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Mind the gap: The No. 1 way to retain clients and employees

By Sarah Johnson
October 1, 2012

Maybe you’ve been here before. You have been told a delivery date on a product or service only for that date to arrive without the product or service. Or maybe you were told a promotion would be on its way or not to worry, “we’ll take care of you at the end of the year for all your hard work”—only to find out you won’t be getting that “discretionary” bonus. Retaining clients and employees today isn’t easy, but there is one thing you can do that will be a significant game changer: improve communication.

Your words matter

While this isn’t a cowboy movie, I believe we still live in an age when your “word” still means something. Trust isn’t built on words alone but the combination of words and action. After all, “actions speak louder than words.” Whether you intend to or not, you create implied expectations in everything you say (and don’t say). When we fail to follow through or acknowledge those through our actions, it creates a significant amount of distrust and frustration.

Leave less room for ambiguity

It’s these implied expectations that create frustration and distrust with your employees and clients. In the absence of information, people make stuff up. It’s human nature. Much of this can be avoided through better expectations and communication. The less room left for ambiguity, the smaller the opportunity for a misunderstanding or implied expectation that isn’t met.

How to communication better

Whether it’s an employee or a client, here are three things you can do to shrink the ambiguity gap.

1.    Create and communicate deadlines, whether an employee is working on something or you are responding to an email. Communicate your expected delivery time frame.

2.    Document expectations. Writing things down always forces you to articulate yourself. When working with employees, articulate in specific terms their expectations and measurement metrics. When working with clients, define their role and your expected time frames for their meeting their responsibilities and more.

3.    Always recap your conversation. Check for understanding by restating follow-up or action items and ask your clients and employees to do the same.

Sarah Johnson is the chief growth strategist with Inovautus Consulting, a firm that works with CPA, law and professional service firms to help them grow more effectively, and author of “Practical Ideas for Growth,” a blog dedicated to growing professional firms. Her counsel and strategies have helped move firms to the next level in their marketing and sales efforts. Connect with Sarah at 773-208-7170,, or



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