Having spent the last few years managing social media for various clients around the globe, I've been humbled by what my customers have taught me. The biggest lesson I've learned is that there is a way to work with just about anybody, and it comes down to communication - both in managing expectations and delivering exceptional service.
Here are a few things I've learned that might help you establish better communications with your customers.
Set clear expectations. Clearly identify what's expected of you and what you expect of the customer. Do this up front - as you begin to work together - and revisit these expectations on a regular basis. This is especially important for those who work in an industry like social media. For me, it can be challenging to explain the value of something that does not always generate an immediate, clear, and tangible ROI. But I find that if I can help my customers set realistic social media goals and expectations, they are more likely to stick with it and give it enough time to achieve their ROI. Of equal importance is outlining what I require of my clients in order to help me do my job to the best of my ability ('help me, help you.').
Do what you say you're going to do. No matter how small the task, always do what you say you are going to do. If you tell a customer that you will call next week, make sure you come through. If you tell them that you will review a document tomorrow, it is expected that it will be reviewed tomorrow. Because life happens, there will be times that we can't always do everything we promise. In that case, just let them know that you are aware that you said you would have their monthly report on Thursday, but the day got away from you so it will be Friday. Tell them that you appreciate their patience and that you apologize for being late. Doing what you say you're going to do, and making sure you communicate with your customer when plans change, will enhance your credibility by leaps and bounds.
Do more than is expected. For those of you who own a business, you understand that doing the bare minimum is often not enough. In order to differentiate ourselves and stand out from our competitors, we must go the extra mile. It shows that we care and that we take pride in a job well done. It's also something people tend to remember, especially when it's time to renew a contract or when the opportunity for a referral arises. You won't always be able to hit it out of the park nor should you, but the small extras can make a big difference.
Hear what they are saying, don't just get defensive. When I receive feedback that's less-than-positive, I do my best not to react emotionally. Since I am a sensitive person, I usually have to 'react' to myself for a bit, and then I can respond appropriately. After I have had time to process my emotions, I revisit the feedback objectively and determine where I may have been at fault. I find there's always something I could have done better and I make sure incorporate this realization into a plan for improvement.
When you mess up, apologize. This seems simple enough, yet so many of us would rather point the finger than admit our fault. If I make a mistake - and we all do - I apologize. I do this proactively and repeatedly. I put a plan in place to fix it and make sure it never happens again. I've found that clients appreciate that I was truthful about my error and that I did what I could to fix it rather than sweep it under the rug and hope they didn't notice. This simple step is a real trust builder.
Customer relationships are a work in progress, but by putting the right communication principals in place, you may find your formula for making the relationship not only work, but also last!