As the year has progressed I have been entrusted with more and more responsibilities and have since been given my own projects to manage. A part of that is meeting and speaking on the phone with clients. For anybody who isn’t used to dealing with people in a business environment this can be a very unnerving situation.
There are two distinct environments in which I must speak to a client: over the phone and in a meeting. Some meetings are more formal than others but the environment is more or less the same. Personally, I find speaking on the phone a lot more difficult than speaking in person. For a start, you cannot gauge a client’s thoughts nearly as effectively over the phone as you can face-to-face.
Speaking over the phone initiates in me the fight-or-flight mechanism, I think. That is, I panic, sweat profusely and stutter and trip over my words. The most annoying part of all of that is that I know I have the ability to speak with professionalism and panache; I just can’t seem to bring myself to let it through.
You see, I have an innate fear that I am not adequate [cue the violins]. I don’t mean I have a personal flaw of feeling inferior. I just mean that, I’m forever worried that I simply am not as professional and knowledgeable as the person on the other end of the line expects me to be. They may criticise the new website I have just sent them but the fact is that a lot of the time they are simply looking for direction. They are eager to hear what I think about what they think!
But the panic and fear that I don’t know what I’m talking about grips my throat and getting the professional opinion past my lips is a nightmare. As a result, the client is left with the view that the company I work for don’t know what they are talking about and that they will take their business elsewhere next time. And that’s where the vicious circle begins because with that in mind when I’m on the phone I panic more and more! Nightmare!
The other environment, the meeting, is a different ball game altogether. I find this a lot easier than speaking on the phone, mostly because it is so easy to take a client at face value in relation to what they say. They make it easier for you because what they say is backed up (or flat-out denied) by their facial expressions, their physical actions and their up-front appearance.
Not only that, but meeting somebody in person who is generally cool, easy-going and happy can make you feel at ease. I understand that this is my role, too. I need to convey a façade that is cool and professional; that is made a lot easier when it is reciprocated at the client’s side. This is a good circle. It’s not so vicious.
The trouble starts when the client is too friendly; they speak about things that are not related to the matter at hand. This makes me feel too comfortable and I start to panic that if I relax too much I’ll lose my cool and make some error or faux pas that sticks with the client and causes a tension from that moment onwards. Cue the sweating, panic and need for large amounts of re-hydration!
Over the course of the past twelve months, I haven’t totally got a hold over my anxieties when it comes to speaking with clients, especially over the phone. However, I think that structure is important when it comes to a business conversion. For example, making a few notes before making a phone call can help greatly when it comes to clients’ questions. It helps if you are mentally akin to the clients because you will have an idea of the sort of questions they might ask. Therefore, you are less likely to be taken off guard by a question you might need to think about.
And in essence, that’s all the panic stems from. The fact that you need to think on the spot puts pressure on your nerves and that’s the precise moment you lose your grip on the conversation. If you don’t know the answer to a question the client asks, the key, I believe, is to just be honest. Tell the client you will get back to them because you need to discuss the matter with your colleagues. Bluffing your way through the conversation not only leaves the client unconvinced, but it also means that you, as a website designer looking for some kind of critique from the client, get very little out of the conversation. The result: the client doesn’t get what they want and either asks the question again later or simply takes their business elsewhere in the future.
Keeping your cool is important. It makes the client feel at ease and conveys the image, well, the fact that you know what you are talking about. Once you’ve had a few conversations like that, where you can answer each question concisely and effectively, your confidence in yourself and your professionalism will increase and you will be entrusted with more and more responsibilities within your company.