[toc]Even though you are working remotely, you must still treat all of your interaction professionally and as if you were in your client’s office every day. When dealing with clients, you have to remember that not everyone is your best friend or family member (hopefully none of them are friends or family because mixing business with pleasure can get sticky). You can’t get away with as much, and you need to mind your p’s and q’s.
Duh, right? Well sometimes we forget or we get too comfortable in certain situations. But it doesn’t matter if your clients have been working with you for 1 month or 6 years, you still need to maintain a certain level of professionalism, and that is especially true with their extended network of colleagues.
Let’s look at some communication blunders that could possibly get you fired. Yes, I went there.
You may not get fired the first time, but if any of these become a recurring pattern, you could find yourself with one less client.
1. Message typos and grammatical errors
This one is pretty common and also an easy fix. I know everyone seems uber busy and you have to meet deadlines and can get super stressed out, but please take the extra 2 minutes to review your emails and documents before sending them out. Grammatical errors look very amateur, and that is the last thing you want. All the grammar we needed to know, we learned in middle and high school. If you’ve forgotten some things, it doesn’t hurt to brush up.
I’m not saying you need to come off sounding as formal as a butler, but you do need to know the difference between common homophones (i.e. their vs. there) and when to use then vs. than – I cringe whenever I see these two words used interchangeably and I don’t even know how they can be mixed up but it happens all the time.
Oh, and don’t rely solely on looking for those little red lines that spell check so graciously gives us, they don’t catch all grammatical errors (proper use). If you still think you need a little extra help, add Grammarly to your browser.
2. Replying to all when you meant to reply just to your client
Oooh, this is a good one. Have you ever meant to send something just to one person on a thread but sent it to everyone? No Bueno. I don’t have much more to say about it except make sure that you double check that “To:” field before you hit send. We’ve all been there, try to avoid it.
However, if you are using Gmail, enable the “undo send” feature. I’ve made a handy pictorial for you if you don’t know where to find this:
Once that is enabled, you’ll have the option to “undo that email” for up to 30 seconds, as long as you don’t click off that screen or move on to another action. Now, a little warning, if you have a client that has his phone attached to his hip and he checks emails instantly, he/she may read it before you have a chance to undo it. So please continue to double check your messages before you hit send the first time.
3. Forwarding the full email and not deleting sections not intended for everyone
A company reaches out to your client to do a presentation for an event. Your client has no interest in attending let alone presenting for this crowd. Initially, he replies only to you saying he doesn’t really want to do it, asks you to say he’s busy or find a way to get out of it. Then, he “replies to all” and says “Fabulous, my assistant will help us coordinate!”.
If you’ve been in this business long enough, I’m sure this has happened to you, right?
No problem! In the same thread, you reply to the company’s point of contact with your excuse, and you send off the email, very proud of yourself. But do you realize that Gmail may be threading your emails? That means it’s keeping all of your conversations in the thread, thus making it easy to go back and expand the messages should you need to find past information.
TIP: When replying on an email thread, click on the box with the ellipses (3 dots) to expand the entire message. Make sure your client’s message to you is not in there! The last thing you need is for that company representative to expand the message (because she is looking for a contact number or more information) and see that your client had no intention of attending.
4. Responding instead of reacting
What the heck does that mean? We human beings tend to get emotional in business settings, especially when our work is criticized. Before you respond to any criticisms, take a deep breath, or maybe even take a 10-minute break to step away from the situation and clear your mind. Respond, don’t react means that instead of reacting with your gut instinct when you are angry or upset, take a moment to think about your best intentions and plan your next course of action.
5. Making assumptions or jumping to conclusions
As an assistant, you may have clients that are a bit vague when they ask you to do something. That’s fine because we know that people can be busy and they send off emails the moment an idea hits them. Your clients may also be very comfortable with you and have not realized that you are lacking some of the necessary information.
Client: Make an appointment for Daisy [their dog] for tomorrow.
You: I’m totally on it, I’ll add the time to your calendar when done!
In this case, your client wants you to make a grooming appointment for their dog. Her husband normally takes care of this but he is out of town and she doesn’t have time to do it. You assume that she means make a vet appointment. Why? Because that’s the only thing you’ve ever done in regards to their dog and you don’t even have the grooming information on your client information form!
Of course your client doesn’t realize this because she is always giving you new tasks and she figured [since you are the all-knowing VA] you already had that information.
You: The vet appointment is for 10am tomorrow! I added it to your calendar.
Client: What vet appointment? You were supposed to make a grooming appointment.
As you clear up this misunderstanding, a couple of emails go back and forth as you inform her that you don’t have the groomer information, and she has to get it from her husband because she doesn’t know it either. Meanwhile, the groomer has booked their final appointments for tomorrow and you will have to push that appointment out a couple of days.
Avoid situations like these by not assuming you understand everything. A quick email back clarifying the type of appointment would have saved both parties the back and forth headache.
6. Expecting your clients to be mind-readers
Along the same lines, you can’t expect them to know everything either. When you book an appointment, meeting or anything related to your clients, include all of the details. Yes, he’s been to the Uber offices in SoMa, but don’t assume he knows the address or how to get there from a different location. Include the address on the calendar anyways. It will also make it easy to pull up the map right from the calendar invite rather than having to search google to find what is needed.
Try to make everything as easy on your clients as possible, and let’s be real, you want them to send you as few emails as possible regarding each task.
7. Profanity and jarring language
Do I even have to bring this up? Uh, yes I think I do. As much as you are sitting there thinking you have never and will never swear in the workplace, someone else is thinking “oh yeah, I remember that time…”
I’m not even going to get into great detail on this one. Just do the opposite of what Nike would do. Just don’t do it.
8. Not clarifying contract stipulations before working together
Avoid having tough unnecessary conversations when they are not needed. First of all, you shouldn’t work with anyone without a contract in place. Secondly, make sure you discuss all areas of the contract with your client, or maybe touch on some points that seem to come up often – like working/contact hours, time-off, pay scale, etc. Not only should you clarify certain areas of concern with your client, make sure there is no gray area in the contract so if a question arises later and they decide to revisit the contract, there is no “but your contract says…”
Just make sure your contract states exactly what you want it to convey and discuss any pertinent factors with your clients before jumping into business together.
I enjoy sarcasm as much as the next guy, but I avoid it during work (and with my sensitive friends). Not everyone gets the implied humor and it doesn’t go over well in written text so you really want to avoid it in email conversations. If there is one rule to remember, leave the sarcasm at home.
10. Being unprepared or missing deadlines
Last but not least, just try to be prepared for meetings, consultations, and anything else related to your clients. Unprepared = Unprofessional and that is the last thing you want when you are trying to build a business – especially a business that could be strongly based on referrals. Google calendar is your friend – throw your appointments, reminders and open tasks on it and if you aren’t disciplined enough to remember on your own, try using an inbox manager like Boomerang or Streak.