The other day I received a call from a colleague of mine (I’ll call him Ken). He and I work contractually to provide support for a shared client, Brent. Ken’s question to me was about how to best communicate with Brent, a successful, multi-millionaire businessman.
Ken had been on the receiving end of Brent’s frustration over some incomplete systems and processes. It seemed that there had been a number of misunderstandings, resulting from email miscommunication, which left Brent feeling like the correct actions weren’t being completed.
Ken, on the other hand, felt he had performed what was asked of him and confided that Brent changes his mind a lot, signs off on projects, and then doesn’t recall making those changes.
Brent’s primary means of communication is through email, which can be very efficient on one end and can leave all kinds of room for misinterpretation on the other end. Ken asked me, “You seem to really be in flow with our client. How do you do that, and do you have any suggestions on how I can work better with him?”
As a VA, communication with your clients is a key to success. And sometimes communication can be difficult, especially if you’re working with a high-profile client that is constantly on the go and hard to nail down. They’re likely very busy and prize effective and efficient communication and can be easily frustrated with inefficiencies and/or redundancies. So how can you, as a VA, provide Effective, Efficient and Essential email communication to your clients?
Here are a few secrets that I have found to help increase your value and your efficiency while lessening miscommunication and frustration, for both you and your client):
- Stay away from pronouns in email – consistently using he, she, it, they etc. can leave too much room for (mis)interpretation for the reader. That’s a sure-fire way to start down the path of frustration. You’ll want to greatly limit any possible assumptions or guesswork for your client. If they write to you and use a lot of pronouns, do respond and clarify with names, specific items or projects. Try something like, “Did you mean Joan will run the meeting…?” Not, “she will run it.”
- Write yes or no questions – this technique can be tricky, and I use it in specific situations. Asking a yes or no question can be a set up for missing valuable information. However, one of my high-end private clients was going out of town for a week. I wanted to provide daily updates that would bring this client up to speed on the business we were doing, while not distracting from her time on vacation. So, with each one of our “talking points,” I wrote a full explanation of where we were on the project. At the end I added one, very clear, very detailed and project-related question, in a yes or no format. That way, my client could get the full picture of the project status, but she only had to write a very quick response, saving her time but giving us both the information needed to move forward.
For example, I was explaining to my client about a number of people who were involved in different parts of our project. Once I fully explained the situation, I asked, “Shall I call Jane and give her the green light to print the copy on page 1 of the brochure, by Monday at 3pm?” Now my client could respond with a simple, Yes or No, or she can give a brief answer if any information was incorrect.
It may take some training on your end, as the VA, to help your client be a more effective email-er and communicator. In the beginning, there will be some redundancies as you work to clarify points. But as you develop your working relationship, both you and your client will be more “in the flow,” as my colleague called it. You’ll come to understand each other’s styles and that will make for more successful communication.
To learn more tips from Gretchen, click here!