Anyone who works in a services industry has probably heard the saying “the client [customer] is always right.” I understand why that saying exists—at the end of the day, they’re the ones paying you to do what they ask.
But aren’t they also paying for your service because you’re the “expert” on the subject matter? Sure, some would argue that they pay because they don’t have the time/resources to handle the job on their own. But then they could’ve hired their buddy Joe Schmoe to take the job off their hands instead of hiring a trained professional who specializes in the particular area of need.
That being said, when you think your client is flat-out wrong…how do you go about pushing back?
There are times when I receive instructions from a client that I absolutely disagree with. Sometimes they question something we’ve done and aren’t so nice about the way they word it, which immediately fires me up. That’s obviously not a good thing.
I of course start to take it personally, which my mom says is something I will learn to curb with age. I know I need to practice that now. I’m sure I’m not the only one, so I’m being bluntly honest about myself in the hope that others might learn from my flaws. Another lesson I learned from my mom is that (hopefully) as I get older I will learn to let things go and develop a tougher skin. I would love to expedite that.
But I haven’t mastered it yet. And I hate being wrong. All of this is a bad combination for pushing back on a client, yet I have enough common sense to know that there’s a delicate way about addressing the situation.
So before doing anything I wanted to get a third-party opinion. I tweeted to my followers, asking what their stance is on pushing back on clients.
I received some great advice, but what resonated most was this comment by Paul Kluding: “Ok to do it, but go in w/motto: think 1st to understand, then be understood. They don’t just want “yes” men/women”
I swear it was one of those “lightbulb” moments. I get hung up on the small things such as the slightly unprofessional tone in emails when a client is questioning me, or the finer points of what they’re asking me to do that don’t make sense to me.
But why didn’t I ever just stop and think about why? What is driving the client to write this email? What is at stake for them?
In reality, their reasoning could be about an issue larger than the one at hand.
So instead of firing back an email that completely defended and justified my position (even if I could do this with ample facts and support), I sought to find the real pain point. Taking Paul’s advice, I wanted to first understand then clarify my point to be understood.
I simply asked why the client felt the way they did. Then I offered my advice on how I would like to handle the situation, while also pointing out that I realize there might be a side of the coin I just wasn’t seeing at this time.
I wanted to address the root of the problem. I wanted us to truly get on the same page. And you know what? We did. And I bet this issue won’t come up again, but it might have if I approached this differently.
I also believe this approach helped to further earn the client’s respect and builds trust in my judgment moving forward.
What do you think? What are your experiences with pushing back on clients? I’d love the perspective of others who have been at this a lot longer than me.