At some point in your career, it will happen: a client will stop communicating with you and give you the silent treatment. They likely don’t mean to annoy you – it’s part of life – but understanding what next steps to take depends greatly on you imagining what they’re going through.
Many companies are stretched thin and are understaffed. And even though there are multiple studies that indicate that burnout isn’t good for business, it happens all the time.
While it may frustrate you to not get an answer from your client, it’s usually not caused by a need to spite you. It’s very likely your clients is in meetings for most of their work day and has little time to answer emails and take calls. Approach your client with empathy rather than anger in order to get him or her back on track in communicating with you again.
Why Clients Disappear
There are several reasons as to why your client isn’t answering you. One could be a cluttered email inbox. We’ve all had moments when we intend to clear out our inboxes but a phone call or a meeting gets in the way. It happens to everybody.
Studies indicate you need a whole minute to rest after reading a single mail. Some workers need a minimum of three hours a day to clean out their inbox in order to be up to date. Your client might not be prepared to do this for whatever reason.
They could be waiting on another staff member to get back to them with some important information before they contact you again, or they simply don’t have anything new to tell you. They could be dealing with some emergency work situations, or they could simply be procrastinating because they are dealing with a tad of decision paralysis, which happens to everybody.
At the darkest end of the spectrum, they have negative news to tell you and they’re putting it off. But don’t imagine the worst. While it’s standard for you to spend about 30 percent to 40 percent of your time to handling a client account and project, clients only spend 7 percent to 10 percent of their time to handling the same. It’s likely their communication silence is explained by them being very busy with little time to get back to you.
Yet, how do you restore the flow of communication without seeming like you’re nagging them?
Tactics for Getting the Client to Respond
It’s difficult to keep a client engaged when they have tuned you out but these easy tactics can help you stay in the loop without harming the relationship.
1) Emphasize the most important deadlines.
If you believe your client will be missing any deadlines right from the get-go, then you’re already planning for the future. Inform them right from the start which deadlines cannot be missed, and be firm about making them understand the importance of said deadlines. If they will be forgetting a deadline, let it at least be a deadline that can be missed.
2) Spell Out the Consequences of Missing a Specific Deadline
Don’t hesitate to let your clients know about the consequences of missing a deadline: “If we don’t receive A, we can’t make B happen.” This will motivate your client to keep to the timeline of the project because they don’t want to risk scuppering the project. If you don’t clarify what you need from the client to the client, you’ll likely be blamed for the missed deadline yourself.
3) Don’t Use Calendar-based Deadlines
Opt instead to set deadlines by number of days. For instance, “Four workdays after we obtain A, we can hand in B.” This strategy allows you to build a visual timeline of what happens when a small deadline is overlooked. Your client will also get a bigger picture of the consequences their inability to act can have on the project.
4) Create a Structure in Your Communications
Settle on communication methods and turnaround times immediately with your client. Are emails better than phone calls? Maybe Skype video chats are more acceptable to your client. Don’t think that your preferred method of communication is what they prefer as well. Let them inform you which days and times are their most hectic times so that you can take note.
5) Always Schedule a Follow-up at the End of a Meeting
It’s sort of like dating: If you like someone, go ahead and ask them out on a repeat date. Connect with your clients in a similar fashion. If you open-end your schedule, you’ve just created a need for additional steps to be taken to set up the following meeting, which means you’ll have to wait for responses to your scheduling messages.
6) Draft a Plan In Case You Don’t Hear from the Client
Be proactive and ask your clients how you can move the project forward in case you don’t hear back from them. By preparing a backup plan, you’re making it more likely your timeline and deliverables will move forward. In addition, by entrusting you to take decisions on their behalf, you are building a relationship of trust with your client.
7) Be Familiar with your Clients’ Schedules
Ask your client to keep you updated on any upcoming periods of time off due to vacation so that you can step up communication during times when your client is having a normal week.
Get acquainted with what your clients’ weeks look like in general so that you can accordingly set appropriately timed deliverable dates. Including a “tell me about your week” question in your meetings with your clients is a good way to anticipate future obstacles and to also understand what may be reasonable to ask for.
Understanding Your Clients is Key
From your company’s perspective, an unresponsive client can create problems and potentially put the project at risk. Often, a project has a set deadline, which means your company has to work hard to get it done not matter how long the client procrastinates. This can lead to rush costs and other unnecessary expenses. Yet approach client silence in this way: Seek to understand your clients better so that you interpret unresponsiveness as yet another opportunity to do just that. Working through the silence can be just the thing that brings you both closer together.
Denise Recalde is a Content Writer at translation and localisation services provider, Day Translations, with eleven years of experience under her belt. She has worked on writing projects that range from business to nutritional health to beauty and fashion. Bilingual and a world traveler, she has been to 14 countries and spent about one-half of her life in the US and the other half in Argentina.