Itís can be difficult enough to complete a project off the top of your head. So when you get it back with demands attached and a client who is giving you attitude, itís natural to get a little defensive. But itís not always the smartest thing to do as a professional.
This article caters to situations when youíve really done all you couldÖlike when a client says ďJust write my websiteÖitís about Topic A and you can research that on the Web,Ē or ďI like pink and black, make a logo out of that.Ē Itís geared towards circumstances when the client says, ďYouíre the professional, I trust your judgment,Ē and doesnít give you a lot to go on, despite all of your prodding for more information.
Despite not giving you a good foundation, Iíve found that some clients in this situation can get a little uneasy. Even though your work may have been great, their expectations were somewhere else so no matter what you do, itíll never measure up. There are times when the client really has nowhere firm to stand because he or she has left you without information, so itís vital not to just take the heatóbut to stand up for yourself and take charge of the situation, moving the project onward and upward (even if the customer has gone a little sour!)
When youíve given it your all and your client is putting you in a pinch, what can you do? Take a breath and keep coolóIíve got some tips to help you diplomatically explain your actions and avoid a temper flare at the same time.
Donít rub in their faultóat first.While itís okay sometimes to point out that they gave you little information to go on and previously said it was okay to start and youíd go from there, itís important not to lash back. If and when you do, itís best to do so politely. But not in the beginning of the conversationóthe beginning is for listening, understanding the clientís perspective and then using your skills to get the client back on track.
Explain the processóand that this is a process. When the client says something like ďI just donít like it,Ē you have to tell them that a normal part of the editing process is to get their input and youíll need specifics. Itís better not to say, ďWell, what donít you like?Ē but to lead them into detail-giving with something like, ďOkay so letís start with the headline. Do you feel the tone is too conversational? Do you want to tell me in laymanís terms the tone that youíre going for? Are there any marketing collateral pieces youíve seen that have a tone closer to what you want?Ē I think grilling them is essential, especially since youíve explained that youíre going to need their input and how vital it is.
To be honest, sometimes youíve got to speak to people like theyíre five years old, minus the coddling tone.
Get down to details. To be honest, sometimes youíve got to speak to people like theyíre five years old, minus the coddling tone. Upfront, I tell my clients that itís perfectly normal not to always be pleased with the first draft. But I need specific information to get things as they want them to be. I let them know that I will work to get it just right, but I need them to sit down and think about what they specifically like and donít like, and give me examples (if need be) of similar projects they do like. (In my case, I have them tell me in laymanís terms what tone they want, or I advise them to show me a marketing piece with a writing style they like.)
I always try to get as specific as possible and have learned to prod even if they continue to give me simple ďI just donít like itĒ answers. I toss the ball in their court. ďOkay, I understand. So help me make it better and let me know what specifically you donít like about it? Why donít we start at the intro paragraph?Ē
Toss in the past. If that client is still moaning and wailing over spilled milk, you can consider putting up more of a boundaryóbut do tread with caution. While I donít believe the customer is always right, I do believe you should never burn bridges. This is where you can mention that you didnít have a lot of information going in (not so much as a defense but as an excuse), and how they said it was alright to go ahead anyway.
You could say something like, ďI know we didnít have a lot of background going into this, but now that we have a first draft, can you offer anymore information to help me get a better feel for what youíre looking for?Ē Again, explain things in baby tone without the baby talk (i.e. ďThis may not be what you really wanted, but itís a strong start despite not having much to go on. Letís figure out where youíd like to go from here to get this juuuuust right for you.Ē) I really only remind a client of that after Iíve explained the editing process and offered to ďfixĒ things and they donít sound happy. I try not to start getting tit-for-tat over things or bringing in the dreaded, ďWell you never gave me much to start with.Ē
Inject some lightheartedness. This hasnít happened to me outwardly, but I get the ďYouíre the writer, you know bestĒ vibe a lot. The truth is that I may know bestóbut the client has to be happy with it in the end, so my opinion really doesnít matter unless itís requested. Since many customers may toss this thought your way, itís in good taste to reply by stating that while youíre good at the visual interpretation (if youíre a designer, for example), they really know what ďlookĒ in an image they want best.
Replying with something like, ďI can design whatever youíd like, but I want it to really represent your company the way you want it done. So Iím going to need your input on this. Do you think we should take this line out?Ē
Remember that some people may just want to put you down. Try to move them away from criticizing to giving you constructive criticism. The key is to facilitate moving forward, even if a client only wants to look back.
Author: Kristen Fischer