Communication Tips from Client Services

Christine Benson

While a lot of our content strategy work happens at a quiet desk with a Word doc or an Excel spreadsheet, our recommendations would never be realistic or useful without effective client communication and partnership.

Our VP of client services, Julie Vollenweider, is a master at communicating with clients. She has a distinct style that is both professional and personable. She also happens to be our reigning queen of catchphrases.

Working with Julie, I’ve learned a great deal about my own communication style through these phrases. Here are a couple key Julie-isms that have helped me become a better content strategist.

1. “Spill it Christine.”

What it means: Be direct. When Julie says “Spill it,” it’s a cue that I’ve been avoiding what I really need to say.

How it helps: Be honest and open with the client and start difficult conversations early. Clients frequently ask for “blue sky” ideas that are “without limits.” But, there are real reasons why they have not, or cannot, achieve these dreamy outcomes. Specifically, workflow and governance challenges. The earlier you have those conversations, the sooner everyone can get focused on (and excited about) realistic solutions.

2. “I’m not sure what you’re telling me.”

What it means: Too many details. If I verbally problem solve, it’s just a rambling list of topics coming out of my mouth as soon as they enter my head. With no order or structure, it’s impossible for her to follow what I’m saying.

How it helps: Details are there to support your main idea. While details are important, they are not the star of the show. Make sure you have a main idea AND SAY IT before you jump into a million little points.

3. “What can I do?”

What it means: Focus on the information and issues I want her help with. Sometimes it sounds like I’m asking for help, but I’m probably just presenting a bunch of issues that:

- I may or may not want Julie’s help with

- Julie may or may not have the ability to help with

Figuring out what I realistically need from Julie before I go talk to her saves both her time and mine.

How it helps: Make sure supporting information ties back to the recommendations. When dealing with content, there’s no end to the amount of interesting information you’ll find. But, you need to determine what’s not only interesting, but also useful. The client doesn’t need a reference document about everything in their organization related to their content; they need an easy-to-understand plan—focused on the key ideas—that they can actually implement.

4. “Totes.” “Tawes.” And my personal favorite, “CMB, YATB. HOEDIESWY? YDABTITT!”

What it means: She makes up words and acronyms. There’s no point pretending that I get them. So I ask. Every time.

How it helps: Never be afraid to ask a question if something doesn’t make sense. Every industry and client organization has an internal language. If you don’t understand what the client is talking about, there’s a good chance their customers won’t either.

For more words of wisdom on managing the client side of content, check out Julie’s blog posts.