I recently had one of those moments when one suddenly realizes how important it is to explain things you think are really obvious to your client. That is, as we become more expert in what we do, we forget that our clients don’t know what we know and that can lead to unnecessary stress, and sometimes worse.
In my case, it was a legal client I’ve been working hard for. It’s a complex matter and I’ve spent a lot of time and effort for my client, so I was more than a little surprised to hear some of the complaints. As I listened to my client, however, it became clear that I was not doing my best job in informing my client of all the details. Oh sure, I’d given regular updates, but I was missing information that (in retrospect) I should have been sharing. Stuff that seemed spectacularly obvious to me was, to the client, completely unknown and unknowable. Without that data, it was perfectly reasonable to complain!
So I (and my colleague) explained that what the client was feeling was totally understandable, then went on to explain the bits that the client didn’t know. Some of it seemed like stuff the client didn’t really need to know–technical stuff, for example–but better to give too much information than too little, particularly if there was any chance in helping the client understand and, by extension, feel more in control. And yes, as soon as we shared that information, you could hear the difference in our client’s voice. In a very brief time what had been some pretty serious anxiety and frustration melted away and the end of the call was a very different tone from the start.
We’ve all been in that client’s shoes. Who hasn’t been frustrated by (for example) some doctor who doesn’t tell the whole story? If the doc is smart, s/he will politely fill in the blanks and then even not-great news is better tolerated. But if the doc is a jerk, s/he acts like the patient is an idiot for not knowing something that to her/him seems obvious and the patient gets angry and frustrated.
Same thing can happen in your field. When a client gets pissy, take a second to really listen to the problem and see if maybe you are “assuming facts not in evidence,” so to speak. Maybe it’s not that your client is being a jerk at all, but rather that you aren’t being fair to your client by not sharing all the relevant info. What you think is relevant or important isn’t the same as what your client thinks is relevant or important. Listen to him/her. Put yourself in her/his shoes. Your client might not need to know (in your opinion) the steps involved in getting a permit from the city for a shoot, for example, but once you tell him/her about the whole process s/he won’t expect you to have it in 30 minutes.
Listening is, in short, the best way to be able to manage client expectations and restores a sense of control to your client. None of us like that out-of-control feeling, especially when money (or one’s job) is on the line.
When you take the time to think about what it is like to be in your client’s position and really see the situation from her/his perspective, mostly by listening to her/his concerns (and then addressing them rather than judging them), you are much more likely to have a happy (and repeat) client.