Any business wants to build good customer relationships, but when they’re remote clients the relationship becomes even more important.
Remote work has become more and more popular in recent years, particularly since the Covid pandemic. Technology has solved the tyranny of distance from a logistical point of view, but that’s not the only issue in building relationships.
In many ways workplaces are still catching up with how to maintain strong relationships when they can’t meet up with clients face to face. It’s about more than being able to jump on a video call or communicate across time zones.
Working with overseas partners requires attention to detail. Communicate clearly, show mutual respect and stay present in all your dealings. The techniques you use to grow strong relationships can be used with all customers, not just those who work at a distance.
Value of healthy relationships with clients: Both onshore or offshore
Regardless of where your clients are, having a good relationship with them matters.
Not least of all, the importance of customer relationship management for revenue is significant. A good relationship is good for revenue both directly, through the customer themselves, and indirectly.
Customers who are loyal to their partners have been proven to spend more, more often. On top of that, they refer people they know, which is a cheap and effective way of generating new business.
As well as the business benefit, it’s just more satisfying to work with customers that you have a good relationship with. Things are easier, there are fewer issues, and it works well for both of you.
Common challenges faced while dealing with offshore clients
Dealing with clients in different parts of the world doesn’t necessarily create issues, but it creates more opportunity to exacerbate issues that may already be there.
Politics and business often don’t mix well, particularly when it comes to the volatility of doing business across borders. Political decisions can have direct impacts on the cost of doing business in certain industries or regions, which can put a strain on relationships.
At the more extreme end, war or doing business in risky areas can be incredibly disruptive.
Different time zones
Time zones impact the ability to communicate in real time and make decisions on the spot. While emails, phone calls and video calling all make communication easier, if your client is asleep in the middle of the night, it’s going to be hard to reach them if something urgent pops up.
Read more: Signs of a good customer relationship
Generally speaking, you should be able to find time to catch up with overseas clients – it just takes some planning.
If you’re purchasing items from an overseas client, or they’re purchasing them from you, it’s hard to get quality assurance without seeing items firsthand. At the same time, you may have different standards than your client.
This is particularly the case at the start of the relationship, before you get to know and trust each other.
3 Pillars of managing remote clients
Whatever issues you’re faced with, keeping three key concepts in mind can help to overcome them.
Communicate clearly and openly whenever you can. Good communication is also consistent.
The most important time is the beginning. Talk about your expectations, the way your relationship will work, and explain things that are important and why. Set the standard for providing feedback to each other and commit to being honest in your dealings together.
Staying present means keeping in touch and being available for each other. Have regular check ins and allow for general chit chat, as you would if you were catching up in person.
Always focus on delivering the best result in the future. Don’t dwell on issues that pop up, and don’t blame anyone when they do. It’s ok to provide feedback and improve processes afterwards, but in the moment just focus on the solution.
Mutual respect is perhaps even more important in remote relationships than in-person. It relates to respecting clients’ contributions, feedback and their culture.
Be accountable for your own actions in the same way you expect them to be for theirs. Transparency goes a long way to building a respectful relationship.
Tips to strengthen the bond with your offshore clients
With these three pillars in mind, there are a few specific tips to strengthen customer relationships.
Discuss your project goals
When you’re assigning projects to a remote team, give them the context for the work. What are you hoping to achieve? What problem are you trying to solve? What does success look like?
It’s important remote teams understand the background to the work they’re tasked with so they can make informed decisions based on an understanding of what you actually want.
Communicate frequently and use simple language
As we’ve mentioned above, frequent communication helps to keep both parties informed. Simple language is important for clarity so there are no mixed messages.
This is particularly important if you’re dealing with clients who speak English as a second language.
Make use of overlapping hours
Figure out what office hours you have in common with international clients and look to utilise them. If this is only a small window, you may have to be open to communicating with them outside the typical 9-5.
You could also consider changing your working hours to extend the amount of time that you’re available to speak with overseas customers.
Understand offshore team’s culture
Culture is really important, and it’s easy to offend people whose cultural beliefs and norms are different to your own.
Make the effort to talk to clients about their culture and how they’re used to doing things. Research their culture yourself and look to avoid anything that might cause conflict.
Micromanagement is a problem in any relationship, and it’s easy to fall into the mistake of being too controlling when you’re dealing with a remote team. Being detail oriented is a good thing, but be wary of overstepping the mark.
It’s vital your clients feel trusted, and that they have a good sense of freedom and autonomy.
Ensure good documentation
When you outsource long term projects, often pieces of work will be handed over between different teams or people. It’s important to keep a documentation trail that allows new people to pick up pieces of work and solve problems with context and understanding.
Documentation also refers to putting decisions in writing to serve as a reference if it’s needed at any point.
Listen, and you will surely be heard
Communication is a two-way street. The best way of ensuring clients listen and understand you is to make an effort to do it yourself.
At the same time, your remote clients need to feel comfortable talking to you. They may need direction to solve a problem, or they may need to make a decision about how to progress from a certain point.
If you’re approachable and available, it’ll prevent them making a decision that ends up needing to be undone.
Share the plan of action
Make a plan for how the relationship will operate at the beginning, and share it so both you and them can refer back to it. This will reduce the need for either party to ask questions about details that have already been confirmed.
This is another key point that speaks to the importance of clarity in your communication. Make expectations clear – name dates and specifics rather than saying things like “in two weeks”.
Never assume anything – put it in writing, share it and make sure both you and your offshore clients are crystal clear and on the same page.
Ensure smooth billing cycles and pay on time
When dealing with paperwork and invoicing, make it consistent. Send invoices at the same time every month, or at pre-arranged periods. This creates consistency and reliability.
If you have invoices to pay, don’t let them become overdue. This creates friction in the relationship that can become poisonous. Instead, pay invoices on time so your remote teams consider you a reliable, trusted partner.
Take home message
Nurturing profitable customer relationships with remote teams doesn’t have to take much extra effort. The problem with distance is it inflames any little issue to become larger, so it’s important you have systems and processes that are water tight.
These techniques can actually be used with all your customer relationships, not just the ones with remote partners. They all help to grow good customer relationships that are good for both your business and your clients’.
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