A client asked me this a few weeks ago, and I had to think for a few moments before replying. How does one teach client communication? When new team members join an organization, it can be challenging to integrate them into the company culture. This includes how we present ourselves to clients. Yet, it's an incredibly important step. Having confidence in our team's ability to communicate with clients independent of us frees us to focus in other areas. Having had the time to think through my methodology in writing emails, and in coaching others to write emails, I put together the below. As always, please let me know your thoughts.
- Bottom Line Upfront (BLUF) or Purpose
- Final Ask
Salutation & Greeting: Beginning your email with an appropriate salutation (Ms./Mr./etc.) and associated greeting sets a friendly and professional tone. You can use something as simple as "I hope this note finds you well".
BLUF/Purpose: Why are you sending the email? To ask the client a question? To receive approval? To convey information? To provide reassurance? Making it as clear as possible for the client improves the likelihood of receiving the desired response.
Oftentimes, we write emails in a stream of consciousness mindset. While this makes perfect sense to us, it might not always come across clearly to others. Before composing an email, think through what is needed from this communication. If it makes it easier, write it out first. For example, "I am writing today to inquire about . . . "
Background/Discussion: What does the client need to know to be able to answer your question? Do they need some background information? Or, do they need to understand how you arrived at this question? A few tips for this section:
- Keep it short. A former boss of mine once advised me, "never make them (the reader) scroll down to finish an email". Wise words - scrolling down usually means the email is too long and we may lose the client's attention.
- Break up paragraphs. It's much easier to read short paragraphs of 1-3 sentences. This allows for a momentary pause to absorb what's just been read before moving on.
- Avoid industry jargon or acronyms. When reviewing emails, I am surprised to discover how much a new writer uses industry jargon. We've simply become so accustomed, we don't see it anymore.
Final Ask: Now that you've written your beautifully worded email, be sure to return to your original question. In this way, the client can respond promptly and easily. If you are responding to a client's question, you can conclude with, "Please let me know what additional questions I can answer for you".
Closing: Professional courtesy encourages courtesy in return. And with so many email platforms enabling automatic signatures, there is no reason to miss this last item.
Once you've outlined the essentials, offering feedback to team members will ensure this process becomes a habit. Ensure that you review emails initially, for content and style. Always offer feedback as a sandwich - two slices of positive with constructive critiques in the middle. A professor of mine did this with my papers, and I always appreciated the positive things he noted. Even if all he could say was, "I see you put a lot of research into this", I felt that he recognized the hard work and effort put into my writing. Do the same for your team. They will appreciate you for it.
For example, I might say, "Great job on the first draft of that email. It's a complicated topic and you've laid out clearly the details needed for the client. I'd recommend adding a sentence at the end regarding the reason we need this, and perhaps add that you're available for additional questions. I like your email signature. It sets a professional yet personable tone. Nice work!"
Lastly, encourage your team members to develop their own style. You might be particularly warm in email communication. They may prefer to remain professional. They might write shorter emails; you might write longer. Individual styles are welcome, as they add some humanity to the emails with your client.
Difficult client communication poses its own challenges. I'll be addressing those in a future post. Please let me know your questions!