A few weeks back when we were in Florida, we decided to go to the beach. But just as the doctor had ordered, we were doing our part to maintain a social distance. We put more than 6 feet, probably double or triple that, between us and the next beach dweller, on every side of us. We were happy, content, and feeling good.
And then came another family. No worries though as there was lots of space to spread out and maintain social distance. But, rather than giving a little bit of space, they decided to get pretty cozy with us. Blanket to blanket, we ended up about three or so feet apart. However, realizing that we may not be in love with this idea, while they were in the process of laying their blanket down they asked us a very simple question that has a very complex answer, “Is this ok?”
Now why is that question so important that it’s actually worthy of an entire blog post? And why is the answer to such a simple question, so complex? Well, I’ll go ahead and tell you.
People Don’t Like Saying “No”
When we ask the question, “Is this/that ok?” we already know instinctually that what we’re about to do might make someone else uncomfortable or inconvenienced in some way. That’s why we ask. Now we’re not meaning anything malicious or rude about it. We are genuinely trying to check in with someone and get their permission to go ahead or not. But the fact of the matter is, if we have to ask that question, most likely, the person on the receiving end is not ok with it. They just don’t want to be rude.
The thing is, it’s actually really hard for people to say “no.” Think about it. If someone asks if you want to buy something and you don’t want it, more often than not, you don’t say “no,” but instead something along the lines of “I’ll have to think about it.” or “I’ll have to talk to my spouse.” or “I’ll have to get back to you.”And how about when someone calls you up and says, “Hey I’m in the neighborhood. Would you mind if I dropped by really quick to see you?” you’ll say “Sure that’d be great.” rather than, “Uhh no, my house is a pit.” but then the moment you hang up it’s an all out cleaning warfare and you’re yelling about why they would do this to you at the last minute.
Again, people will do almost anything to avoid saying “no” to someone. They come up with an excuse. They look the other way. They avoid answering the question. Or, worst of all, they say “ok” even if they don’t want to. They say “ok” because they don’t want to be rude and feel like they don’t have any other option. They say “ok” because they think, “Well, what else can I really do?”
“Sure, that’s ok.” But It’s Really Not
The same goes for your clients. If you ask your clients a variation of the question, “Is it ok if I ….?” Your client is likely to say “yes” even though they mean “no.” And as a huge part of the client experience is making sure clients are comfortable, relaxed, and enjoying their time with us, asking them a question that’s going to force them into choosing between being uncomfortable saying “no” or being uncomfortable with the outcome of saying “yes,” is not something you want to do.
Here’s an example – one that almost every single person has done so no need to feel guilty about it, but it is best to avoid – especially with a client. You’re going along in your day when you realize, “Uh oh, I have a schedule conflict. I’ve already agreed to meet with my client at this time, but now our AC is broken and the only time they’re available is when I’m meeting Samantha. Oh well, I’ll just go ahead and call her to ask if it’s ok to move it.”
Then you call and ask if it’s ok to reschedule, and 9/10 times the client says, “Sure, that’s ok.” And then they work with you to reschedule. But what happens after that, is where the problem lies. They get off the phone and think “Darn it, I already arranged to be off work and so did Joe. Now we’re going to have to reopen our schedules at that time, and then rearrange our schedules again for another time. This is super annoying.” Even though all you heard was, “Sure, that’s ok.”
They’ve now had to double the amount of work it takes to schedule a meeting, and it may have even cost them money. Say what?! How could it cost them money?! Well, let’s assume that their income comes from providing services at a certain time and place. They could be a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, a consultant, a photographer, the list goes on.
So when they scheduled the first meeting time in their calendar, they then blocked that time out, and didn’t take any appointments. Now though, the time is open. However with such short notice, it won’t be filled. That money is lost. And now they have to forgo the money they could have made during the time of the rescheduled meeting as well. Oh, plus they have to call the babysitter and reschedule her too. But what you heard was, “Sure, that’s ok.”
Keep Your Clients From Telling You “No”
Now I know this might seem a little dramatic and unlikely to happen, but it’s not. Like I mentioned above, people will do almost anything to avoid telling someone “no.” It is truly the rare occasion when someone actually responds, “No” to the question, “Is that ok?” or one of its other iterations, “Would you mind if..?” “Is it ok if…?” or something similar.
The thing is, you never want to put your client in the position to have to tell you “no.” They don’t want to. They like you. They enjoy their time with you, and they don’t want to appear difficult or rude. So, they tell you “yes” even though they actually mean, “no.” And it’s not just with rescheduling, it’s with other things like, “Is it ok if I bring my sister to our meeting? She’s visiting from California and I don’t want to miss out on my time with her.” (I know this sounds crazy but this actually happened to me when we hired a landscape architect for an hourly consultation!) “Is it ok if I just roam your house to see what your style is?” “Would you mind if I put my drink in your fridge?” “Is it ok if I park in your driveway?” “Is it ok if I just send you over this tomorrow instead of today like we previously talked about?” and the list goes on.
So how do you avoid making this blunder? How do you keep from forcing your clients into a corner where they have to say “ok” even if it isn’t? Well, first, avoid asking it in the first place. Second, rather than asking, know that it’s better to err on the side of caution and presume “no” is the answer.
Here’s what I mean. “Is it ok to roam your house even though I didn’t tell you that beforehand and now you’re probably embarrassed by the state of some of the rooms?” – Nope, it isn’t ok. “Is it ok to reschedule this meeting?” No, I’d rather not. “Would it be ok if I cut our meeting short so I can make a dinner reservation with a friend and then I’ll call you tomorrow to cover anything we didn’t get to?” Hmm, not really.
Give Your Clients the Opportunity to Actually Say What They Want
Like I said above, when we ask the question, “Is it ok if…” we’re doing so because we already know that there may be a problem. So, rather than asking the question, assume that the answer is no and adjust accordingly. Or, if you need to ask something that you do need to get permission for, ask it in a way that your client is comfortable giving a real answer to.
Let’s take walking around the house in order to understand the client’s style and the overall look of their home. That’s a valid request. But, asking the client in the moment, “Would it be ok if I roamed the house?” is going to make most people uncomfortable, even though they’ll still likely stutter a “sure.”
So, instead of going that route, instead say to the client while setting up the initial consultation, “During our time together we’ll start out by sitting and talking more about your project, how you currently use the space, what you envision for the space, etc. and then walk the space to get a feel for what’s already there. Are there any particular rooms that you’d like us to do a walk through of, or should we walk through the whole space?” Giving them the opportunity to tell you what they’re comfortable with, and also keeping them from having to tell you “no.”
The thing is, you want to empower the client to tell you what they’re comfortable with rather than feeling a bit forced into something. You want them to know that you truly care about their answer, rather than steamrolling them into something they’re actually uncomfortable with. And you do that by either avoiding the question in the first place, or asking the question in a way that gives the client options and empowers them to share which option they’re comfortable with.
Now, how do you do this with something that they won’t actually like, but for you is an absolute necessity? Well, let’s go back to the schedule change situation. Let’s say your schedule change is something like, your child was injured in a bike accident, needs surgery and you now have to switch the meeting time (asking clients to reschedule a meeting really should only be for emergencies). Uhh yeah, change the client meeting.
But rather than asking if the schedule change is ok (don’t ask permission for something when the change is inevitable) just let them know that the meeting time needs to be changed by saying, “I am so very sorry but I’m not going to be able to make the meeting time that we originally planned for. My son now has to have surgery for a bike injury and it’s at the same time as our meeting. I greatly apologize for the inconvenience. Is there another time that works for you next week? I’m available anytime between 9 and 6 other than Tuesday afternoon.” And then after they choose the new time, thank them for their understanding and flexibility, and maybe even send them a little handwritten thank you card in the mail.
Comfort, Joy, & Understanding
Keep clients from feeling awkward. Keep them from feeling uncomfortable. Keep them from having to do behind the scenes fancy footwork that they just said “Sure, no problem” to, while simultaneously thinking, “Are you kidding me?!”
The goal of the client experience is to make people feel comfortable, bring them joy in working together, and be understanding of their challenges and working hard to remove them. So the next time you catch yourself saying to a client, “Would you mind if…” or “Is it ok if…” stop your self and think, can I avoid asking this question and just assume a “no” and act accordingly? And if not, think, how can I rephrase this question so that the client has options to choose from and will be comfortable sharing their choice with me? When you do, your client will feel the comfort, joy, and understanding that you’ve worked so hard to provide
And if you’re ready to do even more to ensure that your clients feel comfort, joy, and understanding when working with you, you can learn more about how to do just that here!