Let’s be honest: We designers can be difficult to work with. We might come from a controversial company culture, work an unconventional schedule or get impatient whenever our Internet connection is slower than the speed of light. Would you be at ease with a service provider who matches this description?
When talking to potential clients, be aware that many will have never solicited a professional design service and likely have little understanding of the design process itself. Keep in mind, too, that some clients have had a poor experience in the past. For many clients, it can be an anxious jump into the deep unknown, a big financial investment steeped in risk.
But why should any of this matter to us? After all, it’s not our money. Being rewarded for our time and effort should be all that matters, right? This is true to an extent; our knowledge and experience shouldn’t be seen as a free commodity. However, at times, a little patience and empathy are required on our part.
Many designers will agree that clients, for the most part, need us to guide them through the design process (minus the industry jargon), to ask the difficult questions and ultimately to reassure them by delivering measurable results.
In essence, client experience is the sum of all experiences between a client and the service provider over the duration of their relationship. Whereas customer experience focuses on the relationship between a client and their customers through one or more services or products, client experience focuses solely on the working relationship between a client and the service provider — in our case, the designer — a relationship whose purpose is to achieve measurable business and commercial goals.
We should regard clients as our primary customers, for they are the ones who pay the bills. The better the result and experience, the more likely they’ll pass any future work your way. Of course, being a good service provider doesn’t necessarily mean saying yes to whatever the client wants.
It means carefully explaining and providing to clients what they need in order for the project and their business to succeed, and being pleasant to work with along the way. While being a user advocate is great, we don’t necessarily have to be right about everything. What we do need to do is to enact positive change for the client to improve their customer experience.
The client could be an individual, a startup, a department in a corporation or the corporation itself. You could be liaising with the CEO, the CTO, managers, colleagues and participants from a variety of departments, coworkers, peers — people who ultimately have a viable and legitimate interest in the work you’re doing and the outcome of the project. We often refer to such people as stakeholders.
In more complex environments, such as large corporations, you’ll rarely have direct access to C-level executives. However, be prepared because they will probably take an interest at some point. Remember that the responsibility of your lead contact is to inform the senior team on the progress and direction of the project.
Whether a project’s team consists of one or more stakeholders, you can be certain of one thing: Stakeholders will at some stage express differing and potentially conflicting opinions about a project. At the start of a project, stakeholders will often depict their concerns as being high priority. These opinions (political, procedural, financial) are often based on personal experience and on the experiences of those in their department.
Given human nature, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Nevertheless, your responsibility is to take everyone’s needs into account, to balance them out and to understand the bigger picture. Just improving the client’s overall customer experience is not enough. For meaningful and long-term success and to effectively support the customer experience going forward, change has to start within the organization. Provide the core team with tools and processes to manage, solve or even hack internal conflicts, to collect meaningful feedback and to seek approval for pieces of work.