External collaboration: 9 tips to help your team stop chasing clients
As a service provider, the time of your employees is both your biggest asset and expense. What it’s spent on will determine the fate of your company and enable or prohibit your growth.
Is communicating with clients how the majority of your employees’ time is spent? If so, you may be falling victim to what we call the “client chase.”
The client chase
The client chase shouldn’t be a problem, yet for many businesses, it is a gigantic time suck. Instead of moving forward on a project that both you and your client desperately want to be completed, you’re stuck waiting on or chasing your client for the information you need. Your team is ready to take action, but you didn’t get confirmation or that last piece of info.
While there are no absolute, long-term solutions to squeeze the client chase out of your organization, there are methods for decreasing its impact. And even a small reduction in chasing your clients can free your team’s minds and time to work ahead of other projects, and possibly more importantly, speed up the process of working with clients to ensure that their projects are completed in a timely manner. This will increase your efficiency and their level of satisfaction.
Here are 9 tips to help your organization turn your client chase from a weakness to an advantage.
Set expectations at the start
Don’t leave anything up to chance. Make your expectations clear at the very start of a project with a new client. This helps them understand that you expect them to hold themselves accountable for responding in a timely manner.
You can do this by creating a list of steps or a checklist. Your client checklist may include “send additional requested information” if it’s common to ask questions of your client during a specific point of your process.
If outlining steps, members of your team can reference them. For example, if the client is not returning phone calls or emails during a certain step, they may feel more inclined to act if they know that you are still on step 4 and can’t move on to step 5 until you have what you need from them. They’ll see that they are the bottleneck resulting in a stalled project.
Explain the benefit of effective communication.
Do you explain the benefit that responding quickly will bring to your customer? It sounds so simple that you shouldn’t even have to say it. It is, but it often does need to be said.
Example: “With your cooperation and by responding to all calls and emails from our team, we should be able to deliver your new …. in just three weeks!”
With this message, you’re telling clients that their cooperation will lead to a lightning-quick delivery, which they want. If their brain registers that by calling you back now instead of waiting until tomorrow and helps them receive what they want from your company quicker, they’ll more likely to do it.
Everyone is human and sometimes prone to forgetting what is required of them. This is what reminders are often needed to be sent to clients.
But you don’t want your staff spending their time sending emails or making phone calls over and over again just to emphasize that something is due soon. Today, you must be automating low-value tasks such as this.
Tools such as Karbon provide the ability to set auto-reminders for your clients so there is no risk of anything being forgotten by your clients, without putting any extra burden on your own staff.
The client chase, which causes your team to waste time and resources, should never be your company’s fault. You can eliminate excuses by responding to clients as soon as possible, holding each employee responsible for client communications, and by having a process for overseeing that each member of your team is clearly communicating with their clients. This is where project management tools can play a vital role in improving your efficiency and reducing the impact of the client chase.
Make deadlines and ownership clear.
In “set expectations at the start,” we explained the importance of informing the client what is expected of them and what they can expect from your process. In addition to explaining expectations, setting clear deadlines and explaining who owns the next action needs to be a part of your communication process.
“Hello Frank, we are waiting on your financial documents to move forward and will need you to email those over to me. Could these be sent by Thursday at 5 PM Central?”
In the above example, you explain that your client owns (is responsible for) taking the next action and you also set a clear deadline for them to send in the information by.
Create a process for dealing with communication issues
After setting a clear deadline and outlining that your client is responsible to take the next action, what happens when your client misses a deadline by a week? Create an internal process for dealing with a client who is delinquent in responding to you.
To be completely transparent with your client, let them in on this process. Explain to them that if they miss a deadline, their project will not move forward until they respond, or whatever it is you decide to do after they fail to respond or miss multiple deadlines.
Schedule routine check-ins
Although you don’t want to bog your team down with unnecessary meetings if your client knows that there are weekly check-in meetings and agree to them, whether 5 minutes or 30, you will be able to avoid many of the problems associated with the client chase.
For complex projects, routine check-ins should be a part of your process. Before each weekly meeting, an automatic reminder should be sent reminding your client that they are expected to attend that week’s meeting.
Don’t forget to ask for their communication preferences
You may prefer email while your client prefers communicating through text message or Zoom. By catering to their preferred method of communication, you eliminate excuses like “I haven’t checked my email for a week” or “I rarely check that account, sorry.” Make it as easy as possible for your client.
Anticipate needs and questions, and answer them
Communication issues often arise from misunderstandings. Do you provide your clients with frequently asked questions and answers or a one-pager explaining each part of the process?
If the client chase is common among your clients, learn why, and solve it by anticipating their issues and solving them before they happen.