We have made ourselves so accessible to clients — they can call/text/email/slack us anywhere, anytime.
Flexibility delivered freedom, but freedom for one is freedom for all. An unstructured working relationship can be challenging: it’s really difficult to manage expectations 24:7.
There’s two ways to take control: the first is to personally manage the situation, the second is to use technology
Personally managing clients
Much has already been covered in previous articles so here’s a quick summary to managing clients:
- for new clients: prepare a social contract to be signed at the start of a relationship. Include the hours you’ll be available and how best to contact you. And ask the same from your client, so it’s a true partnership. Manage expectations by including your preferred channel of communication and an expected response time. Is it one hour/same day/24 hours?
- for existing clients: use a social contract to reinvigorate a relationship. COVID and working remotely has made mental health and life/work balance more topical than ever before. Many people are revising their expectations. Take this opportunity to insert clarity into an existing relationship.
- Finally, once boundaries are set, don’t respond outside your ‘available’ hours. (Not sure why? Read this previous article: Your lack of preparation does not constitute my emergency).
The technology answer
I love my design community — I continually learn from the generosity of others. This week I ‘overheard’ an online conversation between Simon Hipgrave (Creative Director and co-founder of Hungry Workshop and Partner at Bone.Digital) and Cassie Bone (General Manager / Co-founder at Hound & Bone Studio) about cloud-based phone systems. Both find the technology valuable to manage clients.
Cloud-based phone systems like Dialpad, Zoom Phone, Justcall or Aircall are alternatives to a landline. Yep, a landline. Many creative businesses have retained their landline rather than give clients a mobile number. And yes, you can have an ‘office’ mobile but remote working has made sharing ‘ownership’ of the mobile problematic.
Using a cloud-based phone system, incoming calls to a landline come via an app to your computer or mobile. And the reverse is true, you dial from a landline number on your mobile –keeping your mobile number hidden.
Cloud-based phone systems have advantages like:
- pushing unanswered calls forward. For example, if there is no answer from one number in 10 seconds, the system can push the call onto another number, and if still no answer it goes to messages.
- call menus. It’s easy to program ‘press one for Carol, two for Greg’ etc. (clients love that kind of thing 😉
- administrative help. Contacts, email numbers and notes can be logged against contacts — makes it easy to identify who is calling and potentially why.
- actively discouraging clients to communicate via text – an increasingly frustrating problem.
Better than all this, they are smart: you can program different messages for different times of the day or week. For example, during the business hours the message a client will hear for a missed call is different to the one they may hear on weekends/out of hours. That’s perfect for setting boundaries about contact hours.
‘We found when we had a mobile number, people would be calling/texting with the expectation that they’d get a call back ASAP, because they were calling a mobile number – and the assumption is that mobiles are always on’.
Cassie Bone, Hound and Bone
Some cloud-based phone system apps work as a CMS – you can make notes about contacts in a similar manner to other software. For example, the ability to transcribe conversations is currently in beta. The transcription is searchable, across all calls. Better still, it can search key words to compile an action list / summary at the end of the call. For example: say you will follow up with an email, pdf, and/or set a meeting time? It will be in writing by the time you hang up. How good is that?
Like all good apps, these systems are not free. A benchmark fee is AUD$20 per user per month for entry level. So the systems aren’t right for creative businesses with a small cohort of loyal clients. Where they excel is juggling many clients with multiple projects.
And some systems don’t work perfectly with mobiles — the call quality isn’t great. Most companies recommend wired headsets for best call quality.
I’ve got two:
- If you’re finding client management difficult, there are personal and technological solutions available, you just need to look.
- Nurture and celebrate our design community. There lives a goldmine of information 🙂
Want more information like this delivered to your inbox every Wednesday? The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.
These articles talk more about employing creatives:
- Managing client expectations
- Getting more work from existing clients
- Identifying bad clients
- How to get clients
About Carol Mackay
After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.
The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with research, mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops.