As a companion to proper language, nothing is more important in my book than concise, educated communication with a client.
Good communication not only entails providing a message, but also listening to needs, understanding goals, and being able to regurgitate that information in a way all parties can agree. It's not easy, it's not always quick, but a little care in the beginning can save a world of hurt later.
When prospecting, it's important to have extensive discussions with a potential client to fully understand why you're having a discussion with them in the first place. What do they need done? Did they get in touch with you, and if so, why? How can you help them?
During this first, critical process, it's important to know that you may not start out with all the answers, and that's okay. The key is understanding the questions enough so that you can find the answers later. For larger projects, having a team member go over your notes with you may help identify critical questions that you may have missed and can go back and ask the client later.
Continue the dialog throughout until you can talk intelligently about the problem, because that will be the first step in finding a solution.
Proposing a Solution
If you're lucky enough to draw up a proposal for a client, you must be able to demonstrate an understanding of the problem they have. Make sure your proposal clearly outlines all the services you're about to provide, and the methodology you'll follow to remedy problems if they come up. You also need to outline what would happen if the client failed to support the project on their end by not answering the phone or providing the correct information for you to do your job, for example. Not doing this in the beginning may cause you to have to think on your feet later if things go wrong, and then you'll have to give away a lot more time and resources to make things right.
Communicating shouldn't stop at the end of a project. You may have completed a project to your satisfaction, but is the client really happy? You don't want to have a client leave a project and never come back to you for other services; you want to demonstrate that you value their opinion and satisfaction by receiving input even at the end of a project. If you do this well and make a client feel like they were involved and valued from start to finish, you'll likely be top of mind when a new project comes up.
Always try to review projects at the end of their life-cycles and see if there's a way you could have improved the project through better communication with both clients and among your team. Nobody will ever execute perfectly, but being able to articulate ideas appropriately to the involved parties will not only help to improve customer relationships, it will help to solidify your process.
What kinds of tools do you think are important for keeping the lines of communication open with your customer?
We'd love to learn even more about our communication skills and project process from you.