‘Helping’ your client? ‘Educating’ your client? ‘Collaborating with’ your client?

Are those all polite ways to talk about ‘telling the client what they need to do’? Perhaps, in a way, they are. But even when your relationship with a client is at its most frustrating, it pays to make the effort and see it from their point of view.

Clients don’t know how you work

So tell them. Whatever it is you’re supplying, you need to consider two possibilities:

  • They’ve dealt with someone else who supplies the same product or service – but doesn’t work in the same way as you
  • They’ve never asked for your product or service before – so they don’t know what you do, or how you do it.

Your job is to help them work with you to achieve the results you both want. You want them to be:

  • delighted with your offer
  • happy to ask for it again
  • and ready to talk about their experience to other potential clients in their network

They want to:

  • get the best result they can (even though they may not know what that looks like)
  • have as little hassle as possible
  • feel confident that you are the right person to do the job
  • be informed about progress
  • have their expectations met

For that to happen, good communication is vital. (And it helps to manage those expectations…) To achieve that you may want to:

  • map out your business process (from initial quote to delivery)
  • create an introductory letter to clients explaining how that process works
  • highlight critical points where their participation, feedback and sign-off are needed
  • tell them what, precisely, you will deliver, how, and when.

A lesson I learned the hard way…

French leave

Many years ago I was regularly writing commercial video scripts for GEC Alsthom – as it then was. Most of our dealings had been with the English team, but for one specific video we were dealing with a formidable Frenchwoman who ran their Paris office.

Which caused a number of problems…

Before shooting the video we needed a complete, signed-off script. It was important to set it pretty much in stone. By doing that we could safely record the voice-over. But, more importantly, it meant we could also finalise the shot list. That, in turn, meant my director could liaise with the relevant GEC Alsthom plants, set up a shooting schedule, and deal with any necessary safety and permission issues before the crew arrived. And, crucially, it meant all those things could be done on time, and within budget.

So, essentially, no script – no video.

And that was the problem.

Our lady in Paris was constantly finding things she wanted to change in the script. Draft after draft failed to satisfy. Time on the schedule was running out. And, to make matters worse, she was about to take the traditional summer holiday which Parisians use to escape the capital’s most unpleasant season.

She was going away for a month. And we needed everything shot and ready for editing before she was due back.

Heart to heart

There was only one way to handle this impending crisis. I asked her when and where in her excruciatingly busy schedule she could spare me about 45 minutes. We arranged a meeting that suited her rather more than it suited me. (But she, after all, was the client.) And I took what passed for a laptop at the time, with my draft script safely stored on it.

Once there, I began a long, involved and polite negotiation. Whenever she queried anything in the draft I’d begin by asking what the problem was. If necessary I’d then explain why what I’d written might work better. (For example, because the video footage would be showing what we were talking about – avoiding the need to describe it in detail.) We’d then agree any changes she still wanted.

Line by line, sometimes word by word, we worked our way through the script. When we’d finished I was able to hand her a disk with the final version of the file, so it could be printed off there and then, and signed. And – having given me the hardest possible time for the full 45 minutes – she did have the grace to say: ‘Thank you. Very professional.’

And the lesson?

A client’s entitled to give you a hard time if it’s about getting the right result – and if they’re willing to listen and understand as well. If they’re not… Well, you may not want to do business with them again.

And that’s OK, too.

In the meantime if we can help you with your business story, just call us on 01449 740118, or drop me an email. I’ll be happy to talk about what you need – no pressure, no obligation.

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