8 Communication Mistakes That Can Damage Relations With Clients

Sam Molony

Stable and successful businesses are based on solid and stable relationships, and these relations are built on trust building communication. How you communicate with your clients goes a long way towards establishing your personal and professional rapport with them.   

Good relationships with your clients will help you do more business with the client and earn you references that help you get new clients. According to a study done by Project Management Institute, 30% of client projects fail due to poor communication. This article will look at five common communication mistakes that lead to project failure, along with easy-to-implement and straightforward ways to avoid them. Let’s dive in.

1. Not negotiating your contract

A contract is more than just a pricing agreement. It is also a document that spells out deliverables and timelines for the client and the contractor. Most B2B services will require some form of contract on which both parties sign off. Even if you are working as a freelancer, it’s good to get the basics in writing, especially if it’s a long-term contract. 

Make sure you read the contract thoroughly before you sign it. If you are unsure about any clause in the contract drawn up by the client, ask for clarification before signing on. You can also run the contract by your legal team, who can go through the fine print. Apart from the commercial terms, some standard clauses included in B2B contracts include:

  • Confidentiality: This clause prevents both parties from disclosing any shared information during the transaction.
  • Force Majeure: This clause prevents both parties from circumstances beyond anyone’s control, for instance, non-delivery due to earthquakes or hurricanes. Sometimes this clause is also termed as “Act of God.”
  • Termination Triggers: This lays out the terms and conditions under which either party can terminate the contract before its expiration.
  • Jurisdiction: When the parties to a contract are located in different states or countries, the clause defines which state’s or country’s law will apply if a dispute arises. 

Remember, no detail is too small. If something doesn’t sound right, you need to discuss the contract with the account executive assigned to the project and your company’s corporate counsel. It’s better to be clear on expectations at this stage than to find yourself bound by a contract you signed in a hurry.

2. Poor email etiquette

Business professionals spend almost a third of their working day reading and responding to emails and talking to clients on the phone. The way you communicate with your clients is critical to how your clients view you and the company you work for. 

A poorly written email can damage your reputation and prevent the client from taking you and your company seriously. Let’s look at some best practices and pitfalls to avoid. 

Forgetting a greeting or closing

According to Judith Kallos, an expert on email etiquette, you should always start the email with a greeting, just as you would start a normal face-to-face conversation. Starting an email this way will prevent it from sounding terse and demanding.

The same applies while ending your email. Close your email with an ending line. Judith goes on to say, "Every single word you speak or type is about forming an impression and building your brand.” An email without these simple but essential pleasantries will give your clients a cold and rude vibe and damage your personal and professional brand. 

Being too formal or informal

The simple rule here is to address the person like you would in a face-to-face conversation. Don’t address John Newcome as Mr. Newcome if you address him as John when you meet him. Likewise, don’t use their first name if you’ve only had a few interactions; wait until you establish an in-person rapport with them.   

When communicating with a female client, it’s best to keep it slightly formal, more so if other people are marked into the mail. If you are communicating with a client and marking in the client’s superiors, keep the greeting and tone of the mail slightly formal, even if you are on first-name terms with the client.

The devil is in the details

Paying attention to small details goes a long way towards building trust and reputation. Avoid things like stray keystrokes, typos, and grammatical errors. These simple mistakes can change the tone and tenor of the communication and give an impression that you don’t care enough for the client. The same applies when spelling names and formatting your email. 

Response time is another critical detail in both B2B and B2C communication. Of course, you can’t be on call 24x7, but adding tools like autoresponders to your email platform and website reassures the clients that your customer service team will address the issue right away. Smith.ai offers several tools you can choose to deliver a quick initial response. 

Avoid putting names in all lower case or all upper case. The first letter of the name should be in caps and the rest in lower case. Always proofread the email before hitting “send.”

3. Poorly defined scope of work

Successful projects require all stakeholders (you, your team, and the client) to be on the same page at all times. The first step towards this is to set clear expectations with the client, especially when you’re starting a new project. Failure on this front will lead to miscommunication and time wasted on going back and forth, apart from straining relations with the client. 

Start by getting your client and your team to create a draft for the project’s scope, including timelines, goals, deliverables, etc. Next, meet the client with your team leader to discuss and negotiate the final terms and scope. Putting all the negotiations to paper will put all stakeholders on the same page. This conversation is also an excellent opportunity for people to get to know each other and clarify the project. 

Pro Tip: When defining the scope of the contract, think back to similar jobs you’ve done in the past. What were some of the problem areas? Make sure you get clarity on these issues. The scoping part of project planning is the right time to ask all your questions and set the client’s expectations.

4. Know how and when to say no

Saying “no” is one of the hardest things to do with a client because of the constant fear of losing out on the contract. However, compromising your boundaries or agreeing to something you know will be tough to deliver is simply kicking the can down the road. The ability to say no needs to be a core part of your business strategy.

The ability to push back when a client wants to add more tasks to the scope of the project is a fundamental skill you need to learn, so learn to say no to unreasonable timelines and deliverables.

The ability to say no to existing and new clients will, in most cases, earn you the respect of good clients. And if you do lose the occasional contract by saying no, just know that the client wasn’t a good long-term fit for you. Saying yes to all client requests will overload you and your team with work and eventually result in burnout or poor quality of work.

If your clients do not respect your boundaries, they are not the clients you should be working with. When working with a new client, ensure that you establish your boundaries upfront and early in the client relationship. 

5. Not valuing your talent and skills

Learning not to undersell your talent and skills is an extension of learning to say no. Sales resources at startups, small companies, and freelancers will often undersell themselves to bag a new client and ensure an income stream for the company. 

Let’s say you’re a freelancer working for $80 an hour. You know your work merits $120, but you can never seem to close at that price. The scenario plays out the same every time. One client knows the job is worth $120 but wants to see how low you can go. So he lowballs you at $80 with the promise of more, better-paying projects down the line. 

Do you think you’ll ever get a contract at $120 from this client? I don’t think so.

If you feel your skills are constantly undervalued, chances are you have a problem saying no.   It’s a common mistake made by most freelancers. A good way would be to do a simple Google search to establish the industry standard and then factor in where your expertise places you vis-a-vie that average. 

Know and sell your core strengths. Let’s imagine you’re a sales resource at a small but highly skilled company selling to a major client usually serviced by large and reputed firms in your niche. What is your core strength? It’s not your skilled resources because the bigger firms will have more of them. However, smaller firms are more agile simply because there are fewer layers of management to convince of the solution’s fit for the business. 

Agility is the ability to deliver the project in a shorter time. That is your core strength. Sell your core strength at 20% less than the big guys’ rate, and you will convert eight out of ten prospects. 

6. Promising what your team can’t deliver 

Many salespeople are so eager to accommodate the client and close the deal that they tend to oversell their product’s capabilities. Promising something challenging for your team to deliver will eventually lead to an upset client and a demotivated team. 

Failure to deliver on your promises will lead to a loss of your client’s trust and will negatively impact your chances of getting repeat business from the client. Constantly overpromising and then driving your team to unreasonable limits will not only sacrifice the quality of work. It will also demotivate your team and lead to people leaving your organization.  

Always be honest and transparent about what you can and can’t deliver, no matter how much the client pressures you. This is yet another off-shoot of learning to say no. The best way to delight a client is to under-promise and then over-deliver.

7. Not sharing your expert opinion

A great way to build a rapport with your client and win their trust is to share your professional advice. Sometimes, the client may want a deliverable that will not work or may impact some other area of their workflow. This is where you need to step in and share your niche expertise. Since you’re the expert at what you do, you don’t need to worry about correcting the client.

Part of providing exceptional customer service is the ability to help navigate the client around pitfalls. For instance, let’s say your client wants to amplify their Instagram presence, but the content they want to use is mainly text-based. Step in and explain how Instagram is primarily a visual platform, and hence converting the text to infographics would do better. 

You will be responsible for results down the line. Hence, you must speak up now and nudge the client in the right direction. The ability to voice your expertise at the right time, thereby protecting the client from making a costly mistake, will add to your credibility. Remember how we said at the start how business is based on relationships? Well, here’s your chance to build it. 

You will run into a potential client who refuses to listen and take guidance from time to time. The simple solution here is to walk away and not look back. 

8. Not seeking clarification

It’s important to have complete clarity on all aspects of the contract before signing off. Even with a clear brief, there can be doubts about some aspect of the project, say who’s responsible for delayed decisions from the client that lead to delays in delivery. Don’t assume the client will accept this down the line. 

Chances are, if this happens, the client will turn around and say, why didn’t you clarify this earlier? You’ll still be left holding the bag. Documenting details in a contract and clarifying them to avoid communication mistakes are two different things. A good client won’t mind you asking questions to clarify details. They will appreciate your attention to detail. Another tip is to have a point person at the client who you can use both as a sounding board and a parallel channel to clarify any doubts down the line.

Large and complex projects are rarely a straight and smooth road from brief to delivery. Ongoing and open communication with your clients can help clear doubts and get new ideas to make your deliverables even better.

Wrapping up

Whether you are just starting as a freelancer or as a sales resource, your success lies in approaching and winning new clients as part of your outreach strategy. Scaling your business depends heavily on the quality of your client relationships, which will keep your project pipeline flowing. 

However, communication mistakes can quickly undermine relationships and cause more significant problems down the road. The guidelines presented in this article will help you avoid common pitfalls like signing a contract without understanding the brief to basic communication etiquettes. Remember to keep the communication lines open and seek clarification whenever required. Last but not least, don’t undersell yourself, and don’t be afraid to voice your opinion significantly if you can add experience-based value. Good Luck!

Sam Molony

Sam Molony is part of the marketing team at Mailshake. Sam’s goal is to inspire people to not just “hang in there” but to thrive.


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