How to Serve Clients with Excellence in a Digital World
By Jena Kroeker
As freelancers, we serve clients while walking a tightrope — balancing life and work, performing multiple tasks for multiple clients. And as we spin those plates, we’re trying to keep one hand free to reach out to potential new clients.
Not only that, but we’re also balancing our freelance freedom with the respect we need to show clients. On one hand we aren’t employees who can be ordered around, but on the other hand, we need to show commitment to our clients. In our FreeU course on The Entrepreneur’s Mindset, we talk about how to approach clients as an entrepreneur rather than an employee. It involves being self-directed and focused on results.
Above all, we need to avoid turning our tightrope into a tug of war with our clients, engaging in a battle of wills over who’s in charge. We need to work together to build trust and loyalty. This can be tricky in a digital world, where we aren’t physically working together. But with the right dos and don’ts in five key areas, we can build great client relationships and walk the tightrope with ease.
Five Ways to Serve Clients with Excellence
Do communicate regularly.
Agree on a medium that works well for both of you. For example, you might choose email, a team communication tool like Slack, or a project management tool like Asana. You can discuss this with your client during your initial discovery call and document your choice in your contract.
In a previous FreeU blog post, “Five Ways to Create a Winning Entrepreneurial Mindset,” we recommend ways you can communicate as an entrepreneur while continuing to serve clients well:
• Let your client know when to expect replies from you (e.g. within 24 hours or sooner during busy times like a product launch).
• Batch messages so you give them your full attention and provide thoughtful answers.
Don’t communicate excessively.
One reason for batching your messages is to control how many you’re sending your client. In a digital world, people often receive notifications on their mobile devices. And we don’t know whether or not they silence them during meals or family time. So, thinking through our answers and sending detailed responses is a good way to show consideration for our clients.
In an article titled “10 Ways to Deliver Consistently Great Customer Service,” Catherine Heath says, “Don’t be afraid to use emojis to convey warmth and good humour, or pick up the phone if you find an email or chat conversation getting tense.” She explains that this strategy can help in cases where written communication might be misinterpreted because facial expression and body language are absent online.
Do set boundaries from the beginning.
In The Entrepreneur’s Mindset course, instructor Craig Cannings shares an important quote from Oprah Winfrey: “You teach people how to treat you.” This is why it’s important to set clear expectations with clients from the outset. It’s easier to establish boundaries at the beginning rather than trying to tighten them later. Some examples are
• Your communication schedule
• Your freedom to determine how and when you’re going to work (while the client sets the scope of work and deadlines).
Don’t feel bad about setting boundaries.
Sometimes setting boundaries feels awkward. If you’re eager to please people and give 110%, it might feel like you’re not giving your all. But remember that boundaries help you serve clients even better. They create a framework that’s more sustainable than an uncontrollable schedule or constant willingness to bend to the will of your client. With boundaries, your client knows what to expect from you and can trust you to deliver within the terms of your contract.
Do be consistent about your boundaries.
After setting boundaries, you might be tempted to ease off on them from time to time. But remember that doing so can confuse your client. If you say that you’re not available to communicate after 5:00 p.m., but you send emails at 11:00 p.m., your client may also start sending emails that late. And emails can turn into requests for late-night projects, and before you know it, you’ve allowed your work schedule to change. Consistency keeps your feet steady on the freelance tightrope.
Consistency also creates a routine that your client can get used to. If they know how and when you’re working, and when they can expect to hear from you, they’ll feel confident about your service.
Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
The article above explains an important point:
“Interestingly, customers do not feel extra grateful when you deliver more than you promised. They do, however, feel angry if you break a promise. It’s still better to under-promise and over-deliver so you can make sure you never break this important social contract.”
When it comes to serving your clients, you may want to provide an extra level of service or availability during busy times, like a product launch. But don’t promise to do so unless you know you can follow through. In this case, being consistent means you will keep your promise rather than raising your client’s hopes and then dashing them.
Do provide value in your tasks and interactions with your client.
When we say the word “value,” the first thing that comes to mind might be the monetary value of your services. Of course, you want your client to feel he or she is receiving their money’s worth from you. Chapter 5 of Thrive Themes Freelance Digital Marketing – The Ultimate Guide puts it this way:
“Know exactly what you can deliver within a reasonable time frame and make sure that each action item is clearly written down in the deliverable portion of the contract or scope of work. Make sure your client understands that adding extra items (added scope) mid-campaign is not included, must be agreed upon, and will add additional charges to your next invoice.”
At the same time, you can provide value through honesty, generosity, integrity, and wisdom. As a freelancer, you don’t always need to wait to be told what to do. You can take initiative and serve clients well by staying one step ahead of their needs.
Don’t overwhelm your client with unnecessary suggestions.
Sometimes it’s easy to take too much initiative. Maybe your client has assigned a project similar to one you’ve done for someone else. You can see ways it could be expanded and lead to future projects. Or you’re asked to use a certain type of technology and are eager to encourage your client to try out a number of different tools.
An article titled “Master your communication with clients and get hired to work on more projects” recommends keeping it simple:
“Keep in mind that even though you might envision a range of possibilities and opportunities that could come from the project or your client’s needs, it’s important to prioritize and understand that the client’s main interest is to achieve the objective at hand.”
As the article says, although proposing improvements is good, it’s important to stay “within the scope of what the client needs” and consider making more elaborate proposals after you finish the current project.
Do remain open to feedback.
Do you really want to hear what your client thinks of your service? It’s easier said than done, but part of being an entrepreneur is having a drive to learn and taking responsibility. Rather than being offended or hurt by negative feedback, consider it a growth opportunity. Welcoming this feedback shows your professionalism to your client and further builds trust.
And at the same time, be sure to provide valuable feedback to your client. The article above recommends providing mutual feedback by tactfully suggesting any improvements that could lead to future success in the work you did with them. It even advises creating a separate proposal for the future and contacting them later to find out how your work is driving results for their business.
Don’t mix personal with professional.
As you share feedback and communicate, remember to consider the nature of your client relationship. Take cues from the client about how much information he or she would like to share. And carefully consider what types of feedback are valuable to the quality and completion of projects. For example, it may be inappropriate to say you personally don’t like a certain word the client uses in emails. But if that word leads to misinterpretation of instructions, it’s worth bringing up.
Your professionalism will shine as you consider the needs of your clients before your personal feelings. With boundaries serving as a healthy framework, you’re free to express empathy and care toward your client as you work together.
These are just a few of the many strategies you can use to serve clients with excellence. With proper balance between your freelance freedom and the client’s needs, you don’t need to fear the tightrope you’re on. You might even start to enjoy spinning plates and consider adding a few more. And your clients will enjoy walking along with you.
Now we’d love to hear any tips you have for serving clients well in a digital world. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!