And we’re off! Now that the last and final session of “The Exceptional Experience” has started, and the client service consultation has been taken down in preparation for maternity leave, you may be wondering, what’s next? Did I just miss out on everything that Ashley Uhl Consulting offers? What if I was interested, and so far it just hasn’t been the right time for me?
Well, don’t despair, my friend! There will be future opportunities, they’ll just be a little different in their format (and some of the old formats may come back over time – that’s TBD). So instead of live classes and the consultations, I’ll be offering work at your own pace, pre-recorded video courses, all focused on helping you elevate your design firm and the client experience. And even if we have worked together in the past and you’re eager for more – don’t worry, there will be totally new info coming out for you as well – hint, some of which will help you with giving gifts to clients for the holidays! These courses will be coming out over the next couple of months so be sure to check back in periodically to see what’s new!
Thinking Like a Client is a Game Changer
Now onto this week’s post – how to think like a client. Learning to walk a mile in your clients’ shoes really is a game changer. It allows you to understand the woes, the anxieties, the worries, the frustrations, etc. of a client – and not only to have sympathy for them, but also be able to address them beforehand. And when you can do that, you’re in a league all your own.
Very, very few businesses really understand what their client is nervous about, thinking about, and losing sleep over when it comes to their interactions. Instead, naturally, they’re thinking about their half of the equation. They’re thinking about what keeps them up at night – what clients are difficult, what orders didn’t come through, why didn’t that client call me back. But when a business can turn that around and think about things from the client’s perspective, well, few things can hold them back from success.
So how do you begin to understand your client? How do you really know what they’re thinking about, worrying about, or using as a deciding factor when it comes to working with a designer? Well, there’s 4 things you can do. Two are pretty easy, and two are a bit more of a commitment. Let’s start with the easy stuff first.
1 – Act Like Your Own Client
Sometimes all you need to do is just act like your own client. If you have an office, sit in the waiting room. What do you notice? Are the chairs uncomfortable? Are they too worn down? What are you looking at? A lot of messy desks? What do you smell? Hopefully nothing awful! What do you hear? Anything that’s making you crazy? What magazines are there for you to look at? Are they from four years ago or torn apart from clients ripping out recipes or articles while they wait? Now get up and walk the path that you would lead a client down – maybe to your desk or a conference room.
Sit down where they sit. Notice anything unpleasant or unclean? Are the tables from this angle strewn with fingerprints? Can they see the screen properly if you use a projector to showcase your designs? Is there gum under the table on their side, or something loose that can attach itself to their clothing and cause a rip? Now keep going, visit your bathroom, your parking lot, and any other space that a client may go into. What leaves a good impression? What leaves a not so great impression? Notice and make adjustments to everything.
Now what if you don’t have an office? Still act like your own client. Sit down at your own dining room table and set out everything you bring to client meetings – the documents, are they all bent? Your bag, is it worse for the wear? Do you have enough working pens, for both the client and yourself? Does anything seem to be missing from what you would assume a designer would bring? And what about the contents of the bag – is everything strewn every which way? And what about how you present your materials – if you bring a cork board, is it way too “holey?” Try to observe everything you do from the a clients’ perspective – and then make the necessary adjustments.
2 – Think Like Your Own Client
Now in addition to acting like your own client, walking your office space, or presenting items to yourself, you also want to take time to actually sit down and think like your own client. Put yourself in their shoes and think, what would I be thinking at this stage? What would I be wondering about? What information would I need to make me feel – prepared, comfortable, ready, like I’m getting a great value out of this?
The more you can train your brain to think like your client, the more successful your client experience will be. But, this does take time, and training. We naturally think like well, ourselves. We think about what’s hard for us, what’s easiest for us, and what’s best for us.
But when we can learn to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes, we can address problems before they become problems, we can prepare our clients for what’s next, and we can overall wow them with just how well we understand them and their plight.
Clients, at every level, want to feel understood. So spending time thinking about how a client must feel, what information they want and need, at each stage in your process, will have a HUGE pay off – for both you and your future clients.
3 – Work with a Friend
This is where things get a little bit more complicated, but if you really want to go all in, you can get a lot of fantastic information. If you have a friend who needs a space designed, you could strike up a deal – I’ll design for you, and in exchange, I get to pester the heck out of you with questions about what you’re thinking at each stage, what you’re wondering about, what you wish you’d known, etc.
Now, people have different opinions on working with friends so do take that in mind before you go down this route. But if you have a friend who you trust entirely, is very honest but kind, is similar to the kind of client you’d like to work with, and is insightful enough to share what they were thinking about, worrying about, etc. at each stage – then go for it.
And don’t change any part of your typical process for this friend as then you won’t be getting genuine feedback. Just act like it’s business as usual. Have them go online, look at your site, write down anything they’re still wondering about, have them contact you via your contact page, write back to them and set up a screening call, etc. Do everything exactly the same way you would with a normal client – and then just give them a list of questions to use as they go throughout.
You’ll want to ask questions like – did you feel prepared for the next step? Did you feel anxious? What information do you wish would have been shared to prepare you for what was next? What were you wondering about? Then on and on it goes until you reach the end of the project. And even if they’re not ready to purchase the products and you just get to the design presentation stage, there’s still a huge benefit in getting all of the information you can up to that point.
4 – Strike Up a Deal
Now, the other option – striking up a deal with a client. If you’ve met a client that you really like and you think would be a great candidate for giving feedback, offer up the idea of lowering your design fees in exchange for extensive feedback at every stage in your process.
Now you’d want to make this very, very clear for the client in terms of what the conditions and expectations are and put them in your contract – like for each stage, you agree to be interviewed for 30 minutes in person on what your thoughts are, what can be improved upon, etc. and in exchange your design fees will be lowered by 50% but there will be no adjustment to any product fees.
Whatever your conditions are is up to you, but holding this type of intensive customer study is something that really can help. Most clients just won’t want to answer that many questions about how they’re feeling, thinking, etc. throughout the entire process. In fact they would loathe it and really start to question why you’re so desperate to know.
But, if you’ve created a specific deal with a client who knows why you’re always asking, this can be greatly beneficial and give you great insight that you most likely wouldn’t be getting any other way. The questions you’ll want to ask them are the same as you’d ask your friend – what were you worried about at this stage? What information would have helped you feel more prepared? What was stressful for you at this stage? What caused you frustration at this stage? And then of course some more positive ones thrown in there as well – what went really well at this stage? what did you enjoy about this stage?
A Work in Progress
Now you’ll of course never fully know what it’s like to be a client as well, you’re not the client, you’re the designer. But the closer you can get to knowing them, understanding them, and anticipating their needs, the more successful you’re going to be at working with clients.
People want to feel known, and people want to have their fears calmed before they completely take over their mind. So it’s worth the time and investment in studying and investigating what it is your clients might be going through as they work through your design process.
It’s also worth it when it comes to understanding the value you bring – as you may just realize when you’re going through this exercise, “Man, I’m nailing an awful lot of this! Our place is gorgeous, it smells like a summer’s day (and not a spray can version of it), things are organized, there’s no gum under our tables, our documents are streamlined and easy to read, we tell our clients how to prepare for each meeting, and we do a great job of keeping in touch with them. I think we can raise our prices. I also now know what to talk about in those beginning conversations around the extra value we bring.” – And hint, it’s not that you keep the bottom of your tables gum free. Although that’s definitely a good thing!
Getting outside of your own head and into someone else’ isn’t an easy feat. But it’s a worthy one. And let’s be honest – isn’t that true of just about everything good in life? It’s not an easy feat, but it’s a worthy one. So go out there, act like your own client, think like your own client, or get feedback from an actual client (or friend) and then make the necessary adjustments to bring your entire design firm to that next level of success and amazement.
Share in the comments below, what have you done to try and put yourself in your clients’ shoes?