Critical thinking, decision-making and interpersonal communication are all important business skills, and even more so for professionals who work with a retainer or project-based clients.
Accounting and law firms, consulting groups, marketing and advertising agencies, freelancers and more all deal with clients on a regular basis. Because these businesses depend on successful and long-lasting client engagements, it’s important to know how to build and maintain strong business relationships.
Here are five things every business student should know about working with clients:
1. Establish trust
The key to managing any client relationship is trust. Part of this trust can be forged by simply doing what you say you’ll do – such as meeting your deadlines and producing quality work. Following through on what you’ve promised to accomplish can go a long way towards establishing the foundation of a strong client relationship, which is good for both you and your company.
Communication is one of the easiest ways that you can establish trust with your client. Good communication means not only responding to emails promptly, but also keeping the client updated on the status of all projects that are in progress. This could be in the form of a weekly status call, followed by a list of next steps you plan to accomplish in the following weeks. Communication also comes into play at the beginning of the client relationship. Make sure you understand what your client’s expectations are so that you can establish a strategy and set goals and deadlines accordingly.
3. Anticipate their needs
In any client relationship, it’s important that you understand what motivates your clients, what challenges they may be facing, and how you can help them reach their goals. If you can consistently prove yourself to be a strategic problem-solver and a reliable partner, your clients will grow to trust you even more. They might even come to you with more work or projects down the line. This is often how long-lasting client relationships are forged.
4. Be a problem solver
Sometimes, things can change without warning; for example, a more urgent need or crisis might push another client project behind schedule. When this happens, it’s up to you to figure out a workable solution.
Try not to put yourself or your team in a position where you won’t be able to make a deadline, but also make it clear to clients that you’re prioritizing their highest needs and adjusting your focus accordingly. You might often have to manage expectations on both the client side and with your internal team members, and this requires a certain degree of diplomacy. If you can remain calm and professional throughout this process, you’re more likely to find a solution that works for everybody.
In more creative professions, collaboration is also an important part of the client relationship. Here, it’s essential that you understand your client’s needs and business goals, and how you can help them accomplish those goals. If clients have a lot of trust in you and you’ve built a strong, collaborative relationship, they might look for your expertise on strategy or creative direction. You might have valuable insight or experience that you can offer to help elevate the project or increase its chances of success.
If you’re a student, you can get valuable experience working with clients through internships and relevant, integrated business coursework. The goal is for you to develop the critical thinking skills and other soft skills you’ll need to succeed in a client facing role in an ever-changing, fast-paced business environment.