As creative professionals we rely on having a steady flow of jobs to keep us in business as well as staying forward thinking and pumping out great work. We love telling friends about new projects and the new exciting things we learn along the way.
We also sometimes hate clients. We hate that they hold us back. We hate that they don’t understand us. We make websites like “Clients from Hell” to mock them anonymously and vent. While these things help us cope, they don’t help us help clients.
I’ve picked a few aspects of client communication that I think everyone needs a reminder on. No, I’m not reinventing client communication in this post. This post is a litmus test for your psyche. This isn’t a one-time read. I think you should bookmark this and read it every month to bring you back down to earth and retain your sanity.
1. The client is looking for guidance.
We keep getting new jobs because we do good work. Clients hire us because they lack the skills and personnel to accomplish these tasks in-house. This is the purpose for our industry.
Clients want your help for a few different reasons. They don’t know how to move through a creative project. They don’t know how to deliver feedback. They don’t know what an approval means. They don’t know what is their responsibility and what is the creative professional’s responsibility.
Treat every client interaction as an opportunity to educate them. This should be done respectfully, not in a demeaning way. When you ask for feedback, coach them on the type of feedback and point out which parts to identify as good or bad. If you haven’t heard from them, politely drop them emails & voicemails on a regular but staggered basis reminding them that your intent is to help them complete their project.
2. The client knows you’re the expert.
We are (at least we think we are) the best at what we do. There is a reason business continues to pour in; Good work stand outs. 99% of the time the client knows this and respects it. This is important to keep in the back of your mind during every client interaction. Be careful to avoid letting this thought make you become arrogant.
The client is not insulting you by challenging you. They are testing their own insecurities to confirm you are correct. This is a security defense.
This is something that can be worked through by employing client guidance techniques. Education, explanation, and empathy can help you navigate these hurdles. We face challenges in every aspect of a project timeline. Remembering they do respect you can help you keep a level head and explain your way into a successful resolution.
3. The client is busy too.
Yes, you do your work in a timely manner and to the best of your ability. Also, yes, the client takes longer to get back to you. They don’t do this out of spite. They don’t understand how many feedback opportunities they will really have, thus extending the project timeline by not providing feedback quickly. As much as it may seem like they are sitting around waiting for you to finish, in most cases they aren’t.
If you let this frustrate you, it could potentially show in your emails or be heard in your voice. You’re on this island together, don’t become enemies.
Check in to see how things are going with other aspects of the client’s day-to-day and ask about the project. If you are helping a restaurant launch, ask how the build out is going and remind the client you are waiting for some feedback to keep you end of the process moving. They will hear you understanding them and it may push them to respond simply because they know you “get” them.
4. The client has a preferred method of communication.
We all have our preferences in how we work. Most of us in the millennial generation have been raised on the internet and computers for most, if not all, of our lives. For us, we like control. Online shopping, chat support, FAQ Help sections, we take control.
Clients of all ages are the same, but in a different way. Generation Y, Generation X, & Baby Boomers have a wide variety of communication preferences. Everybody works differently. In a perfect world everyone would do what you want, some/most may even like your new idea, but you have to remember that the client ultimately will decide for you.
Present your preferred method of communication and ask the client what their preferred method is during your on-boarding meeting. You may be surprised at how open someone is to your method and understanding the benefits for your particular craft’s timeline progression. Some may simply say that their day-to-day will make communicating your way difficult. Work with them, you will be happy when the project goes smoothly and successfully.
5. The client really does want to finish the project.
We’ve all had a project run on and on… and on. There’s a few different reasons for this addressed in other parts of this post, but another one to fall back on is that the client genuinely cares about the project. You may find yourself in a situation where you end up making a lot of revisions to designs (this also depends on if you limit revision rounds in the contract or not, which could lead to a more tense financial discussion). There are two sides to this. The client has lots of feedback but it has taken seeing the concepts to bring it out little by little or the client lacks direction and has random thoughts.
In both cases the client is trying. It’s important to remember this and then identify which situation you are encountering so you can start coaching them through focusing in on a direction to finalize.
6. The client wants to participate too much.
People have active minds, especially business owners and management. They also likely have lots of ideas. They give you so much guidance your head spins so you have to help them sift through the ideas. Hear all of it, then remember that you don’t have to do all of it (hopefully), but you shouldn’t ignore any of it.
If you’re able to spin this as a positive, you can shrug off what can be perceived as micromanaging or creative stifling and translate it to active involvement. The alternative is you don’t hear from the client at all until they tell you they don’t like the work and offer no feedback as to why.
7. The client knows their customer.
The client holds one key to the project that you (without a research report or budget) are an outsider looking in at; a history of their customer behavior and profiles. This is important information to ask for, pay attention to, and use in your designs, interfaces, and copy. Sometimes this knowledge clouds their judgement and overshadows your logical suggestions. Sometimes this knowledge will point out flaws in your design and improve the work as a whole.
Accept this as a key part of your process and integrate it into your designs from the start. If you choose an alternative path that still utilizes the information, point out how so the client doesn’t overlook and miss the connection.
8. The client is a good person.
Have you ever had a bad day? Have you ever struggled with someone not understanding you and been flustered or short with them? It’s happened to all of us. It’s why I’m writing this blog post right now.
Clients have bad days too. Some/most of them are likely highly stressed and may be carrying a lot of the business responsibilities on their shoulders. If a client is short with you for no reason, avoid making this about you or the work.
Take a deep breath. If you are speaking with them slow the conversation down. If you are looking at an email, avoid reading beyond the words. Cut through hot words and sort out the action and direction words to find the real message in what they are saying.
9. The client is the boss.
Sometimes you just have to remember that they are paying you to do what they need. When all else fails you have two options. The first, swallow your pride and do what they want. Not every project is a portfolio gem. The second, as a last resort if an unresolvable situation presented itself, is refund their money and politely resign from the project. I would suggest avoiding the second at all costs. An amicable and professional parting of ways may seem fine to you, but the client will remember it much differently and likely tell everyone about it.
Do what the client wants to the best of your ability, put the project behind you, and move on to greener pastures.