For those of us who are freelance, we work in some agency or for some reason we have clients to whom we must respond with our work, commitment, time, money and sometimes even love, a permanent concern is to know what the client really wants. This theme has motivated videos, podcasts and countless articles. Because when we think we have the answer, something happens that wobbles our certainties and plunges us into a hole of uncertainty in which the client is an enigma.
Although there are great tips that can help us build, brick by brick, a transparent and clear relationship with our customers, we forget that what we call a customer is, in the end, a person. More complex still, it’s a set of anonymous people that’s manifested through a representative who sends emails. And when it comes to relationships between human beings, the thing is never simple or resolved with a list of steps.
It’s not the client’s fault, who “always loses his mind” or of the supplier who “sells air”. The fault is the language, like almost every time something is wrong in a relationship. Between what one says and what one needs there’s a great distance, but between what one says and what one wants there’s no possible conciliation. So, as suppliers, we must guess and we put ourselves on top of our game thinking, what would I want if I were the client? This way we’re trapped in a labyrinth with no exit in which we respond to requests not made while feeling misunderstood.
There are two great myths into which we stumble again and again trying to be the best provider:
Always give more
If the client asks and is paying, for example, for a campaign to communicate a product on social networks, but you realize that deep down they have a branding problem, then you go through that “extra mile” and also build their identity from scratch, so that everything is perfectly aligned. Thinking like that is understanding things globally and it’s always an advantage. However, many times we think that doing that job will earn us extra points with the client, which hardly ever happens that way. Because for your work to be a solution, there must be first a problem for your client. If it’s a problem, he will ask you; He’ll give importance to your work, you’ll be able to charge for it, and then you’ll be a valuable provider. Not before.
So, if you have detected gaps in the functioning of your client that you can solve, before getting down to work and spending resources, be sure to raise awareness about the existence of those holes and the implications that they may have for your business. Then his request will come out of it. If that doesn’t happen and to the client, you’re “testing the waters”, don’t wear out yourself nor your equipment. Focus on what you can do and be transparent about your reach.
Accept the job and then you manage to solve it
One of the main conflicts is that there’s never time for what’s important. When we want to win an account, we throw in the spot all our technical gadgets and turning out to be an ‘I-can-make-it-all’, because not being so could result in losing the account. We seldom take the time to understand that when a client looks for a supplier it’s because he has problems, not projects. If we’re left with the artificiality of the pitch (which is always necessary, but it shouldn’t be enough) we lose sight of the fact that many times what they ask for is not what they really need, and that the problems within an organization are multifactorial. They’re not fixed with just a new provider. However, we unknowingly put ourselves at the height of that expectation impossible to satisfy.
So, from the beginning of the client-supplier relationship, we speak different languages thinking that with sign language we’ll close that gap. And we realize that since the first delivery, the client is disappointed because he’s paying “a fortune” on, for example, a website (which he asked for) when what he really wants to solve is a sales problem. I’m sure this has happened to more than one and it takes a lot of damage control to rectify what should have been established in the first encounter, before starting work.
Evidence such as KPIs or performance metrics that seek to bridge the gap between customer needs and supplier deliverables becomes, to some extent, our refuge when things get out of control. However, when communication is broken, there’s no KPI, mail or meeting that can save the relationship.
In this sense, aligning expectations is the escape valve that returns things to their center. This is not something that is done once and forever, but a permanent task that requires a keen sensitivity to read between the lines when we begin to speak different languages. This doesn’t mean that client and supplier are always in agreement, but that there are a link and agreements to move things forward, even if that means stopping everything and starting over.
For this, you need trust and honesty, two popular attributes that paradoxically are in disuse. In this society in which the image and appearances are everything, showing all the cards is a symbol of weakness and trust, a symbol of innocence. While these two things are not a reciprocal part of the relationship, it’s difficult for creativity to find a fertile place to transform the problems into the much-desired success.
This scenario is not very optimistic and seems to leave no way out. However, there’s a truth that underlies all these conflicts and that is both the poison and the cure. Just as a language makes it impossible for us to say everything, it’s also the vehicle that enables human beings, clients or suppliers, to communicate and seek pretexts to come together and build networks in which we feel safe, relevant and moving. As long as this is fulfilled, and each one from their trench makes sure that this happens for themselves and for the others, the coupling happens. This has led mankind to do great things for the simple fact that they can make them.