information, then it only exasperates the situation.
- Be consistent: This is key when differentiating between internal and external communications. A lot of companies try very hard to streamline their internal communications, but then often break those rules. For example, a company may set up a Slack channel for employees to share information to free up time on emails, but quickly revert to using their emails again. If you aren’t keeping up with your internal forms of communication, how can you expect to do it for external ones?
- Deadlines: If it is important, always give a timeframe to answer communications. It may be urgent to you, but unless the other person knows that, they will make it a backburner issue. This is my biggest problem. I am terrible in giving deadlines for information to be responded to.
- Be flexible: Yes, this sort of contradicts No. 3, but if something isn’t working, realize that and change it. That client who said they wanted to be emailed, but aren’t answering? Find out a new way to get to them. Call, ask for a meeting, or text them. Do something to make it work better.
Now this is what has worked for me. It may not work for you, which goes back to the original problem. It takes a lot of effort to get communications better, if not right. Review what you are doing often in order to make sure what you are doing works.