In the earlier article on skilling oneself - article 3, I had touched on skilling oneself which included a number of skills including to be able to communicate persuasively. This is a basic skill which is often not worked on and mistakes can upset the discerning client. It would slow down the professional growth and maybe larger clients may not be too happy.
In a profession we have many make or break conversations, maybe some of them on the phone, SMS, WhatsApp, or email. How can we be engaging to be able to continue and get the opportunity to serve- how can we persuade the other side?
The majority of the communication (talks) we have is spontaneous and we may not have much time to prepare or no time at all. However, most calls can be scheduled for a few minutes, hours, or a day later. Our clients may have done some of their own research, advise shopping, googling, etc. They may want us to validate their thought, provide a solution to their problems among other jobs of execution.
The professional needs to have the skill of persuasion. Persuasion is the art of the client voluntarily changing/ modifying his view. This would apply equally to communication with the qualified in our office and peers. Therefore, I thought of a smaller article to that one on skilling.
While analyzing the many failures that I have had and having ongoingly, I have felt that my incorrect communication may play have a role in many of the negative results. This would equally true in our personal life. Therefore, I felt that there was a need for me to understand this part more.
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Sharing some of the learnings which indicated where I have goofed in the past and am attempting to avoid the same today.
Aristotle some 2500 years back bifurcated good communication to have the following ingredients which to me appear valid even today:
1. Know the audience/ Recipient of the message very well: We may have to invest time, effort, and money to get to know them. Domain knowledge, industry knowledge, and their specific entity. Then their concerns. We need to ask the right questions and get to their concerns. We have found that many clients will send a mail- as per discussion. Unfortunately, we have full details/ do not remember. They are asking for X and we are giving solutions for Z. Unless we address their needs/ concerns the job is not done at all. We may also have to ensure it is given in a reasonable time. Google, web site, association/ chamber site, our past clients with similar business may provide vital clues. Get some background in writing, sample agreements, invoices, and other relevant documents. Call and ask questions to get to the fundamental aspects which at times are missed and time and effort seem to have been wasted. Maybe we can then arrive at the problem, solution, and the befit/ exposure of the solution. If there are more than 1 layer, making notes and sharing with the actual person who is doing the job may be important.
2. Content: The answer/ message to have coherent and logical in its content. [Remember we need to do much better than Google can do]. It needs to be authentic as financial decisions would be taken based on the response. Research the subject, see what are the contra views to one own and the reasoning. Illustrations of practical significance and maybe decisions of Courts put together like a story would ensure retention.
3. Credibility/ Image of Messenger: Build your image/ perception as a fast learner, committed, passionate, diligent, expert, knowledgeable professional. Some of it is already with you, the others may have to work on and built up over time.
4. Other Important Aspects in Communication: As professionals what we stand for should be clear. Clients may not always agree. However, your conviction should be felt. In all our communication, be totally transparent. If there is any flip side- make it clear. At times we tend to only communicate what is expected by the client. Do not think short term. Advise longer term as the world is becoming more and more open and sooner or later, error may be identified.
Improvement is our language can be a life long exercise as using incorrect words can lead to loss of respect or even worse misunderstanding the communication.
Let us look at some of the likely common errors we commit in communications we indulge in during the day.
A. First time Client call: It may be to the landline listed. Since not much used, nobody specifically competent designated to lift the call. We may never come to know of the call. In case he calls us and we are free- then get the background of the business before rushing to provide assurance. Schedule a call in another hour, day, week depending on how much one has to get the background for doing justice. Be clear what one has knowledge/ skill to deliver and that which is not there. Listen carefully. Have empathy. [Google]
Missed calls invariably need to be returned at the earliest. After the call, send an email summarizing what transpired seeking additional documents/ explanations. Quote the fees if the assignment is clear.
B. Present Clients call: Understand the issue [Repeat your understanding to double check], brush up on the background of the client [client profile?] Keep yourself and the client's personal accountability by giving clear commitments and answers on the record. If oral advice is given send an email immediately on clarification provided. At times there can be a gap, which can lead to poor service quality.
C. SMS/ Whatsapp: These are tools of today. There is a need to ensure that it can be captured and preserved if being used. If not then follow up with an email setting out the communication in brief and the advice with clarity.
D. Email: 90% of the normal emails to clients have errors:
- Improper addressing (hi, no greeting, M'am instead of Sir- preferable to address by name)
- Subject not clear- reply to mail w/o changing the subject- later difficult to retrieve also.
- Provide a means to reach the answer instead of providing the answer
- Poor English- incorrect/ improper words, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes (tenses, singular/ plural....)
- Too long or too short- does not meet the client's needs.
- Addressed to 10 people- not clear who is the intended recipient (not using CC)
- Reply all without seeing who needs to know.
- Google for more common errors.
E. New Client Meeting [video conferencing or physical]: Have total domain knowledge including the concerns in the industry and as much of client as possible thru website/ google etc. Be 10 minutes early. Test the audio/ video at your end. Be ready with any presentation which could be shared in the call/ meeting. Listen keenly, get their concerns, and respond to specific questions. Do not be in hurry to share your basket of services unless asked.
Understand how the prospective client came to know about you.
F. Communication prior to Work at Clients premises: Inform in advance what are the needs of information/ documentation needed. Confirm that it is available. See what is the work that can be put at the back end. Complete that. Fix a time for the visit and intimate approximate time required. Keep the integrity of time by delivering all that was promised. In case of any delay- work not possible to be done, discuss, and be transparent how you are going to take care of the leftover work. Do not try to simply toss the ball in the client's court. The client may have many priorities higher than responding to us.
G. Back Office or WFH: Be clear as to what is being done and ensure periodical updates and seek information as early as possible. Clearly set out the limitations if any under which you are working. Ensure a trail on record.
H. Opinions. Drafts & reports: Concise, clear, and to the point. If lengthy explanation needed use annexures. Summarise in a separate ppt or 1-2 page pdf document highlights for top management.
I. After work is done - Follow Up: This is an aspect we at times are not following. The need to communicate to ensure all suggestions are implemented is critical. If there are any challenges resolve them. See that the benefit or rectification or risk mitigation is done to avoid exposure at a later time. This could also be a good time to get honest feedback on various aspects of our services. Capture them and is any are satisfactory, average, or adverse then it is a signal for us to improve.
At times the professional may find that his view is no longer the correct view which may be due to self learning leading to amendment to view, change in the laws, judicial rulings. It is imperative at such time to communicate to the client responsibly even if it means that client may be unhappy and blame us. After all we are not “god” but we are doing our best.
See in all of the above whether the 3 principles and other aspects have been met. Did we understand the client/ his needs, was our deliverable/content clear and simple, are we building our credibility to have the ear/ listening of the client.
Hope that this short article has been able to add any value/ direction to empowering one practice. I feel it may require enhancement and additions. The author can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the next article in the series - Chapter 7: Appropriate Billing
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