Each of us is well aware of the changes brought about by the coronavirus in professional services. Workflows have been disrupted and in many cases have dried up, salaries have been cut and partner drawings slashed. Now we’re working from home juggling domestic life, social isolation and, until recently, kids’ schooling.

The business environment we were operating in pre-COVID-19, where times were relatively good, was different from the one we operated in a few years before that. Going forward, we recognise that new disruptions may occur again.

Still, one thing that won’t change is how to maintain a relationship with our clients. With that in mind, here’s my view on what you should be doing.

1. Treat everyone differently

COVID-19 hasn’t treated all clients the same way. You shouldn’t be either.

Some have been devastated, some have taken a small hit and for others, it’s almost business as usual, at least when it comes to cashflow and profitability.

That means this isn’t time for a one-size-fits-all approach to contacting people. Categorise your clients according to their business sentiment or outlook and tailor your responses to who you’re speaking to.

2. Do things systematically but don’t script them

Before you start picking up the phone, work out where the most appropriate place is to make your first call or to send that first email. Is it to the struggling client to offer support and let them know you’re there? The client who’s charging along despite the uncertainty to let them know that, well, you’re there for them too?

Any communications you have with clients should be genuine. I’ve mentioned that I think elevator pitches need to be thrown down the lift shaft. Well, the same goes for any kind of scripted conversation. If you get onto the phone and start reading lines, people will notice and it really won’t impress them.

Sure, it’s a good idea to go into any conversation with some issues you want to raise but it’s more important that you listen to what your client is telling you and respond appropriately.

3. Dig a little deeper

When you’re listening, be prepared to read between the lines. See past what people have been telling you superficially and try to get an understanding of what’s really at play.

On the face of it, people may say they’re fine when really they’re deeply worried.

You’ve probably worked out that many people are conditioned to say they’re busy whenever asked, even when there are tumbleweeds blowing through their home offices. Also, don’t confuse a pleasant or jolly demeanour for a genuinely positive outlook.

There’s a difference between optimism and cheerfulness.

4. Don’t sell

The worst possible thing you can do is to start by plugging your services or the services of others in your firm. I don’t like cross-selling at the best of times – cross­ serving though can be a welcome relief.

Your clients know what they do and they know you’re available. If they don’t, the act  of getting in touch with them is enough to tell them that.

Overtly plugging your services will feel, well, a little distasteful.

5. Keep up the soft communication

The best reason to contact someone is to help them with something useful. If you’ve been meaning to write that article or prepare that (online) seminar, well now’s the time to do it.

A well-timed thoughtful piece covering a topic that genuinely concerns your clients can be gold at a time like this – opening more doors than if you’d gone in hard. You could also leave a short email-based note just checking in to make sure your clients are coping working from home in isolation. Two lines are often enough to let people know you care.

In short…

During challenging times, you should be touching base with your clients in a helpful and non-obtrusive way. These are the times to bring your network to work for the benefit of others. And that means being thoughtful and authentic, not salesy and slick.

About the author:

Sue-Ella Prodonovich is the Principal of Prodonovich Advisory, a business dedicated to helping professional services firms sharpen their business development practices, and attract and retain good clients.