Tips In Evaluating A Consulting Firm’s Communication Skills
Working with a professional consulting firm can have a significant impact on the success of your business. Professional consultants can help you meet your business goals in a variety of different ways. For example, they can provide specialized skills needed to complete a project that aren’t available to you in-house or they can evaluate and help improve business processes or IT infrastructure.
However, none of this really matters if the consultant you’re working with has poor communication skills. Poor communication can completely negate the positive impact that a professional consulting firm can have, no matter how extensive their experience and expertise might be. It is vital that you evaluate the consulting firm’s ability to communicate before you decide to work with them.
There Are Multiple Layers to Any Firm’s Communications
When looking into a firm’s ability (and willingness) to communicate, look into a number of different facets. A consulting firm may communicate effectively one way, but not in another way, which can still be problematic. The two main ways in which a consulting firm communicates that you should delve into include how they present themselves publicly and how they communicate using direct correspondence.
How They Present Publicly
A consulting firm’s public presentation is a form of communication. After all, they need to communicate what it is they can do for you, what you can expect from their services, and how they differ from other consultants. Take a look at several different things to determine how well they convey this to their potential clients.
If the initial impression you have of the consultant from their website is poor, then that’s a red flag. Their website should be their main platform from which they present themselves publicly. Even the general look and layout of the site communicates the level of quality and attention to detail that a firm will provide. If they can’t be bothered to create a decent website, do you really trust them to provide high-quality consulting services?
Of course, it’s the actual copy that matters most. Their website should clearly communicate information about who they are and what they do. A good consulting firm website will communicate these points:
- The specific services that they offer
- The types of tools that they use and are familiar with
- An idea of what their consulting process consists of
- The types of businesses they consult for and the industries they work in
- How you can get in touch with them
Additionally, they should have contact information on every page of their site along with a separate contact page. Besides their home page, they should have other pages that include helpful information, such as a page that goes into more detail about their services, a page that describes their company’s unique value proposition and history, and more. Separate FAQ and testimonial pages show that they are making the extra effort as well.
Their ad copy can actually tell you a lot about their ability to communicate. An effective ad showcases effective communication. A good ad has to communicate the strength of the business and what it has to offer in limited space. It can also tell you something about the types of clients that they are targeting. Do you fit in with the types of clients they usually work with?
You’d be surprised at how many businesses in general have social media pages but aren’t active on them. The whole point of social media is to be social! Look at the different channels that they have a social presence on. Read through their main social pages. Do they provide any information about the company? If so, does it align with everything you’ve read on their website? Also look at how they are engaging with followers. When was the last time they posted? Do they regularly answer questions or address concerns that are posted to their page?
How They Present With Direct Correspondence
Once you’ve evaluated how they present themselves publicly, reach out to them and observe how effective they are at communicating directly. It’s important that they can communicate clearly and respond in a timely manner using a number of different communication channels — especially if they list those channels as ways in which you can contact them on their website and social pages. Some of the more important channels of communication to evaluate include:
How easy was it to find their email address? How quick is their response time in general? A sign of a consultant that communicates effectively via email is one that responds the same day and that will answer all of your questions.
Instant Messengers and Chats
Not all consulting firms have instant messenger or chat features; however, these can be incredibly helpful. For example, a chat feature on their website can allow you to ask simple questions that don’t require a full conversation. A smart consultant will use a chat bot to answer basic questions and will have representatives available for more in-depth discussions. What makes chat and instant messenger features so effective is that they are a more convenient way to communicate since you don’t have to go through the process of sending an email and waiting for a reply or wasting time on a phone call when you’re just beginning to look into their services.
Once you’re ready to speak to someone, try calling them directly. If you’ve initiated correspondence via email, then hopefully they responded with a reply that contained a phone number and encouraged you to call them. They should also have their phone number listed on every webpage and social page that they have. If they don’t, it’s an issue.
You should also take note of any hours that they’ve listed. A consulting firm that’s not available throughout the entire week may not be your best bet. The more limited the time frame is, the more difficult it will be to get into contact with them when you need them. When you do finally call them, take note of whether you actually reach someone. It’s not a good sign if you’re constantly calling them during their advertised hours and you can’t connect with anyone. It can also be quite frustrating if you leave a message and they take too long to reply.
Finally, when you do speak with someone over the phone, pay attention to how they speak with you. Are they polite and friendly? Do they ask you a lot of questions? Are they giving you straight answers? The more engaged they are with you, the better.
Pay special attention to when it comes to meetings. When setting up a meeting, how flexible are they when it comes to scheduling a time for the meeting (whether in person or over the phone) and did they stick to the agreed upon time? Be wary of working for a consulting firm that is significantly late or that either delays or cancels an initial meeting with you. That doesn’t bode well for future meetings should you decide to work with them.
Reports and Documentation
This one’s a little tough because it will be difficult to evaluate how effectively a consulting firm communicates through reports and documentation before you begin working with them. They might be able to provide reports and documentation concerning their process, which can be helpful. But you should ask whether they document everything and how often they will send out reports that you can look over. You may want to ask for a sample report to see how detailed it is and whether the information is readable to you.
Criteria to Assess Their Communication On
Besides evaluating their methods of communication, take note of the way that they communicate. Watch for these essential things when you correspond with a consulting firm:
Is Their Public Voice Notably Different to Their Private?
Is there a difference between how they publicly present themselves and how they present themselves privately? For example, if they tout their willingness to provide support 24/7 but then you can’t even connect with them during the middle of a weekday, it’s an issue. Differences in their tone can be problematic as well. If they appear professional on their website but they are far from it in direct communication (such as if their emails are curt and full of spelling errors). It can be difficult to trust a consultant who has made an effort to make their public image look a certain way but communicates in a completely different manner.
Not Always a Bad Thing if There is Divergence
One thing to keep in mind is that just because there’s a difference in tone between a consulting firm’s public voice and their private voice, it doesn’t mean that you can’t trust them. For example, many consulting firms will have a very professional sounding voice throughout their website and social channels. However, they may take on a more friendly, casual tone when speaking with you. This can be a good thing since it will be easier to engage with them in person.
Do They Use a Great Deal of Jargon?
A consultant that relies a little too heavily on jargon can be difficult to understand, especially if they’re using technical jargon. You want to work with a consultant that can explain things to you in a simple manner that’s easy to understand. Sometimes a message filled with jargon comes across as a shallow attempt to be knowledgeable on a subject.
Not Always a Bad Thing
But the use of jargon isn’t necessarily a red flag. Some jargon should be expected, especially if they are using jargon that is relevant to the industry you’re in. That just showcases that they are familiar with your industry and that they aren’t just tossing around random buzzwords.
Use of Visual Aids
When emailing you, do they send you visual content to help explain or reinforce the information that they’re trying to relay to you? If you go in for a one-on-one meeting, do they have visual aids as part of their presentation? Any form of visual aids that the consultant offers showcase a real attempt to communicate as clearly as possible.
Are They Effective Listeners?
Communication is a two-way street. This means that when you’re speaking with the consulting firm, whether over the phone or in person, they should be listening as much as they are speaking. You can determine whether they’re good listeners by whether their focus remains on you (eye contact indicates engagement) while you speak, whether they ask questions about the things that you tell them, and whether they address your concerns or answer your questions in a direct manner. A poor listener is not someone you want to work with because you can’t rely on them to address your needs over the course of your relationship with them.
Are Their Communications Succinct and to the Point?
You don’t want to get bogged down in emails, texts, and phone calls that serve no purpose or that don’t do a good job addressing concerns or questions that you have, thereby requiring you to ask again. If this happens, it results in a lot of time wasted on unnecessary and unclear communications. Look for a consultant who is succinct and to the point.
A Consulting Firm is Useless if They Can Not Communicate Effectively
A consulting firm may have decades of experience within your field and they may offer a comprehensive set of consulting services, but if it appears like their communication skills are average at best, you might want to look elsewhere. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is one of the most important factors that determines whether a consulting firm is a good fit for your organization. A consulting firm that puts effort into its ability to communicate is more likely to be trustworthy and reliable, and will be more capable of helping your company meet its business goals.