Having Communication Breakdowns with Clients? Ask These Questions to Help Prevent Them

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Breakdowns in communication with clients--even small ones--can become a significant impediment to our ability to not only represent our clients, but also run our practice efficiently. Breakdowns can lead to ball-dropping, non-responsiveness, mix-ups, and ultimately frustrated clients and employees.

If you're experiencing breakdowns, rather than immediately turning your attention to what your clients may or may not be doing, take a close look first at the way YOU are communicating. Look at the substance and style of your communication from the perspective of the recipient and evaluate whether YOU are doing everything you can to address the shortcomings.

If you want to be a better communicator, ask these 4 simple questions:

1. Did the person have enough of the right information to take action? 
In other words, are you as the communicator providing them with the who, what, where, why and when that they need to take the action that you want them to take? Are you explaining to them what you need, providing examples, due dates, and the preferred format?

Breakdowns of this kind often arise when we're collecting information from clients, like during discovery. If we don't do a good job up front of giving them the information they need to gather documents, respond to our questions, or collect information, then we can expect what they give us to be disorganized and incomplete. 

If you need something from them, make the extra effort to give them all the information they need to do it successfully. 

2. Was the communication clear enough for them to understand? 
Maybe you are giving your client all the right information . . . but are you being CLEAR enough? Are you using words and terminology that your client can understand? Are you burying the lead in a paragraph of other information, or is it crystal clear what you're asking for? When writing emails, check out your headers and your call to action–are these elements clear enough to make them pay attention in the first place?

3. Was the communication delivered in the right way at the right time? 
Did you use the right communication medium and did you deliver the communication far enough in advance for them to act on it? Sometimes we choose to use a method of communication that's ideal for US, but that’s not ideal for our clients. If we know our clients don't use email or are bombarded by email, consider picking up the phone. Think about the using the medium that's most likely to get you a response.

Also–and this is a big one–did we give our client enough time to take the action we're asking them to take, or did we fail to plan ahead (click HERE for more on the how to prioritize planning). 

4. Was the person properly motivated to respond?
The main question here is: did we provide enough information to motivate the recipient to take the action we want them to take? A lot of times we’re firing off emails asking for things that we need from clients, but we’re not taking the time to explain what’s in it for THEM and WHY they should respond.

Here's the truth: we all prioritize our responses based on what’s in it for US–so if we provide the proper motivation then the level of responsiveness will go up.

For example, explaining to your client not only that you need these documents, but that giving you these documents on time and in a certain format will help you help them solve their problem faster. Motivate them to respond by making an effort to explain WHY.