It’s not a revelation to say that great business starts with great communication. We all know this. The problem is, we all think we’re fantastic at it even when evidence in the form of misunderstandings and errors so obviously proves otherwise.

One of the areas we committed to improve at as a team across the last 2 years has been communication. With ourselves. With partners. With customers. With everyone.

It’s an ongoing effort, but the results have been fewer mixed messages, less oversights and a more frictionless business.

We’ve distilled lessons learned the hard way down to 9 Golden Rules. Here they are:

  1. Respond quickly.

Prompt responses to communications are critical. Even if you’re busy, a reply–no matter how brief–puts the customer’s mind at rest. It lets them know you’re still working, and that you may be busy, but not too busy for them. A quick reply confirming that you’ve received their message and you will get back to them as soon as possible, is enough to oil the wheels of communication and keep everyone happy. Never let them feel like they’re being ignored; every client matters.

  1. Let the customer speak.

In other words, listen. In all likelihood your customer has given you most of the information you need, but information is not the full story. The last thing you need is to be taking wild shots in the dark as to what is required.

Listen first, and talk later – even if you think you know what the customer needs. On a practical level, the more information you gather about the project beforehand, the less the risks for mistakes and changes later.

And no matter what, never assume that the other party understands. Always check, confirm, and put every important communication down in writing/email to avoid confusion in the future.

  1. Dont assume.

Assumption sets you up for failure. Often people can’t fully explain themselves or their exact requirements. You deliver what you think they want, and suddenly there’s a problem, which could cost you hours of wasted time.

To avoid this: Ask Questions.

Not only will you get superior insights into the full project expectations, but you create a relationship where you’ve taken an interest, shown care, consideration, and demonstrated professional knowledge.

Questions are more than just the need for answers, they reinforce relationships.

And if in doubt, ask more questions: it’s impossible to over-communicate.

  1. Have empathy but know your principles.

Empathy is good. But it works both ways. You have values and practices that should be respected. Let the customer know you understand their concerns but can’t agree on something that would contradict your company’s values and practices.

Your reputation and principles are the foundations of a strong, solid brand. Ultimately everyone respects that (even if they don’t like it in the moment).

  1. Educate.

You are an expert. The customer, on the other hand, doesn’t always have this knowledge. If they did they wouldn’t be coming to you. They may think they know, but deep down they really want what is best.

Your job is to understand what the customer needs and to deliver a solution. You may need to educate them, but remember the best teachers take the student on a journey. Don’t patronize, don’t lecture, don’t force – lead them along the most suitable path.

Do not go on the defence. You’re in this with them together. Prepare to answer questions by putting your reasoning in simple words. It’s also extremely important to be honest about the extent of your capabilities and give them time to make an informed decision. Talk directly and be as clear as possible.

  1. Speak their language.

It’s easy to get carried away with biz-babble and jargon. But you’re not writing an industry paper or thesis, you are looking to form long-term business relationships. They already know you’re the expert, so temper your vocabulary to suit them. Keep it simple, clear and honest.

  1. Double-check everything.

When working on a project, it’s crucial to rely on facts and not assume what the customer meant. If you are uncertain it’s better to check in than make mistakes.

Double-check emails. Are you really saying what you meant to say?

Double-check price quotes, project details and omissions.

And again, communicate everything critical via email or in writing to avoid confusion in the future!

  1. Use visuals.

A picture is worth 1000 words. Where appropriate, use screenshots, sketches, previews, mockups, illustrations…

When it comes to effective communication, the more the better.

No words can describe what you mean more effectively than a visual representation. Using visuals can also save time, convey your ideas more effectively, and become more memorable.

  1. Keep it real.

Trust is the most important asset in business, and once broken it’s gone forever.

It can be tempting to promise the earth, especially when you really want to clinch the deal. But nothing will sabotage your brand and kill your long-term success faster than saying you’ll do a thing that you know you can’t.

Be positive and confident, but don’t make false promises. Better to under-promise and then over-deliver.