If you’ve been involved in any kind of service industry for long, you’ve probably heard the saying, “The client is always right.” While we all know there are lots of times when the client is not right, most of the time we just pretend like it’s all good. We smile and figure out how to make it work, even if it’s not a good idea at all.
Except for those times when the client is wrong. And I mean, epic-failure-on-the-horizon wrong. Those are the times when you have to get your clients to do things your way, because otherwise, their project will not succeed. Those are the times when you have to figure out what to say and how to say it in a way that won’t end your working relationship.
Don’t just tell your clients they’re wrong
You’re not going to get very far by saying “You’re wrong.” In fact, that wording could make the project go sideways faster than letting the client have their way. Saying “You’re wrong” in any relationship rarely does anything beneficial. Instead, you need to communicate the problems in a way that doesn’t strain your relationship.
How do you do this? Before we dive into exactly what to communicate and how to communicate it, there are a couple of things to consider:
First of all, make sure you’re clear on what the client is wrong about. Sometimes, your client isn’t clear on something and it doesn’t make sense to you. In these cases, you can usually work out a solution that not only makes her happy but also solves her problems. However, for those times when your client knows exactly what she’s talking about and is adamant, you may need to take a different approach.
Second, evaluate your relationship. How you communicate with your client depends on your relationship with that client. Is she a repeat customer you’ve dealt with often in the past and with whom you have always been able to communicate? Or is she someone you’re just beginning to work with and you haven’t established that relational trust yet?
Focus on the destination, not the journey
Usually, when your client is wrong about something, it’s not the outcome that is the issue, but the approach to that outcome. The “who” and the “what” are fine, and the goal is also fine… it’s often the “how” that is the problem.
No client is going to ask you to do something that she thinks is wrong. In her mind, what she’s asking for is reasonable. It’s the destination that is important. And so, unless the end goal is way out of line or has changed from what you originally agreed to, you can typically redirect your client to another path that will arrive at the desired goal in a more efficient way.
However, you need to be able to show that the end result will remain the same, even though the path looks different. If the client doesn’t trust you and your judgment, she isn’t likely to trust you enough to change her mind. You won’t be able to convince her that she needs to adjust her perspective.
Before telling your client that you believe there is another way to reach the goal she desires, communicate how you see the goal. Discuss the benefits of achieving it, and establish how the results will be measured. This will show that you truly understand where you’re going. Your client will see that you understand the final product and vision.
Next, take your client through the journey of what it may look like going their chosen route. Explain the dangers you envision and how some of the choices she made could derail the project or slow the production.
Point out areas of weakness, while at the same time showing what is valid about the approach. If you have the ability to clearly communicate the downsides to the plan while still being positive about the overall project, then your client will feel much more comfortable when you suggest a different approach.
Show your clients a better path
At this point, you can lay out your own suggestions. Be prepared to explain how your solution will provide an even better end result. Share how her plan has downsides that could be costly and how your solution will avoid those potential pitfalls. If you have past experience with a similar situation, use that to your advantage.
If you have developed trust with your client, she will believe your evaluation. She will understand that there is nothing to lose and potential for gain by following your suggestions.
Sometimes, when you tell yourself that your client is wrong, you miss out on a lot of what he’s asking for. What your client is asking for often has many layers, and only some of them are faulty.
You don’t have to convince your client that she is wrong. Ultimately, you have to convince her that YOU are right. Once trust is established, your client will be much more likely to allow you to do it your way because she sees that you have the expertise to get the desired result in the best way possible.