13 ways to trick your client into happiness

The art of making your customers love the designs you create.

In an ideal world our clients would think like designers. In an ideal world our clients have a good knowledge of marketing. In an ideal world they think logically and communicate clearly. Well folks, this is not an ideal world. And, unfortunately, our clients do not think like a designer. They don’t necessarily know the basics of marketing or branding. They are not designers. That’s why they’ve hired us.

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Now, if we could just get them to trust us. Well, that’s not going to happen. So, what’s left? I’ve got It! We’ll TRICK them. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

I’ve developed a few techniques over the years that help me “trick” my customers. These tricks are for both of our benefit. I trick them into picking the best design and trick them into being happy. It’s a win-win.

1. Lower your customer’s expectations. Ok, I’m not suggesting you tell the customer: “Your design is going to suck.” But I AM suggesting that you set your customer up with realistic expectations. Don’t promise the world. And if they’re ASKING for the world… you need to be honest with them about what you can accomplish. Even at the risk of losing a project – I really hammer home exactly what we can accomplish so the customer knows what to expect.

2. Limit your concepts. It’s natural to think that giving your customer 8 logo concepts is better than giving them 4, but is it? First off, the customer is relying on you to give him or her the best options. You should be the one narrowing down the options to the best few. Whatever you decide to show your customer, be prepared for him or her to pick your LEAST favorite option – they always do. Secondly, too many options can be very confusing. There are too many possibilities, too many styles, too many choices to be made. In my experience 3-5 concepts is optimal. 3-5 concepts is just enough to let the customer feel like they have a good choice while still controlling the situation.

3. Clients like shiny color stuff better than black and white stuff. It’s unfortunate that clients are influenced by “bling” (color, gel, gloss, drop shadows and lens flares) but they are. If you have two concepts to pitching to a client and the first one is an AMAZING concept – that you’ve sketched out in pencil and the second concept is mediocre at best, but it’s polished, full color with gel effect and drop shadows, can you guess which concept the customer is going to pick? They’re going to pick the color one – every time. They can’t imagine how cool the pencil-sketched concept is going to look. They only see a pencil sketch. So, if you want to steer the client to a particular design – sell it; add that color, add the gel, whatever. Make sure the one you really want them to pick looks just a little bit better than the others.

4. Give bad news immediately and over the phone or in person if possible. If something bad happens don’t try to hide it. Just be honest immediately. A mistake that YOU point out is twenty times better than a mistake that THEY discover. Let’s say you designed a flyer and misspelled a word. Don’t quietly pray that they won’t find it, because THEY WILL. A hundred people will point it out to them. Bring it up, apologize and offer a solution. I will frequently offer free design services if I’ve made a mistake. This allows me to keep their money in my bank and simply “work-off” my mistakes. Also, clients can get really nasty through e-mail. If you’ve made a mistake – get them on the phone. They will always be much nicer if they’re actually on the phone or meeting with you in person.

Just some eye candy

5. Beware of “scope creep.” Some clients like to make changes as you go through the design process. Don’t let this slide without saying something! Every time a customer makes a change – you need to point it out, describe how the change will affect the design process and establish a new set of expectations. Now, I’m not talking about changes like: “Please add the word ‘From’ to the first sentence.” I’m talking about when a customer says: “Hey – I would like to add a photo gallery to my website.” In that scenario you need to say: “Ok, but we will miss our deadline if we are going to do that additional work. Also, it will cost $XXX.XX more dollars.”

6. Narrow down options. If, even after all these tricks, my customer is proving hard to please, I will try to narrow the design decisions down. For instance, can we settle on a color scheme? Can we focus on just picking a font? Can we decide on the principle image they want me to use? I might make them come to a decision on these item outside of the design itself. So, the next time I’m working on a concept, I’ll already know the colors, font and images to use. Then I only need to make the layout work.

7. Only work with the decision maker. Frequently you’re not even working with the person making the decisions. You’re working with the lackey that’s between you and the decision maker. I really fight to try and work directly with the guy/gal that’s calling the shots. Otherwise you’ll be doing everything twice – once for the lackey, then again for the decision maker.

8. When working with groups; elect a leader. Similar to rule #7 is working with groups. Sometimes the group doesn’t even know who the leader is. So, you’ll be getting different feedback from different people in the group. I request any group to elect one person to do all the communicating with me. That way, when the leader collects the feedback from the five other people in the group, they will realize that it’s all different. Bob says change the color to blue. Susan says change the color to white. Matt says to change the color to yellow. This makes no sense.

more eye candy

9. Touch base if the project is running long or starting late. If I’m not moving real fast through a project, or if the start of a project has been delayed I’ll drop my client an e-mail. Basically I’ll say something like: “Hey Bob, I just wanted to let you know that I got swamped and will be starting your project on Thursday. Sorry for the delay. We should still meet your deadline, no problem.” This pro-active approach is always much better than having to answer their question: “What’s going on with my project?”

10. Educate your customers. I know this is a tough one, but you have to try anyway. When a customer asks me to do something that is not good design – I will take the time to explain why MY way is more effective that THEIR way. It takes some tact to communicate this without ruffling feathers, so be gentle.

11. Don’t fight with your customer. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and just give the customer what they want – even if it’s a miserable design. If you’re asked to design something in a way that you know is terrible, you should make your case, try to teach them and give them better design options. But, at the end of the day, if they’ve got their heart set on something (even if it’s an ugly mess of a design) – Give it to them.

12. Give a little extra. If you just do one small little extra task – and let them know about it, they’ll be very grateful. It doesn’t have to be a lot of work. It can be something very small. But it should be outside of the work that was agreed upon. A quick note to the customer might read something like this: “Hey Bob, I noticed that the logo you provided me had a little scratch through it. I removed that and cleaned up the lines on it. This was not part of the project scope, but I can’t have you going around with a dirty logo! No charge for this additional service.”

13. Say Thank you. Amazing. All I need to know I really DID learn in kindergarten. They’ve done studies on the power of a “thank-you.” Disgruntled customers can be magically transformed into satisfied customers with the mere muttering of the words: “Thank You.” So, thank your customers for their business. Thank them when they make a payment. Thank them when they buy you a beer.

With that said, thank you for taking the time to read our blog. I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. If you have more helpful hints for keeping your customers happy – please add a comment.

About the Author, William Beachy

I grew up in Cleveland Hts. Ohio and was drawing constantly. As a child I took art classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art and eventually became known as the "class artist." I graduated from The Ohio State University's department of Industrial Design. I have always tried to blend my passion for illustration with Graphic Design. Go Media was the culmination of my interests for both business and art. I'm trying to build a company that is equally considerate of our designers AND our clients.

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