With clients as the cornerstone of any business, keeping them pleased proves of utmost importance. Of course, ensuring client satisfaction warrants significant time, effort and – sometimes – restraint.
So, how do you keep clients delighted and keep yourself, your business and your employees (mostly) happy – especially when divergent ideas exist for a project?
A good friend and long-time business partner, Dave Studemann of Connector Branding, says it best. In response to the adage that “the customer is always right”, Dave reminds us that “the customer has the right to be wrong.”
In other words, if you believe in an optimal approach but the client prefers a different direction, the client always prevails as the boss.
Only one exception applies to this rule: legality trumps client satisfaction; cut ties before proceeding in an illegal direction. For purposes of this conversation, though, we will assume everything is on the up and up.
Keeping Dave’s words of wisdom in mind, we identified a framework to manage clients when they wish to pursue a direction different than what we propose for a given project.
How to Manage Clients Who Wish to Pursue Different Direction
First, we firmly believe in fully expressing our expert opinion on a given topic. We also find it helpful to gain buy-in from as many stakeholders in a client organization as possible.
Greater agreement up and down the management chain helps ensure a successful project. That said, client buy-in isn’t always possible, or it isn’t always possible to understand all the players required for support of a project.
Despite buy-in, or perhaps because of buy-in to a different direction, clients sometimes decide to diverge from a suggested strategy. In that case, we employ these steps to keep our client satisfied while feeling like we have done our jobs:
- Listen carefully and take great notes.
Fully understand the client’s viewpoint, what they wish to accomplish and exactly how they expect project execution to work.
- Say your piece.
As long as comfortably possible, try to persuade the client to follow your expert advice. Once toeing your line becomes challenging, work to comprehend the client’s preferences.
- Employ criticism constructively and judiciously.
You already stated your viewpoint, so any additional criticism will be construed even more negatively than before. To keep your client satisfied, learn to bite your tongue on issues that could spoil the relationship. After all, the client reigns as the ultimate decision maker.
- Disagree and commit.
Keep in mind the more time you spend trying to convince the client of your opinion and way to proceed, the more time and money you expend on the project. At some point, the compromise benefits everyone. You’ve said your piece, now make peace. Decide how to move forward with the client’s direction, and do so enthusiastically and professionally.
As a professional, client satisfaction, coupled with a completed project, is paramount. And, more than one way to approach a project always exists. As long as you have a happy client and a finished project, you’ve succeeded – and likely gained the confidence of that client for additional projects.
Given the myriad of people, ideas and management styles you encounter in your business, how do you and your team approach client management and client satisfaction? We’d love to hear your tools and processes to keep everyone smiling.