Working with clients and suppliers from around the globe has helped me develop some great rules of thumb for working with clients across time zones.
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Working with international clients presents some fairly common and some more unique challenges.You need to be prepared to compromise when setting up meetings and you may need to be a bit more organised than when working with local clients.
Having worked with clients in multiple countries, I have picked up a few best practices that have worked well for helping me stay on track without being line 24/7.
Here are some best practices (from my experience!) for working with international clients.
1. Keep time zones in mind
One lesson I learned quickly was to do more than just have an international clock set up for a client’s location. I have an app that tells me the time in each of my international client’s locations, but I can still get confused when setting up a meeting. I have started setting up meetings while on a call and waiting for the client to confirm that we got the time right before we end the call. That way we can avoid the awkward conversation that could follow if we didn't get the times right. Have a look at this tool to check the time difference.
2. Use your camera
Yes, that’s right! Switch on the video whenever you interact. This is important for multiple reasons. First and foremost it is key in helping with communication. 55% of communication is non-verbal so being able to see your clients and allowing them to see you will really help you to understand each other and communicate better. It also keeps you both accountable, ensuring your are paying as much attention as if you were in the same room
3. Have a clear indication of what is expected from each other
When starting an international relationship it’s even more important to have an ‘expectation setting’ meeting. This allows for everyone working on the account to know what is expected from them and how to communicate with each other. Clear expectations on rules of engagement, technology, and clarity of each person's role will help prevent confusion as you work on the project together. When starting to work with a new international client I try to determine their preferences for communication and share the best platforms for quick communication. We use Whatsapp extensively in South Africa and I often tell my clients this is the best way to send me quick alerts.
I have found that picking up the phone to clarify a confusing email or give a client an update are great ways to keep clients updated BUT this is normally not possible for international clients. It’s still very important to keep each other in the loop and ensure everybody is on the same page so nothing slips through the cracks. Communication and productivity tools are helpful for ensuring that everyone has an overview of the status of the project and allows everyone to be more productive.
Some tools to use:
Teamwork: This is great for multiple people working on the same account. It allows you to set up projects where teams can track the status of projects, and lets everyone see when tasks are due, what has been ticked off, or what is overdue. This tracking allows you to keep each other accountable at all times.
Google meet or Zoom meetings: These cloud-based tools are great for collaboration, with them you can have a meeting with anyone, anywhere in the world with a simple click of a button. With these tools, you can chat via messages, share your screen to present, and have an easy working meeting.
Slack: a great tool to capture conversations between multiple team members to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
5. Set up standard meeting times in advance
By agreeing to meeting times in advance you can easily plan to be available for clients. With varied time zones and different schedules it can be tough to plan for changes in meeting times so setting up regular meeting times and sticking to them helps you make sure you have the time blocked out.
6. Time management
This is very important for all client relationships but is key for international clients. Working across different time zones which makes this process even more difficult compared to your other clients.
Be aware of how working with international clients may overflow into your personal time. Once the team has discussed the best times to have meetings or to call, you have nothing to worry about if you have set clear boundaries and expectations up front.
Here are some rules you should set from the start:
- Set a clear expectation for response time on emails.
- Discuss and agree on the best time to call and when is not.
- Define the days meetings can be held on.
- Set a clear expectations for response time on approval requests.
- Understand and agree on how you will manage deadlines so that work is delivered on time.
Tip: When something arises that is very urgent and needs to be addressed now, use the phone, and when it’s something that is urgent but can be dealt with in your time, email.
7. Understand the different languages and cultures
Working with an international client may present language barriers but even if you speak the same language, remember that people speak and write differently in other countries. Some phrases can mean one thing in one place but have different meanings in other countries.
At Spitfire Inbound we often discuss concepts and strategy with clients. If they are thinking in another language it is important to allow them time to process the information, which is more challenging if they are translating everything as you speak.
Also remember that each country has their own public holidays or special days and their spelling might differ from yours. Therefore a best practice is to set up a calendar with when to do what and a style guide with content rules. Understand your client and their surroundings, this will help you think of the best next step for them.
Having worked with clients in other parts of the country, as well as international clients. I have found that there are many benefits to having international clients. I have learned about other cultures and I am slowly picking up some Dutch from one of my clients! I also love being able to meet with clients from home. I can dial into clients from across the globe without leaving my house which means I get to avoid Joburg traffic.
Technology has made remote working and access to clients so easy that clients in any part of the world can work with you as if you were both in the same room. Make use of the key learnings and best practices shown above and be sure to use the different technologies available to enhance communication and productivity.
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