We may hope that a great design or a lovely piece of code will speak for itself, but in reality, how we interact with the client, articulate our goals, and present our work makes a huge difference in how the client perceives us and the work that we do.
Sure, there are the dream clients who have nothing but praise and love everything we produce, and the occasional bad seed who can't be pleased, but the vast majority of people fall somewhere in the middle: whether they recommend you to everyone they know, or vow never to hire you again depends on clear communication, positive feedback, and critical listening. As well as great work, of course!
We all need to let off steam now and then, and ClientsFromHell.net gives designers and developers a place to vent about ornery clients - but the site is also rife with examples of inflexibility and missed opportunities on the part of the designers as well. Going the extra mile to turn a frustrated (or frustrating) client around can pay off big time in the long term.
Culprit 1: The Missed Opportunity
Client: I've spoken to my accountant, and he said you were too expensive, that he could find me another designer for half your price, but I want to work with you. Can we renegotiate?
Designer: How much are you paying your accountant? I'm sure I can find you a cheaper one.
In a perfect world, everyone would know how much work and effort went into creating a great website. But many people don't - that's why they're looking to hire someone like you, after all.
We'd like to think we can just focus on our work, and everything else will follow, but if we're expecting people to pay us and not Discount Bob, we need to be able to clearly articulate the value we provide. If we can't even explain why we're valuable ourselves, how can we expect the client to explain it to their coworkers or accountant?
This exchange is a perfect example of an opportunity. The potential client is clearly on the fence, and even leaves an opening to be convinced by the designer. But instead of taking the opportunity, the designer responds with a snarky comment, and the moment is lost.
Being perennially undervalued can be frustrating, but we're the only ones who can change that perception. Instead of giving up, explain where the chop shops cut corners, and what you can provide that will blow them out of the water. This is not only an opportunity to sell your work, but also showcase your professionalism and interpersonal skills.
Culprit 2: Obtuse Listening
Client: "That's the wrong shade of black."
Client: "Can you take the edges in and make it more roundy and less squarey?"
Client: "Can you grow the text a little?"
Designer: "Sure, but I'll have to fertilize it first."
Quite a few of the posts on ClientsFromHell illustrate people using metaphors or leveling criticism that sounds silly to a designer's ear. But we deal in these topics every day, and have an industry-accepted design vocabulary to fall back on.
Clients may not be trained designers or know exactly how they "should" give feedback, but their opinion is vitally important. Listening to not just the words they're using, but the meaning behind them, is crucial.
Yes, technically there is only one "shade" of black. But in practice, how many objects that we might describe as "black" are actually all exactly the same color? Maybe the client would be happier with a very dark gray, or a blue-black. Being deliberately obtuse or even sarcastic for the sake of pedantry doesn't help you or the client.
Think back to the last time you were out of your depth - maybe you took your car to the mechanic, or bought a present for a loved one, or had to do home repairs. Would you like to deal with a condescending salesperson or mechanic? People want to feel like they're in capable hands, but they also want to feel like they're being listened to and treated like a person.
Turning the Tables
You may not be able to win them all, but we've found that some of our strongest client relationships had rocky beginnings. If you go that extra mile to win a client over, they'll often have the enthusiasm of the newly converted, and sing your praises to friends and colleagues.