The following information on consultant-client communication can easily be adapted to
All client relationships have their challenges and must be carefully cultivated. Early in the process of working with your client, assess these critical areas:
Knowledge. How much does your client know about ? Will the client need to understand particular technical terms or concepts in order to discuss your project with you (example: )? Does the client have any practical experience doing any of the tasks that you’ll be performing for the client?
Communication. Can the client express ideas, opinions, preferences, and decisions clearly? Does the client organize and prioritize ideas well? Is the client more comfortable with oral, written, or visual materials? Does the client prefer to be contacted by phone, mail, email, or some combination?
Context. Does your client understand the learning goal behind your project? Does the client understand what products will be delivered? what time commitments are required? what role the client will play in scheduled events and meetings? Does the client know when and how to provide feedback and evaluation?
Motivation. How does the client see this relationship with you as a benefit? How committed in time and energy is the client toward your project? Is the client inclined to treat the relationship as personal or professional? informal or formal? Does the client want meetings to emphasize efficiency or participation?
Once you and your client have a good understanding of each other and your working relationship, try to foster open, precise, and constructive communication. Here are some basic tips:
• Be a good listener, especially early in the process. See your early contact(s) with the client as information gathering. There’ll be plenty of time later to offer your suggestions and advice. Take notes or tape meetings; immediately after meetings, type notes and share them with the client for revision, correction, and, if necessary, renegotiation of key decisions.
• Keep a steady flow of information, especially in writing. Email is great for quick, convenient communication; retain copies of client communication. Keep your client informed of progress and problems.
• Be punctual. Make realistic deadlines. Every broken promise weakens your credibility. Err on the safe side in scheduling.
• Use the clients’ expertise. Make them feel like the important, decision-making participants they are. Ask them for examples they like and use these to discuss preferences in detail. Offer them alternatives, but only alternatives that you are willing to accept.
• Keep options open. Don’t back your client into a corner. Soften absolute requirements that your client may impose, especially early in the design process. A client may insist on a specific approach that you think will not serve the client well. If so, try refocusing the discussion on the project’s main purpose or on agreed-upon priorities to put the issue in perspective.
• Be frank about what you can and can’t do, will and won’t do. Create a written contract or document of understanding. Such a document can serve as a proposal or just a convenient way of negotiating and clarifying major issues related to your project.