A Quick Path to Disappointing Your Clients & Yourself

November 12, 2021

A guest post by Ashley Uhl

In your day to day life as a designer, you often feel like you have to prove yourself. You first have to prove to the client that they should hire a designer. Then you have to prove to the client that they should hire you to be the designer. Then you have to prove to them that it’s a good idea to sign your contract and pay your deposit. Then you have to prove to them that the design you created is the one that they should go with. It’s exhausting, and often feels endless.

Then someone comes along with a statement that undercuts everything that you’ve just done. Someone says something that just flies in the face of all that hard work, knowledge, and expertise you’ve put forth to prove yourself, and starts the client questioning whether or not you are that professional, or whether you are that capable. And you want to know who that person is, that person whose disrespecting all of the work and forethought you put into everything that you do? It’s you.

I Was Going to...

Say what?! Yep. It’s you. Here’s how. So often in our efforts to go above and beyond for our beloved clients, we get a little idea in our head. We think, “Ok, I’m going to do this and then this, and the client will love it.” But then someone or something comes along, throws a wrench in our darn plans, and it all goes to heck.

Then you go to your client and tell them all about it because well, you should get credit for what you were going to do, what you wanted to do, right? As then they’ll see how much effort you were planning on putting into this and that’s worth something right? Right? Well, no, it’s actually wrong. It’s unfortunately really, really wrong.

Here’s the thing. When we tell clients what we were going to do for them but didn’t for whatever reason, they’re going to experience a number of different emotions. First, disappointment. Two, a bit of a loss of faith in us. Three, a questioning of whether or not this is a “regular” occurrence in how we work. Clearly all are negative, and clearly all are thoughts and feelings that we want our clients to remain far, far away from.

So let’s talk about how this might sound in action. First, let’s say you were planning on arranging a sit test for some recliners. Your clients are dead set on them and aren’t quite sure they believe that pretty recliners have the same comfort that a good ol’ La Z Boy does. So you think, “Ok, I’ll arrange for a sit test and they can finally see how comfortable a beautiful, understated recliner can really be.”

Then you find out that the showroom has since shut down. However, even though the client never knew you were planning on arranging a sit test you still say to the clients, “I was planning on arranging a visit to the showroom so you could sit down and feel how comfortable the new recliners really are. But they closed. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.” After which the client thinks, “Okay, well, great, but now that I know that that was a possible option, I really want to see what those things feel like.”

Or what about,”I was going to bring more samples for the outdoor sofa fabric, but I didn’t because I ran out of time to run by my office beforehand.” So the client thinks, “Ok, great, so we could have accomplished more during this meeting had you had enough time to go and get the samples, but you didn’t so I guess we won’t?…”

Or even worse, “I was going to send you a birthday present but I didn’t because I forgot.” So the client thinks, “Thanks for the thought, I guess? Of thinking that you should get me a present, but then you didn’t? I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to say to that…”

Don't Get Credit Taken Away From You

See the thing is with these statements, they so easily slip off of our tongue. We say them because well, we want to share with the client what we were wanting to do, planning on doing, intending to do for them, but for whatever reason we weren’t able to. In a sense we say it in order to “defend ourselves,” or to get credit where credit isn’t due, or even to impress them with what we were planning on doing.

However, what actually happens is that it undercuts the amount of work that you actually did put in, and begins to chip away at the trust you’ve built with your client. You’re putting in the minds of your clients that you’re essentially, well, a little lazy. That you could have done more work, but ultimately chose not to. So they start to wonder, “hmm, is this the only thing that they were going to do, but didn’t?”

And here’s the thing, you’re the one saying it. You say it to explain yourself, but the thing is, you don’t need to explain yourself. The client didn’t know that you were intending on doing something but didn’t. They have no awareness of the fact that you were going to do something but then for whatever reason weren’t able to. The client didn’t know that, and therefore, doesn’t need to know that.

So what do you do instead? Nothing. What you need to say is, nothing. Unless something is a guarantee, don’t talk about it. And even if something is going to happen in the future (other than natural next steps in the design process or need to know info) try not to talk about that either, as well, you never know what could happen. You don’t want clients to be disappointed by what you didn’t do. You want clients to be excited about what you did do. So don’t talk about hopes and wishes or let downs. Your client doesn’t want to hear that, or need to know that. It just robs them of the excitement of what did happen. And it robs you of the credit for all of the incredible work that you did get accomplished.

Only Present What Has Come to Be

How we talk to clients matters, and it matters a lot. You lead your clients with your actions, your emotions, and your words. Your clients are looking to you as the project leader and thus are expecting that at all times, you’re working incredibly hard in every single aspect of their project and getting everything accomplished that you’d like, and understandably so.

However when we literally tell them, “I was going to do this, but I didn’t because of that” they’re understandably disappointed. No one wants to hear how much work someone was going to put in for them but ultimately didn’t. That’s just sad. Ever had a friend or family member tell you how much they were going to do for your birthday but ultimately didn’t for some reason? Probably so. How did you feel? Disappointed. Would you have felt 100x better if they had never mentioned it at all? Absolutely.

Your clients feel the same. Your clients want to feel that everything you bring to them is the result of complete and maximum effort, and hours and hours of research and planning. And you want the client to know that everything you do is with complete and maximum effort because well, it is. But then you had this one idea that didn’t work out or you ended up running out of time on, and so it wasn’t able to be presented. So you share that with the client.

But rather than reaching its intended purpose of having the client be happy with what you were wanting to do, it actually leaves the clients unhappy with what didn’t happen. It leaves them wanting that thing that didn’t happen, and they didn’t know about, until you told them about it. It creates a longing and wanting of this “better” situation that never came to be, and you were the one who created that longing.

So don’t negate or downplay your own efforts. Or lessen your client’s excitement that they would genuinely experience had they never known about some other idealistic dream scenario. That’s not what happened. That’s not what they’re seeing in front of them. So don’t worry about that. Present what you have.

Present what you did. Present what you worked so hard on. And share it with the same gusto, the same enthusiasm, and the same effort that you would have, if everything had worked out. That way you both can be gloriously happy with what did come to pass, rather than ultimately disappointed at what didn’t.

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Written by Ashley UHL

Ashley Uhl is the principal owner of Ashley Uhl Consulting, and the only client experience consultant exclusively focused on working with interior designers. Through her work she teaches designers a step by step approach to delivering an exceptional client experience, one that results in higher fees, increased efficiency, and turning clients into raving fans. You can learn more about the exceptional client experience by visiting her weekly blog at ashleyuhlconsulting.com.

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