[This is from a Talk that Kristina Louise gave at the WordPress Women of Color Meetup as part of their Professional Talk series.]
It’s always nice to start with a quote so here’s a good one:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”Maya Angelou
I used to argue a lot with my roommate about intent vs meaning. For fun, we would switch sides to continue the debate, but the basis of it was, who controls the meaning of a written word or action? Does the author’s intent matter more or does it only matter how the recipient interpreted it? If I look someone in the eyes, my intention is that I want them to know I am listening to them. But does my intention matter if they interpreted my action to mean I am trying to intimate them? This works with customers too. If a customer sends you an email on Friday at 4 p.m. and you don’t reply to it until Monday at 8 a.m., which of you controls the meaning of this action? The answer is, the customer is always right. How they FEEL about the interaction means way more than any intention you had.
Now I know people don’t like that saying, “the customer is always right” but I like to expand that to “The customer is always right if they are the right customer for you.” If your customer checks off all the boxes that make them a great customer for you and you a great vendor for them, then they are always right and you should do what you can to keep them. If your customer is the wrong fit for you, fire them and make room on your roster for some winners.
Your communication plan needs to take your actions and your intentions and make sure they translate into a positive feeling and meaning for your clients.
You can use communication to control and manipulate the way a customer feels about an interaction. These are some tainted verbs but we’re going to use our powers for good.
The end goal of your communication plan should be that your customers are left FEELING heard, supported, attended to, valued, etc. ALL GOOD THINGS
Our Roadmap for this talk
- How to plan your communication approach
- Common Roadblocks & Hurdles to Achieving Inbox Zero
- Actionable tips and tools on how to be more efficient
Let’s Get Started
Topic 1: How to plan your approach to communication
Story example: Remember our example of the Friday 4 p.m. email with the Monday 8 a.m. reply? How you feel about that example is a good way to determine what your natural communication style is.
Did you feel anxious? Unbothered? Confused? Annoyed? Indifferent?
For some folks, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume any email sent late in the day on a Friday won’t get tackled until the following week. But for other folks, a message sent that late means it is urgent and desperate and needs to be addressed before the weekend rolls in. And for other people, they have zero concept of a weekend and would expect a reply no later than Saturday morning.
What I said about “the customer is always right” is something I feel strongly about. You should go after and nurture clients who enjoy your natural style of communication and service. This greatly improves your chances that they are going to walk away with positive feelings about your actions because you’re a good fit.
What is your current communication style? Are you a minimalist or are you the type to write out long detailed emails?
What type of image do you want to display? How can you translate that image into a feeling for your clients? Do your marketing materials give people the wrong impression about what type of communicator you are?
It can help to reflect on your own experiences as a customer dealing with a customer service request. Which types of interactions gave you the most positive feelings or sensations? Which interaction left a bad taste in your mouth?
Topic 2: Common Roadblocks & Hurdles to Achieving Inbox Zero… and how to leap over them.
If your inbox is never at zero, that is the first sign that you have a problem that needs solving. But knowing WHY it happened is an important step towards figuring out how to solve it.
“Orthopedic shoes only help if you have feet.”
If your brain lacks the ability to focus on tasks, all of the tips and tools in the world aren’t going to magically change that because setting up all of this involves tackling yet another set of tasks. You’ll need accommodations and that can come in the form of a personal assistant or business consultant who can create the systems and help keep you on task.
Your inbox resembles a firehose. All-day long you have a constant stream of emails hitting your account and you don’t have enough hours in the day to read them all. So instead, you skim. You skip around to the most important clients, the urgent-sounding subject lines, and tackle the rest when you can. This is a common problem for freelancers and solo-prenuers.
Too Many Entry Points
Your clients are contacting you at every angle. Email, text messages, phone calls, instant messages, DMs, comments on your posts, etc. How can you be expected to keep up with all the requests when you are spending half your day tracking down inquiries.
Topic 3: How can you be more efficient?
- Client inquiry comes in via email, contact form, or LinkedIn message but isn’t replied to for 24 hours because life happens,
- back and forth messages to schedule first meeting,
- manually book a video chat
- manually schedule an appointment,
- send meeting info to client
- client misplaces email with meeting instructions,
- meeting starts late,
- the actual meeting goes great!!
- you continue on with your busy day but make a note that you need to get this proposal out to the client,
- proposal gets delayed because life happens,
- manually create proposal from scratch,
- manually follow up with client 2 or 3 times before proposal is approved,
- manually prepare contract and invoice,
- follow up with client 2 or 3 times before contract is signed and invoice is paid,
- customer requests a receipt,
- you take 24 hours to reply and send them a receipt,
- you manually follow up with the client to request the information needed to start the project.
THIS IS INEFFICIENT.
Don’t rely on your memory for ANYTHING.
Forcing yourself to remember to do things is putting unnecessary and unfair pressure on you. If you are reading an email or on the phone with a client and they make a request that you complete XYZ task by ABC date, IMMEDIATELY PUT THIS ITEM INTO YOUR PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOL. Completely abandon the inefficient habit of reading through your emails twice because you’ve decided you can “come back to it later.” You might not get back to it and once you do, you’ll need to restart the entire thought process all over again. Read it, task it, close it. If an email requires a longer reply, respond to the client with “I am going to take a couple of days to work on this request and I’ll get back to you with a detailed reply by ABC date.” Then put it into your project management tool so that you know it needs to be done and maybe even schedule a time to actually do it in your calendar. You can even schedule a reminder to follow up via email. Anything you can do to reduce the # of things you keep floating around in your brain is a plus.
Sidebar: I borrowed a book from Allie and put a notice in my calendar to return it to her within 30 days. This removes the emotional labor of her having to ask for it if I forget and take the pressure off me to remember to return it! Use your tools! They work!
Have automation set up for all contact forms.
Use an autoresponder to prime the client on what the next steps will be in your sales process. You can even encourage them to take the next step on their own by including a scheduling link or product purchase links when appropriate. Use form actions to automate additional steps in your sales process. (Adding customers to a mailing list, adding customers to your CRM, creating a task in your project management system, sending a text message to you if a client checked a box saying that their request was “urgent.”)
- Gravity Forms
- Ninja Forms
- Contact Form 7
Use intelligent appointment scheduling tools.
Sync your calendar, block off your time, schedule EVERYTHING (even free time and deep-work time as needed), use a tool that will set up a Zoom meeting or request a phone number, set up alerts to send out reminders to YOU and your clients. These tools can also send out a follow-up message after the meeting has wrapped.
Proposals and Quotes: Do the thing while you are doing the thing.
It’s inefficient to take notes and then rewrite your notes into a proposal. Have a template prepared for your proposals that you will have open during the meeting. Input each request into the proposal as the client is saying them and assign a predetermined price to each item. If you are confident enough about your process, you might even share your screen and let the client see you adding items to the proposal as you are talking so that they can weigh in and help revise it. Not only does this ensure that the proposal will go out on time (within minutes of the meeting ending), this allows you to completely skip the step of “can we meet to discuss the proposal you sent over?” They can go straight to bringing the proposal to their decision-maker, selling it because they were involved in its development, and then you can be that much closer to closing the deal.
- Google Docs
Create a knowledge base. Don’t worry. It won’t turn into Ultron.
Every question doesn’t require a personal answer. And honestly, many of your clients would prefer if they didn’t have to contact you every single time they need something. Set yourself free and create some knowledge repositories.
- Knowledge Base
Set up your contact forms to prompt people to use these resources before letting their form submission go through.
Use bots whenever possible. These might turn into Ultron.
Technology has taken us beyond basic autoresponders. We now have chatbots that the average person can use! I think the best use of a chatbot is to collect info from leads and then reset the mode of communication to one that you prefer. If someone sends a message to your Facebook messenger, your bot should gather as much information as possible about their inquiry and then force them to continue the conversation via email or phone or whatever it is that you prefer.
- Hubspot (incredibly powerful, even at the free tier)
If you don’t want to set up a ton of bots and autoresponders, consider the next option of reducing your contact points.
Reduce Your Contact Points
Logging into every single platform and checking for comments and messages is a ridiculous waste of time. Even if you have a virtual admin, manually checking every platform is a poor use of their time as well. Prominently display your preferred method of contact on your social media profiles to discourage people from using inboxes or comments to reach you. Then you can use social media dashboard or contact aggregation tools to help gather up any stragglers.
Train Your Clients
Bring all of these tools together by training your clients on their usage. Get started on the right foot and be as firm as you can about your communication rules. They will respect what you show is truly important. If you keep answering text messages, they will keep sending them. If a customer refuses to honor your wishes, you’ll need to ask yourself if they are worth enough to you in cash to justify the added expense of communicating with them in an inefficient manner. A whale of a client can usually get away with anything. It’s not at all uncommon for a company to offer different levels of contact based on the price paid. Want access to 24/7 chat support? Pay XYZ a month. Willing to wait 48 hours for a reply to an email? Pay ABC a month. A bargain basement client who demands top-shelf service should be a prime candidate for being fired if serving them has ceased to be profitable.
- Onboarding instructions / welcome package
- Email signature – this is prime real estate for sharing your availability
- Autoresponders and bots on your non-preferred contact points
- Schedule middle of the night emails to go out at 9 am (HubSpot, Gmail, Outlook)
- Weekend, vacation, and after-hours autoresponders on your email accounts
You are only as good as the systems you actually use. So try to keep it simple and start slow. Pick one area to optimize (sales, project management, support, etc) and then pick one task to automate. Prioritize tools that you will actually use, not the ones you wish you would use. And always keep growth at the front of your mind with every decision you make. Picking a tool that is easy to loop in a virtual admin or employee is always a great idea. You may be the one using these tools today to save time, but the ultimate goal is to hand off these tasks to your own sales and support team members.
Do you have any favorite tools you’d like for me to add to the list? Drop a comment below and I’ll edit this post to include them. Have a question about a particular tool? I’d love to hear about it!
If you need help getting your digital tools in order, my team at Web Pro Geeks would be happy to help! You can book a free 15-minute call with us to see how we can help get you more organized and in sync with your clients.