ALA: “In Defense of Difficult Clients”

At the last agency I used to work for, there was a large poster that hung in one of the common areas that read “Next life, I’m coming back as a client!”We’ve all had our share of experiences with difficult clients — which may or may not be the same thing as bad clients. Bad clients are perhaps the types who don’t pay, pay very late, don’t respect boundaries (i.e. calling your cell phone at 11pm to discuss the most recent comp direction) or are verbally abusive.Difficult clients can perhaps be good clients if maybe uninformed clients or clients who are new to the design process. The excellent blog A List Apart has published (yet another) fantastic an insightful article entitled “In Defense of Difficult Clients”. In it, author Rob Swan writes:

These clients represent the ultimate test: They require that we explain why frames are bad. Why cross-browser compatibility is a serious issue. Why the use of ???????click here??????? is considered inappropriate. Why we now consider the web to be a medium in which vertical scrolling is acceptable. They test our knowledge and they test our patience.We all know why our methods are best practices, but can we justify them? Because there????????s no getting unjustified statements past these clients, and there????????s no bamboozling them with buzz phrases and marketing spiel. You have to justify each of your points in plain, simple English, whether it????????s a usability concern, a standards issue, or a design choice.

Explain it to me like I????????m a 4-year-old, OK? In the 1993 film “Philadelphia”, Denzel Washington’s character Joe Miller, a sleezy lawyer who preferred simple explanations to complex issues, would constantly plead to other characters in the movie “explain it to me like I’m a 4-year-old, OK?” This ties directly into what Swan is trying to say. Dispense of the jargon, best-practices and designerspeak and explain issues to clients in the simplest possible terms.Swan goes on to mention the benefits of employing this type of simplicity and clarity in our explanations:

The big clients????????the clients who are already paying megabucks????????often tend to believe whatever you say. You????????re the expert and they????????re the client, and you????????re implicitly right because it says so in the last ???????0??????? on that invoice. If you weren????????t, they????????d feel it was money poorly spent, and nobody wants to admit to a bad investment????????so nine times out of ten they????????ll take your word as gospel.The little man, on the other hand, isn????????t always so easily convinced. They????????re not intentionally testing you: they just don????????t get it.But there????????s a benefit to staying on top of your game. Because the next time you hit that one client in ten who????????s paying megabucks and wants a better explanation, you sure as heck don????????t want to be caught off guard. Perhaps it????????s been 12 months since you last had to explain everything from grassroots. Perhaps that hesitation, that delay in justifying your fee, is going to go down badly. Maybe today????????s the day that you lose out on a Fortune 500 gig because you????????re wearing your comfortable slippers and no one????????s made you dance in a while.If it is, it????????s going to humble you to realize that the owner of the corner shop (let????????s call him Mr. Smith) might have helped you win that contract.

As is typical of ALA, as compelling as the original piece is, the discussion that follows is also pretty interesting. Check it out and remember it the next time you meet with a client!.chris{}


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