As I began working on this blog, a trending topic on Twitter was that @Slack was down. I have to admit, I didn’t even know what @Slack was, but it turns out that Slack is a communication tool used by colleagues rather like an Instant Messenger. Tweeters were “horrified” that they might actually have to (gulp) pick up a phone to call or (horrors) get up and walk down the hall to speak to someone face to face.

What do you do when that isn’t an option? Maybe your clients are in another city, state, or country, not just down the hall or in the next cubicle. You need to make sure you possess the two keys necessary to unlocking successful remote client relationships. What are those two keys, you ask? Let me tell you.

The First Key – Communication

Effective communication is absolutely critical to having a great working relationship with remote clients. It can and should involve a myriad of communication methods and frequencies.

Most projects involve project update meetings at regular intervals. Weekly seems to be the most common timeframe. The components of those update meetings include an agenda sent out via email ahead of time, so everyone involved is prepared for a productive meeting. Meeting notes and action items are a great follow up to remind everyone what was discussed and agreed upon. These meetings, notes, and action items have saved me multiple times with large corporate projects that involved internal and external team members.

Emails and texts are another great way to establish open lines of communication. Having a record of what was discussed with emails can prove to be very helpful. It also helps people put their thoughts in a logical order. Texts provide a written trail, and should be used when you need a quick, short answer to a question from your client. You should establish ahead of time if this is an acceptable way to communicate for such things. A current client texts me frequently for a quick answer when she is reviewing storyboards.

Never underestimate the power of actually talking to someone. Written communication, while effective for providing a record of what was discussed, is missing the human component. I may write something in an email that is misinterpreted because of my word choice. If I was actually talking to you, we would probably not have a misunderstanding because you could hear my voice tone when I say it. So, if you need absolute clarity, pick up the phone. I have found this particularly effective when dealing with clients in another country. Trust me when I tell you that the English I speak is vastly different from what is spoken in Great Britain.

The Second Key – Trust

All your hard work around establishing excellent communication with your clients leads directly to the second key, Trust. Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. I try to live by the adage of ‘under promise and over deliver’ for my clients. I love being able to deliver something before it is promised.

We all know that sometimes issues come up that make this impossible. As soon as you realize a deadline is going to be missed, or an issue has crept up that requires your clients’ attention, let them know. Don’t play ostrich and stick your head in the sand, hoping it will resolve itself. Clients appreciate knowing the situation even if it isn’t necessarily what they want to hear.

At the end of the day, people do business with people they trust. You want to make sure you always have your two keys with you when dealing with clients, both remote and in person.

P.S. @Slack is back up, and order was restored for the folks who thought they couldn’t live without it.

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