6 Ways to Get the Email Response You Need
Have you ever sent out a crystal clear email only to receive a client response that leaves you baffled? When there simply is no way to put it simpler, what do you do? Is the client ignoring it on purpose? Or simply does not understand the point you are trying to communicate?
Even the best web professionals are bound to encounter a client fitting this profile at some point. Here are some pointers to get the point across to clients who resist even the clearest of emails.
Photo by e453753 via flickr
“Are you even getting this?”
When email is your only hope for regular client communication, it is important that conversations be effective and relevant. If you’re still getting responses that act like the previous email doesn’t exist, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
These tips are for the client who respond to one idea with an unrelated one of their own. For the client who responds to a request for content with a question on server specifications. For the client who misses a meeting and requests to schedule one like the original never existed. The communication brick walls.
1. Prioritize & Simplify
I’m guilty of writing emails that read like interrogations, but with so many questions it’s easy to lose some in the mix when responding. Highlight the important point in its own thread. Force the client to look at it alone. If you have a pressing issue, write an email that deals strictly with that. No padding and no fluff. Single questions will make the response less likely to be a tangent. Take it piece by piece.
2. Put on the Brakes
Most clients are not familiar with the processes of web design. This has been an issue on a project I am currently finishing out on with a client who is extremely resistant to communication. When asked for content, they request the source code on a CD. If you need copy for a page and the client is sending back everything but content, stop! You are the project manager.
Educate the client on the process. Help them to understand why their “simple” request cannot happen yet. It is not unprofessional to say “I cannot move forward until you respond to this”, “The site will not make progress until”, and “I cannot do what you are asking until I have the following…” Make sure the client knows that your continued progress is dependent on their response.
3. Don’t Make it Optional
Assert your requirements. Passive language has a place, and it certainly won’t help you get the content for an “About Us” page. Leave out the “It would be great if” and “If you have an opportunity”. Use language that demands a call to action. “The about us page needs content in order to move forward…” and “Send the text for…”. Lead with action words, not a passive disclaimer. Do not worry about coming across too strong at this point. This is not hassling. Your client has hired you to accomplish a goal, and you will help them reach it efficiently.
4. Change the Format
As evidence by about 95% of web design blog posts, people like lists. Lists are easy to digest. From a usability standpoint, a numbered list of points is much more readable than a paragraph lined with question marks. The simple act of numbering questions gives the reader an indicator they need to respond.
Break the mold. Your client may think that the questions are to provoke thought, rather than action. Consider passing a link to a survey using sites like Survey Monkey and Poll Daddy. A survey format clearly indicates the need for a response and can prevent skipped questions. I’ve used this method recently to get answers from particularly difficult to communicate with clients with great results.
5. Ask for a Receipt
While many email clients offer a receipt system for when emails are received, getting the extra confirmation from the client is often more valuable. What’s to say that the client hasn’t just scanned the email with intent to come back?
6. State the Reward
Let a client know what will happen if they provide you specific information. You could also take the opposite route and inform the client what the negative consequences will be. A client would want to submit content so that their site can be operational for the holiday season. Failure to do so would cause them to miss out on a large surge of potential sales. When applicable, let them know what is at stake. If it is important to them, they will step up.
Web work is not as independent as some clients may assume. It is a series of checkpoints with client input and feedback. A project simply cannot continue until the client signs off or submits content. Their involvement is a necessity. Get them on the same page and projects will go much smoother. Now go on and redraft that last email!
Have any experience with clients like this? How did you solve it? Any pointers for the rest of us? Share your stuff in the comments.