Why your Clients don't listen

No.5 • May 14th, 2017

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 2 pm on a hot Friday in late July

"No! You are not listening! I am not asking; I am telling you to do this."

It felt like someone was punching me in the face! This was the last text message I received from my client (yes I text message with my clients). Obviously, no need to reply, the message was clear. 


So, what happened, how did I screw up?
This was a view year ago when we were in the midst of a huge brand refreshment for a tv-station in Asia. It involved many tasks, but at this point, we were aligning all ad campaigns with the new brand appearance. 
A job that seemed to take forever. Partly due to our expectations. We felt the need to protect our new design in the implementation process. So we fought for it. 

A little too much as it turned out. 

I learned much later that our client was getting frustrated with us. Too often we just didn't listen, but quickly jumped to solutions. 

We thought that we already had the perfect solution, but for some reason, the client didn't see it. So we kept pushing. Thinking if only the client would understand, he would be satisfied. 
But it was us, not recognising the situation. And it was us, not listening. Not them.

As a result, we almost lost the account when the client hired a local strategic partner to assist us in the process. 
Another punch in the face, for sure. 
But the client had every right to do so. We didn't listen, so he found someone that did. 
 

• • •


My wrong Assumption
Clients don't just listen to us because we claim to be the experts; we have to earn their attention, first. 

But it is what our creative industry wants it to be. It is what we want it to be. 
We like to believe that clients listen to us because they value our creative ideas or our Photoshop skills. We like to believe that they value us due to our expertise and our resume. 

Yes, developing our craft needs to be part of your professional journey. But those technical skills won't distinguish us from your competition. Nor will working with prestigious brands give us an edge over others. 
Only successful, satisfied and happy clients will! They spread the word; they refer us; they pay us. 

Clients expect us to deliver great, creative work. 
Yes, that is a given. 
But, what clients (surprisingly) value, is our ability to use our skills to help them achieve their goals. 


Clients don't want the Hero
Clients are not looking for a hero they can follow. They see themselves as the hero in their journey. Isn't that ridiculous? (hint: sarcasm)

No, clients are not looking for a hero. They are looking for a guide that shows the way; they are looking for an expert to help, not a hero to lead. 

Every client wants to be the hero in his personal journey. 
And we are there to make that happen.

We don’t want others to be the hero in our life's. 
Or do we? 
No, we don’t! 

So why do we believe to be favourable by positioning ourselves as the rescue to your clients; as the “hero" in their journey? 
As someone that is… looking for the next industry recognition. 


Clients want the Expert
Clients can't always be expected to know what is best for them. 
And why should they? 
They are not the experts. 
But we are. 
We call ourselves experts and still, we rarely listen, and we seldom deliver on this promise. 

When our clients need help, the goal is not to lead, to give answers or to jump to conclusions quickly. 

No, the goal is to listen and to understand, first.

But we don't; we don't listen, so we don't understand. And still, we have the perfect solution in the form of a template or a Facebook Ad. (hint: sarcasm again)


Align your Expertise
To be seen as an expert and eventually as the leader in your client's cause, you need to position yourself as a valuable guide to their journey. (yes this is the counterintuitive part) 

You need to listen, you need to understand, and you need to help them find the answer to their question. 

It is you that needs to align, not your client. 

No client is looking for education when hiring you, and they shouldn’t. After all, they just hired an expert; they hired you. 


My paradigm shift
When I coach designers, I often experience a sudden breakthrough when pointing out the different goals of clients and creatives when. 
It is the simple realisation that our responsibility as an expert is to help our client to achieve their business goals, solving their problems. 
Simple but not easy. 
After all, we also have expectations towards the project. We want it to be appreciated by our peers.  


The desire to please the Ego 
Pleasing our egos, by polishing our portfolios for approval and validation from the industry is not what we are expected to do. (I am so guilty of that)
We know that, but for some reason, we seldom act as we are aware of it. 

We shouldn’t be aspiring “likes" on Facebook or "appreciations" on BeHance from fellow designers. Nor should we strive for design industry awards. 
But we do. Because finally, we feel acknowledged and we feel heard.

So what is it that fascinates us in awards, likes and appreciations? 
It is not the acknowledgement of our craft but ourselves and the attention we receive from it. To be seen as the hero, as someone special and as someone worth listening too.  


The Problem of Appreciation
The assumption that people will listen because you are the hero aims at the wrong audience; it aims at your competitors. They will listen. Your clients won't. They don't look for heroes. 

Positioning as the best in the eye of your client puts you in a rat-race with all your fellow designers and competitors. A race where your only selling point is, to be cheaper, faster or more skilled than the designer sitting on the same Herman Miller Aeron chair, next to you. 
Hardly a good foundation towards a great design career. After all, how long can you sustain that? 
 

• • •


My insight to the story
Only when you are trusted to listen, your client will truly listen to you. 


Now, how will that help you?
Next time, talking to your client, listen and wait before you jump to the obvious solution. I know it is hard. Bite your lips, that's what I do. 
Wait, just wait. 
After all, how good can a solution be, if the problem is not understood? 
You are far better of positioning yourself as the guide that is asking questions. Questions that lead to a deeper understanding of the situation. 


Here’s the deal:
Once you are the guide in their journey, clients can and will turn to you when seeking advice. 
That is moment when they will truly listen to you. 


• • •
 

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