When we talk about client communication, we often talk about avenues for communication. These may include social media posts, direct mail, blogs, email blasts, or other marketing and promotional materials. However, we don’t always talk about strategies for effective communication. Remember, client communication is not a one-way street—it involves absorbing information as well as providing information.
These best practices for client communication are designed to help you listen and learn as much as you speak. In turn, that will help you create deeper and more robust connections with your clients.
Tailoring Communication for the Individual Client
All clients are different and the ways we communicate with them should take into account those differences. Here are some ideas to help you take a more mindful and meaningful approach to client communication.
Knowing how to listen and developing strategies to make your listening skills more effective creates a firmer foundation for all of your client communication. It is easy to go into an initial meeting with a new client focused on selling yourself and your services. This may lead you to spend the whole time talking about yourself when you should be learning more about your client.
Here are a few ways to ensure that you hear more than you say in your next client meeting:
- Create an outline of must-ask questions to work your way through during your meeting. Think of it as an interview and make sure you come away with a full understanding of your new client.
- Repeat key points back to your client to ensure that you have really understood. Ask follow up questions if needed to pick up on unusual details or important information.
- Ask questions about the process, not just the goal. Find out what your client is looking for on an ongoing basis, not just as an end result.
Sometimes one client dominates the conversation, asking all of the questions and providing the majority of the information. Make sure that in your meeting you’re communicating with everyone in the household so that everyone feels seen and heard. This extends to the family’s children, elderly members of the home, and even the pets. This will endear you to the family and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to communicate with you.
Talk to your new clients about the platform they prefer for communication. While some older clients enjoy chatting over the phone or in person, many younger clients rarely even answer phone calls or check their voicemail. Make sure that you are communicating in a way that works for the client, not for you.
In addition, think about platforms in terms of their utility rather than as a one-size-fits-all solution to communication. Use text messages for brief questions, notifications, and responses and email for longer, more involved communications and document gathering. Limit phone calls or in-person visits to situations that require extensive discussion unless the client has indicated a preference for verbal communication.
Take into account your client’s needs and circumstances when developing a process for communicating. For example, a family with small children may only be able to have uninterrupted conversations early in the morning or late at night. A client with a challenging and high-powered job may have little time to answer texts or emails about their house search or sale during business hours. Find out how your client’s lifestyle impacts his or her communication style in order to better determine how and when to reach out.
In some families, one spouse is the primary decision-maker while the other spouse may do more of the information gathering or logistics. In other families, everyone is involved and each decision requires serious consideration and discussion. Some single clients will want to consult with parents, a mentor, or a financial advisor before making difficult decisions. Understanding your clients’ decision-making process and knowing who is involved will give you a better understanding of how to communicate and when to expect a response.
Some of the questions that clients ask can lead you into the thorny issues surrounding fair housing and housing discrimination. While you’ll want to provide ample resources for clients to get their questions answered, you’ll need to make sure that all of your communication is professional and in compliance with your legal and fiduciary role as their real estate agent or broker.
For example, it is common for clients to ask if the schools are good in a particular neighborhood. However, answering that question has the potential to lead you into a violation of fair housing law and an accusation of steering.
The question of what makes a good school is different for different clients. A better option for addressing this question is to find out what is essential to the client and his or her family. After all, a good school is about more than just standardized testing. For some clients, it may be about intellectual rigor, arts and cultural opportunities, specific programs of study, sports programs, and other factors.
Help direct clients to resources that can provide the information they are looking for without having the information come from you. These may include online forums, school system websites, or former clients who are willing to discuss the schools in their neighborhood with newcomers to the area.
Most of all, examine your own assumptions and take part in workshops and training opportunities designed to better address issues of equity and inclusion. These can make you more aware and better equipped to communicate effectively with all of your clients, resulting in better outcomes across the board.