Clients are people.
It seems like a simple enough truth. It doesn’t take that many Venn diagrams to reach this conclusion. But it’s easy to slip into the pattern of viewing clients as just forces in nature that must be overcome, instead of seeing them for what they really are – human beings who happen to be paying us to solve a some of their problems.
Every time I remember to see clients in the latter light, it makes for a more real conversation and a more successful meeting. And every time I find myself in the former frame of mind, it proves to be a trap. Staying mindful of anything 100% of the time is an impossibly tall order, but over the years I’ve found two little exercises that help me with this one.
1. Think about yourself as a client.
I don’t have to remember that many edit sessions to pull up a time or two when I was, for the editor, a difficult client. Maybe I asked for more options but then came back around to the first one because I needed more context to be sold. Maybe I said something that clouded an issue because I was talking at the end of a long day when I should have been shutting up and going home. Or maybe I said one thing, then got more information or context or time to mull it over, and then, shockingly, changed my mind. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to have reasonable standards for our clients. We should. As should all of the editors I’ve tortured over the years. But that “reasonable standard” has to allow for the flaws that come with being human.
2. Try to understand how hard their job is.
Everyone’s job looks easier from a distance. Clients don’t always realize how much work something requires on the agency side. And the reverse is also true. But even clients have clients – other people in their organizations that they have to answer to. And as much pressure as we feel (rightfully) to show results, they feel it even more acutely and directly. Often, to be the decision maker on the client side is to stake your job on every campaign, or at least a large portion of your credibility. That’s an incredible amount of pressure. And it explains why sometimes decisions take longer than we think they should, or why feedback is sometimes less than crystal clear. It’s our job to help them work through those things – and we’ll be better at it if we also make it our job to do a very simple, very human thing: empathize.