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  • Phyllis Harbinger

How To Effectively Communicate With Clients

This week, I gave a presentation on Communication Styles at the Domotex show in Atlanta. While there is a great deal of psychology that we must understand to deal with our clients, our vendors and our team, there are also some rules that I insist upon in our office.


As a designer, strategist and professor, I have seen it all. I try to instill in my first-year students, what I learned from my first mentor, how to effectively communicate!


This is a CRITICAL skill and if someone does not possess this or have a willingness to learn quickly, they cannot be a part of my team. When I first joined the workforce, people were still hand-writing (or typing) letters and you had to use a landline to make a phone call. Fast forward and some of the people we are now employing have never used a landline and would rather hide behind a screen than speak to someone “live”, and not having a protocol or a phone and email etiquette policy could potentially send a client searching for a new designer. It is your job to make sure that your brand is represented properly in every way and professional communication is key.


I still receive emails, phone messages and the like that are so unprofessional I wonder how the person sending can ever move forward in business. While there are many things that irk me, here are my biggest pain points:



1. Lack of response

While we all have multiple inboxes and they are full of unsolicited emails, we still have an obligation to respond to those emails from people we have met, spoken over the phone or emailed previously. Especially our clients and prospects!


Even if you acknowledge with a courtesy reply, no matter how short, that tells the sender that you are professional. Not responding to people you know is not only rude, but it’s costly. If a vendor is trying to reach you, it’s often because he or she may have a new product line, a promotion, or something else that may help you or your firm and this information could positively affect your profits. Ignoring emails and phone calls puts you at risk of losing out potential opportunities. A good businessperson has to communicate effectively. We all can make the time to do it correctly.


2. Grammar and Spelling

I have many clients who are CEO’s or high-level executives at very large companies, wildly successful and still cannot construct a sentence with syntax, spelling and correct grammar. Team members and vendors are also culprits of poor email etiquette. What does this reveal about a person? It might signal that they are lazy, too hasty, don’t pay attention to details, or, sadly, are just not very intelligent. That could be the furthest thing from the truth but if you are taking shortcuts, it may dissuade people from doing business with you and your firm. I truly believe that if you cannot take the extra time to spell and grammar check, make an email congruent and clear, than how do they know that we will do a good job on our project?


Business interactions require a professional responsibility to make sure your communications are grammatically correct. This is not rocket science and while it will take you a bit more time , the person on the other end of your communication will appreciate it.


3. Honoring Communication Preferences

One of my clients is now ninety-one years old. I have been working with her since 2006 and we are now starting on a third home for her. She is sharp as a tack, still uses a flip phone and does not have a computer or an Ipad. Her only means of communicating with me is via phone and if I do not answer, she leaves long voicemails. She loves telling me in detail the news of the day and while I truly do not have the time for this, I set boundaries. I explain, and she knows, how busy I am and that I have a limited amount of time to chat. So, I ask that we discuss things pertinent to her project first and then if time permits, we can catch up on her personal life. She understands and has adapted to this methodology.


I prefer to communicate via email as it is a time-saver but there is truly no substitution for the phone when a matter of importance needs to be discussed with a client or a vendor. I have many clients, particularly younger ones, who prefer to communicate with me just by text. I like text for delivery updates or something very quick but I establish during our first meeting that all communication should be done by email and text should only be used for quick confirmations.


While we all have preferences, people communicate better when they’re comfortable with the method used to communicate. If you want to avoid costing yourself an opportunity, it’s to your benefit to find out how the people you do business with prefer to correspond with you. Some may tell you to only send a letter. Others like to talk on the phone or send emails. A few may insist on a face-to-face. If the relationship is important and profitable enough, then you’ll need to adjust to their preferences.