As Don’t Panic Mgmt’s resident Client Happiness Manager, I’m in the business of joy. It’s my job to make sure the DPM team and their clients all leave work at the end of the day feeling satisfied with their collaborative efforts.
And while I wouldn’t consider myself a happiness expert, I would say I have noticed our happiest clients—our biggest brand ambassadors—all share some of the same qualities. They take charge in helping to create healthy relationships with their virtual teams, and it shows.
Want to know their secret? Here are the six qualities of a happy virtual client.
1. Happy clients show up prepared.
The quickest way to set a virtual relationship up for success is to show up prepared. When you first meet with your new assistant, you’re going to make your life (and theirs) a lot easier if you have already thought about three things:
Why have you reached out to a virtual assistant for help? You’d be surprised how many times I hop on the line for a kickoff call with a potential client, and when I ask what tasks they need taken off their plate, I am met with dead air. They know they need help, but they haven’t identified where to start.
It’s possible you know exactly what the problem areas are in your business—I don’t understand the Instabook and the SnapTweeter, you think to yourself—but perhaps you haven’t given it any thought.
In preparation for your new virtual relationship, try to turn your everyday business struggles into a concrete list of tasks your assistant can take off your plate. Consider both the items you needed done, like, yesterday, and jobs you would love someone to help you with eventually, one day, if only it were possible (because, spoiler alert: it’s possible!).
In case of a work emergency, how do you want to be reached? Do you only take meetings before lunch? Do you want to be cc’d on all communications? Do you want to be left the hell alone after 5pm and on weekends?
Everybody works a little differently, and it can be particularly difficult to get a feel for your client’s work style when you only communicate with them virtually. Before you even start working together, supply your virtual assistant with a list of your preferences so they connect with you on your terms.
Sometimes a simple job such as “upload my weekly podcast files” can actually involve many small sub-tasks in order to complete. Keep a written list of procedures your assistant will need to follow in order to do their work efficiently and correctly the first time. If you haven’t ever created a procedure before, now is the time!
And here’s the best part: You can make creating procedures part of your assistant’s job. Going forward, any time they do some virtual wizardry that makes your life easier, ask them to put the process in writing for you for the future. You’ll have everything you need to keep the trains running on time through vacations, transitions, and more. NICE!
By showing up prepared, you set expectations from the beginning. If you know exactly what you need and share that information with your new virtual assistant, your working world can become a well-oiled machine in no time.
2. They communicate frequently and clearly.
Let me tell you a story. There was once a DPM client who provided really unclear instructions for all their assignments all the time—this person wasn’t doing it on purpose; they simply didn’t articulate jobs well over email. But when their assistant asked for a weekly call to provide a dedicated time to ask questions and clarify the work, the client said no. They didn’t have the time.
Each week the assistant would trudge forward, asking questions over email, making assumptions and hoping the work was up to par. Naturally, sometimes it wasn’t. Over time the client grew frustrated with the mistakes and all the back and forth, and the relationship didn’t last.
Moral of the story? Never underestimate the power of touching base.
When you can’t quickly pop into someone’s office to talk shop, it can be easy to feel out of the loop, causing stress and anxiety. Because of this, happy virtual clients make additional efforts to keep everyone on the same page.
If your assistant needs clarification, don’t hesitate, offer it. The amount of time you spend clearly communicating with one another will be drastically shorter than the time you would instead spend reviewing work that doesn’t meet your standards.
3. They foster a trusting relationship with their assistant.
Trust is hard, y’all. I won’t pretend it isn’t. It’s especially hard to trust someone you have only met over the phone or Skype. Even harder than that is trusting a virtual assistant by giving them access to private personal information. But the happiest clients do it anyway.
The greatest tool you have as a leader is to give someone your trust. Not only can it reduce your stress levels—and theirs—but a virtual assistant who has been empowered with autonomy is more likely to over-deliver. And what makes you happier than that?
4. They are flexible.
It’s easy to think of your virtual assistant as plugged in at all times (thanks, Internet!), but in truth they have lives outside of their work for you. In fact, they likely accepted a virtual job because it affords them a level of flexibility they require due to family needs, travel desires, or a second position elsewhere. That means you need to respect their time accordingly.
Most virtual assistant positions are part-time. If you have hired someone to work for you 15 hours a week, that’s roughly three hours of their life devoted to helping you every day. But maybe those three hours happen between 9am-12pm when their toddler is at daycare. Or while you sleep because they are visiting their grandmother in London. This means if you send your VA an assignment at 3pm that you need back by 5pm, they might miss it.
Emergencies do happen: deadlines change, projects take longer than expected, meetings need to be moved quickly. Tag your assistant for help whenever you can—but also keep their schedule in mind as you set deadlines and expectations. With a little bit of flexibility, you’ll increase the likelihood the work gets done (and decrease your chances of unnecessary disappointment).
5. They accept responsibility.
Let’s face it, I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. Nobody is perfect (except Beyonce). One of the biggest differences between our happy clients and their counterparts is that happy clients accept responsibility for their actions.
You look on your company’s Twitter account, and see no new content has been posted there in over a week. You feel a brief flare of anger: what am I paying that VA for, anyway? But then you do a quick search on your inbox. It’s not them; it’s you. It turns out your virtual assistant emailed you twice for content approval, and you missed it. Apologize, review the calendar, and try to catch it next time.
One of my favorite clients frequently misses his deadlines for approvals. We have to nag him a little bit, he apologizes, and eventually the job gets done, and the world keeps turning. The thing that makes it okay? In our weekly calls, he says, “I know I owe you [task]. I’m behind, sorry! I’ll get it to you this afternoon!” He knows the hold up is on his end, and he acknowledges it.
Of course, in a perfect world (Beyonce’s world), everyone would have unlimited hours and get their work done on time, but that’s not reality. You’re busy running a business! And if that business is causing you to hold the train in the station, simply update your assistant on what’s happening. The honesty and transparency will help you both with communication, trust, and flexibility, which as we have just learned, all make you a happier client.
6. They provide feedback early and often.
Is your virtual assistant kicking ass? Let them know! Are they missing the mark on some of the procedures you outlined when you started? This isn’t the Titanic—right the ship while there’s still time!
Happiness is hard to read without body language, so it’s possible your virtual assistant has no idea how they are doing. Similarly, it’s notoriously easy to misinterpret someone’s tone over text or email, so your VA might think they know how well they are doing and be wrong. The more frequently you direct (or redirect, as the case may be) your virtual assistant, the better the end result will be.
The funny thing about happiness is that we all have some level of control over our own. If you are seeking greater joy and a healthier working relationship with your virtual assistant, adopt these six habits today.