As I’ve moved further into software development consulting, I’m becoming more aware of the role that empathy plays in all client relationships. When a client calls because disaster has struck their software, it is imperative that I match their level of concern. If my level of concern doesn’t match their level then I’ve failed as a consultant. I can deliver software on time. I can estimate projects accurately. I can have technical mastery. If I can’t be in their shoes and convey that state to them then I’m not developing a long-term relationship. Genuinely share in their work by staying on the same page.
Impedance matching isn’t solely about the words that you say or write. Your overall attitude and tone of voice matter too. Additionally, it’s important to recognize the form of communication used has implicit levels of concern and care. Impedance matching is the act of meeting your clients social attitude, orientation and behavior to maximize communication transfer and minimize problems with the client.
In my realm of work receiving messages often occur via instant message. Unfortunately, instant messages are easy to overlook and relay little context. Receiving a message that says “the server is down” can mean hundreds of different things. Most of them require a simple reply, “I’ll take a look.” Receiving a message that says “SERVER!! DOWN!!” means that the instant messaging needs to stop. While the client is choosing to use instant message the amplitude of the conversation is far beyond any instant message can convey appropriately. Pick up a phone, their impedance demands it.
How I communicate over instant message changes drastically with each client. Most of the time, I think it is best to adopt whatever format the client uses. If they write in complete sentences with capitalization and punctuation then I meet that formality. I let them set the stage for professional communication.
As consultants we want our clients to have positive feelings about us. We want the work to be collaborative instead of adversarial. We need to bend our thoughts and actions to meet theirs. As consultants it is our job to be in their shoes and earn their trust.