Conventional knowledge says that the customer is always right. Period. But is the customer really always right?

Working in the marketing and web design industry, we do not believe the client is always right. In fact, in my experience, the client is often wrong. And usually doesn’t know what they want until you tell them.

Some examples from web design: musical flash intros. Blinking text and flashing graphics. Splash pages. Graphical mascots. Guest books. These things were great in the 90s. But they are obsolete (and distracting) when it comes to conventional Web 2.0 standards of design.

Is The Client Wrong?

When considering what is right or wrong for a client, we must remove any emotion from the equation. We must distance ego from from the project, perhaps asking the advice of an uninvolved third party, to be as objective as possible. What are the client objectives? What are the pros and cons of this specific client request? Will it help their overall objective or hurt it?

In many cases, the client will know their target audience better than marketers will. After all, they deal with their market on a daily basis. Keeping this in mind, if it still seems that a client is wrong, suggest some alternatives. Compromise on an alternative rather than just telling them they are wrong.

At the end of the day, the client is paying us to meet their needs, not necessarily industry conventions. If a request helps their bottom line, even if it is absurd, just do it.

Speak The Client’s Language

Remember that a client may not necessarily speak “techno babble”. They may not realize that a seemingly simple request may take 20 hours of coding. It is important to communicate with a client in a language that they can understand.

When in doubt, help the client define the following things:

  1. Overall Objective(s)
  2. Measurable KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
  3. A Marketing Communications Plan
  4. Set & Execute Milestones
  5. Compare Results to KPIs
  6. Make Changes As Necessary

When client requests can be directly and objectively measured against KPIs, a client is much more likely to take marketer advice.

When To Say No

It is important to remember who is the expert. Clients don’t hire consultants to complete tasks they can do themselves, in-house. They hire consultants to help them improve their business because we are experts in our fields.

As such, it is important to maintain credibility. My motto is to “under-promise and over-deliver”. Set realistic goals and exceed clients’ expectations by meeting and exceeding these goals.

Ethical Conflicts

The following are situations where a client is always wrong and it is okay to say no:

  • Being asked to work for for non-monetary compensation or for significantly less than the market rate of compensation.
  • Being asked to commit to an unrealistic timeline.
  • Being asked to do something you find ethnically questionable.
  • Being asked to take on more work when you are already overextended.

In all of these situations, there is big potential to disappoint a client. And as a result, not only fail to help a client, but perhaps hurt a client.

When it comes to ethical conflicts, always say no. It is not worth hurting your reputation for a client. There are plenty of shady companies out there who will take their project. Choose the ethical high-road by saying no. The universe will send you plenty of new business to make up for the one lost contract.

Continuous Changes

In the web design industry, some clients have the idea that they own their designer for life once a website is designed. They expect changes to be made to their website frequently, instantly and for free. Therefore it is important to set boundaries and proper expectations to what is and isn’t included in your service.

At my company, we explain to a client up-front the scope of our service. We outline our 90 day satisfaction guarantee and what services carry additional cost. We still encounter the occasional client who expects free updates, but we can refer them to our written policies, offer to make changes as a one time courtesy and then explain to them that future changes will be billed at our standard rate.

This is not the answer most clients want to hear, but it has enabled us to save a lot of relationships while earning a fair rate for our services.

Photo Credit stratfordcollege on Flickr

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