From practicing good communication to mastering the art of negotiation, we listed 5 of the most important client-interfacing skills to help you build great customer relationships.
Too many freelancers undervalue the importance of customer-facing skills in their own businesses. While some have hard skills down to a pat, their incapacity to relate effectively and communicate with customers often overshadows the brilliance of their technical capabilities.
Strong client-facing skills are integral if you’re looking to build long-term relationships with your clients.
While reading this article, take some time to assess yourself – which customer-facing skills do you have, and which ones can you improve? Don’t worry if you’re a little rusty on some of the items below – we listed out actionable ways to improve them too.
What are client interfacing skills?
You might have heard of this buzzword if you try to apply for any job today. Client interfacing skills are the abilities required to provide quality customer service. As their own bosses, freelancers don’t often have the convenience of entrusting the client-facing aspects of their job to a project manager or a higher-up.
Without a liaison, most freelance jobs require independent contractors to interact directly with their customers in person or through online messages, phone conversations, and various other methods of business communication.
Client interfacing skills can spell the difference between a satisfied and disappointed customer who never plans on enlisting your service again.
What are the skills required to be successful in client interfacing? Below are some of the best client-facing skills examples.
What are the most impactful client interfacing skills?
Great communication improves productivity, prevents misunderstanding, and fosters trust. You can be amazing at your work, but if you’re not effective at communicating with clients, the work process can be frustrating. In the end, the results will suffer.
Aside from these, you’ll need effective communication skills when talking with a hiring manager for a job interview! Here are helpful ideas and tips on how to improve your customer service skills in communication.
Ask the right questions.
To fully understand what a project entails and what clients need, freelancers must ask the right questions. Before accepting a project, prepare a list of questions for good measure.
For example, if you’re a social media manager, it’s integral to determine exactly what your clients need from your services. Are they looking for better engagement or more brand awareness? What does their budget for social media ads look like? Cover all bases and leave no stone unturned.
The more specific your questions are, the more you’ll be able to wrap your head around the client’s needs, and the better your output will be.
Explain with clarity
Not all clients are familiar with your industry, so make sure to avoid using jargon or terms that they aren’t familiar with.
Always ask yourself, how do I explain my services to someone with zero knowledge about what I do? Use relatable language and wording, and always ask your clients if they understand what you mean.
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Practice online communication etiquette
Should you say ‘Hi’ or ‘Dear’? Is it okay to use emojis? Can you interject with a little sprinkling of humor?
Drafting emails and online messages can be challenging. If you’re working remotely, it’s essential that you brush up on your online communication skills.
Here are a few tips.
- Use an appropriate greeting. Most have different opinions about what salutations to use. A piece of advice: use informal greetings (e.g., hi, hello) when writing to a close colleague. On the other hand, use more formal salutations for clients or people you don’t know so well.
- Know when to write brief emails. Short and instructive emails may appear rude or too blunt for people you aren’t close with. When speaking with clients, speak in full sentences and expound when necessary.
- Be wary of colloquialisms. Freelancing may mean dealing with people across different cultures. Be wary about colloquialisms or funny sayings that may be misconstrued.
- Reply on time. Try your hardest to reply within 24 hours. If you can’t give an appropriate response yet, acknowledge the message with a date on when you’ll be able to get back.
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For many freelancers, feedback only comes when they’ve messed up – this shouldn’t be the case. You should always be asking for feedback during key stages of your work.
After a chunk of work is done, ask for opinions about the product. Toiling for hours doing work only to figure out that you’ve done the wrong thing is stressful. It’s also a big time-waster.
Mind your body language
Mind your body language. This is important in real-world use when you directly interact with other people. Of course, you need to dress appropriately, but one of the most important parts of communication is body language.
You should always be aware of where your hands are and how they’re positioned. Make sure that you’re not crossing your arms or legs when you talk to someone else. This can make them feel closed off and defensive. Try to keep relaxed and open while talking so that you can convey friendliness and openness.
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Listening is one of the most important client-interfacing skills for freelancers. Actively listening to information will influence your productivity, reduce misunderstanding, and improve relationships. Here are some tips on how to listen better:
Understand your client’s pain points
You already know what your client needs from you, but do you know why they need it? Listening intently to decipher purpose and motivation will help freelancers offer better outputs.
If you know why your client needs your services, the more purposeful your work becomes.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we listen, it can be hard to decipher what our client means. Did something your client said confuse you? Don’t assume its meaning, and be bold enough to ask for clarification.
Don’t forget to document
When meeting with a client through video call or in person, always have a notebook in hand. You can’t always rely on your memory to store information, so it’s important to write down key points.
Repeat key facts
After listening to your client, repeat what they said back to them to confirm your understanding of the information: “From what you said, this is what I understood….”
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Negotiation is one of the most underrated client interfacing skills. Independent contractors who know how to negotiate have a huge advantage over those who don’t.
Negotiation is vital to getting the rate you need – and we all know that one who is paid well works well. As freelancers ourselves, we know how tricky negotiating rates can be.
Regardless of what price you landed on, there’s one truth you all freelancers should know: clients who cannot meet your rate when you priced fairly are usually not worth it (this depends on many factors, like when your goal is to build a portfolio and could handle a lower price).
Here are some tips to improve your negotiating practices.
Know your worth
Freelancers who know the quality of their work have the confidence to rate their services at a higher price. If you know that you provide top-notch service, don’t shortchange yourself.
Premium work comes at a premium price but within reason, of course. Overpricing yourself can lead to clients looking elsewhere for a service that you can better provide. Read up on how you can charge your services appropriately and adjust your rates accordingly.
Have your credentials ready
To negotiate from a position of strength, clients need to know the depth of their aptitude, skills, and experience. Showcase your best work and brandish positive reviews to improve your client’s perception of you.
Make sure that your credentials are organized and shortlisted. If you have a big body of work, showcase only the most remarkable ones.
It can be tough for clients to wade through a deep pool of work. Here is how you can list freelance work on LinkedIn.
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An age-old practice is starting your negotiation at a price that is higher than your regular rate and then lowering your rate slightly when your client haggles.
If your client doesn’t haggle, then all the better – you’ve successfully closed a project that further adds to your income.
Learn to say no
One of the biggest pitfalls of freelancing is accepting clients who shortchange your skills and offer you less than your minimum rate. If you aren’t desperate for income yet, stand firm.
Since money is a great motivator, working for a client that offers peanuts for top-notch service will most likely jeopardize the quality of your work.
Be creative with service offerings.
When you’ve reached a dead-end in your rate negotiation, don’t give up just yet. There may be other options to offer so you can land the project.
Be creative with your service and try offering something smaller, or consider offering your services piecemeal to match your client’s limited rate.
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It can be easy to lose professionalism when interfacing with clients as a freelancer. Freelancers often fall into the trap of casual comfort as they work outside the confines of an office without anyone to guide them or look over their work.
But being your own boss requires you to maintain professionalism, especially when interacting with clients.
Mind your grammar
Whether you like it or not, informal writing tendencies can affect how people, especially your clients, perceive your intelligence.
Clear sentences and good grammar means you’re paying close attention to what you’re saying and imply that you’re serious about what you want to convey. Bad grammar, on the other hand, may mean sloppiness which may hurt your credibility as a freelancer.
Pretend you’re in an office
Since most of our client-facing experiences occur within our own homes or outside of an office, it can be easy to slip away from professionalism.
Distractions abound, which may affect timely replies and focus, so always pretend that you’re working in an office where time is of the essence.
Accept feedback and criticism.
When a client offers feedback, listen intently without aiming to rebut. Workers with high emotional quotients can accept criticism without getting hurt – so be professional and don’t take it personally.
Once you get defensive with their feedback, especially after you’ve asked for it, your clients may not be as generous with their honest feedback.
One of the challenges of being your own boss is handling potential conflicts with clients. Freelancers should know that conflict is inevitable and they’re bound to encounter a client who will be unhappy with their work somewhere down the line.
When dealing with conflicts, our goal as a freelancer isn’t to prove who is right or wrong but rather how to defuse an argument before it blows up.
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Get to the root of the problem
In the heat of conflict, most freelancers forget to get down to the root of the problem. The only way to do this is to ask: What made the client unhappy about my work?
This should go without saying, but most freelancers obsess about proving themselves right without determining the problem itself.
Apologize for mistakes
Set your personal biases aside and determine if you caused problems that contributed to the project’s failure. Once you realize your mistake, own up to it and apologize. Apologizing paves the way for a solution and enhances your relationship with the client.
Do not, however, apologize just to make your client feel better. Instead, respectfully prove your point.
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Focus on solutions
Conflict resolution is one of the most important client interfacing skills. It enhances the worker-client relationship and expedites project completion.
Time is precious for freelancers. When they focus on finding a solution to the problem instead of obsessing over the argument, no time is wasted. After assessing the situation, immediately agree on a course of action.
Other useful client interfacing skills
Aside from the above-mentioned skills, you will also have an advantage if you have the following skills.
- Skills in client management tools. You should know how to use your client’s software and web applications. This will help you communicate and understand their needs better.
- Qualitative feedback skills. You need to be able to ask questions that help clients open up about their needs and goals. Do those in a way that allows them to provide useful feedback about what they want from their experience with your company.
- Client satisfaction skills. This means having an eye for detail and knowing what changes can make big differences. The basis is how satisfied customers are with their experience using your product or service over time. It’s also important that this skill extends beyond simple product usage (often subject to technical limitations).
- Conformity. This is important because clients may ask you to do things not within your job description. You must be able to adapt to these changes and be willing to do them without complaint or hesitation.
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