What was the fundamental difference between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates? Usually, people say that Mr. Gates is a true programmer while Mr. Jobs is the greatest marketer the IT industry has ever had. That is true but only to a certain extent.

To me, Steve Jobs was one of the greatest communicators ever. He delivered presentations better than anyone else. He made us feel that he understood our problems and he was working to solve them. When he spoke, people listened. When he finished speaking, everybody had gotten the message. And, that message was usually phrased in the best possible manner.
This is what made Steve Jobs great. He applied his skills of communication in marketing as well and that paid well, but on the core, all his innovations and all his success came only thanks to his skills of communication. Of course he was intelligent and innovative, but these are vague terms and many other people who couldn’t become Steve Jobs, are intelligent and innovative.

Today’s article is not about Steve but it is about communication. I gave the example of Steve Jobs an example everybody knows about.

Today’s article covers communication tips and strategies for dealing with clients who are located in other parts of the world.

These tips will not only help if you are a designer, but also if you are a client working with an offshore employee, or if you are working on a collaborative project where your team is distributed all over the world (as it is here at Designzzz.com).

Why do you need to read this article?

Let’s say your job does not require you to talk to clients, then should you read this article? I’d still say yes. I’d say so because pretty soon you’re gonna be home-based. I know it. I’m sure of it. You know why? Because that’s where the world is going!

Until a few years ago, clients believed that an offshore solution is ‘cheap’, in every sense of the word. They believed that an offshore solution will cost them less, but will be low on quality.

Things have changed now. Clients’ attitudes have also changed.

A study by Stanford University tells us 6 out of 10 experts (managers, IT experts, accountants etc.) work from their homes.

Working from home

The same study further describes that people who work from home actually put in 9.5% more time, and they are 13% more productive.

Working from home productivity

Image: courtesy of Groove HQ

Business owners do not over look such statistics and that is why you are more likely to be working from home than an in-house job, in future.

As the global economic fabric adopts the home-based employment system, our job is to get ready for it and make sure that when clients and companies knock on our door, they probably are doing so already, we should be ready to welcome them. So, let’s begin.

It’s all in the words

Before I say anything else, have a look at this advertisement of a content writing company from the UK.

She says, I wrote the same, but different words. If it’s the same thing, why does it bring different results? That’s the question, but that is also the answer. The common phrase, it’s not what you say but how you say it, makes all the difference.

As designers, we spend so much time trying to figure out what influences the users mind, we also need to figure out how to influence our client’s mind. And to do that, we need communication skills.

Communication is an art and a social science. To be good at it, you have to learn it, practice it, apply it and repeat these steps again and again.

“Communication works for those who work at it.” – John Powell

What you want to say and what your client understands can be two completely different messages. You need to minimize that gap. But, before I start rambling on how to say it, let’s figure out what you need to say.

Make the client trust you

The first and most important thing in any relationship, business or otherwise, is trust. And empathy is the key to building trust. Some people call it courtesy, I call it empathy. This is the thing that proves to a client that you really do care for them.

How can you make them feel this? Here are a few simple tricks:

  • Listen to understand, not to reply: One of the biggest problems we have is that we do not always say exactly what we want to say. So as designers, it is our job to understand between the lines, understand what is not being said. It is our job to understand the needs, not just listen the words being spoken.
  • Show that you care: If your client blew his nose a couple times when he was talking, tell him a home remedy for flu. When you speak next time, ask if he has recovered. Make sure he knows that you are giving him lots of importance.
  • Take care of time zone difference: Whenever you set time for a meeting, keep the time zone difference in mind. Make sure you realize the client that you want to adjust according to their time zone, not yours.
    Also, if you have to call them, don’t call in off-hours.
  • Be the first one to clear confusion: If you feel that there’s any confusion taking place, arrange a meeting immediately. This makes the client feel that you are very reachable, and you do care because you are the one to initiate chat. It also makes the client feel important, and since every client is very important, we must make them feel so.
    Usually, something that seems like confusion in an email gets sorted out within a couple of minutes in a live voice/video chat session.
  • Admit a mistake if you make one: Everyone makes mistakes. If you made one, don’t try to hide it. Admit it and move on. This shows professionalism and humility. These are important traits that make a person likeable.
  • If you have to cancel, do it in good times: Make sure you cancel with giving your client enough time to get it made from elsewhere. A day is enough usually.

This is the basic set of things to remember for building trust. But there’s one more pivotal step that makes a client feel good, and that is taking regular feedback.

Feedback makes the client feel like a boss

The client is the boss, they should feel like it. And the best way to make them feel like a boss, and avoid any confusions or misunderstandings that may occur, is regular feedback.

Feedback Model

You should take notes on mockups, prototypes and wireframes. There are loads of tools you can use for this purpose, and we will cover these tools in detail in a few minutes.

Also, never ever just assume anything. We believe we know what is the best solution for our client, but they don’t always know that that we know. So make sure whatever your assumptions are, your clients are on board with them. For this, there are project management tools and they are also covered in the second last section of this article.

Reply quickly… but that’s not all!

A Gallup survey on online customers found out that only 13% expecting a response within an hour, rest of the people thought a reply in a day is sufficient enough. In fact, an oddly patient 8% thought that a response within 28 days is okay.

What this shows is that while a quick reply is good, it’s important but it is also very very important that your reply contains answers to all the questions the client has.

Your reply should also contain progress report so that client knows you are working and he is on top of your priority list.

Cross Cultural Interpersonal Communication

You have to include the personal touch. The biggest reason why some clients go for in-house designers is because they want to know a person. When they work remotely, it feels as if they don’t know the guy at all. You, and only you, can change this.

So, what do you do? You apply techniques of interpersonal communication. You arrange online meetings and you introduce yourself, naturally they will introduce themselves and that will be a good start. But before I go on with the interpersonal communication tips, let me clarify one critical aspect of this type of communication.

When you are speaking to remote people, remember that there would be barriers of colloquialisms, and one of you can end up saying something that is not suitable in the other one’s culture. Being the service providers, we must make sure that we do not say such a thing.

Interpersonal Communication

Communication model courtesy of AFMC

Note: for interpersonal communication, you have to take care of non-verbal communication as well. That’s very important!

So, here’s a list of things you must remember

  • Use video conferences. Dress appropriately.
  • Introduce yourself. Add a few personal details if you can.
  • Speak clearly, slowly so that even they could understand even if English is not their first language, or perhaps, English is not your first language and your accent is a little different… or both.
  • Confirm from the client what you understood.
  • Be clear and precise, this also important in emails as well.
  • Never tell if you can show. Send screenshots, even videos.
  • Don’t use too much jargon. Try to keep it as simple as you can.

These tips I have given are specific to designers but while I was researching for this article, I found a video that included three basic tips for good interpersonal communication. Here’s that video.

Use the right but familiar tools

I’ll start with hardware. You must always use headphone. Laptop mic is a big no no because that mic captures air noise, keyboard type knocking and mouse clicks. It can be annoying, it leaves a bad experience. Besides, headphones make you concentrate on the client and client only.

In software, try to use already familiar software for clients. For virtual meetings, you can use Skype. Google docs is pretty sufficient and handling documentations.

One of the most popular and widely used project management tools is Basecamp. That is a paid program although quite affordable. If you are looking for a free solution, Trello can be a good option.


For heavy file transfers, you can use wetransfer.com or hightail.com


“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” – Peter Drucker

In conclusion, I present a checklist of 7 elements, or strategies, of communication that should keep your remote clients so happy that they won’t only keep coming back, they’ll be recommending your name to others.

  1. Make sure you show them empathy. That builds trust and makes the client feel that he/she is important to you.
  2. Listen closely so that you can understand the unsaid needs.
  3. If any confusion or misunderstanding is taking place, be the first one to resolve it.
  4. Reply quickly, but reply with a satisfying email.
  5. Stay conscious about any cross-cultural miscommunication or misunderstanding.
  6. Build a personal level relationship using interpersonal skills.
  7. Use familiar language and familiar tools.

And that my friends, is my mantra of communication. We at Designzzz have a team spread over 3 continents and 5 countries. We apply these techniques and the results are pretty good. Now it’s your turn to apply them.

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