Why You Need To Tell Your Client What You Are Doing

This may seem obvious. You are hired to do something because you have skills that are better or faster than what your client can do on his own. Or, you have skills your client simply doesn’t have.

Once hired, it is easy to assume your client “knows” what you’ll be doing. After all, you were hired by him/her for something specific. Surely they know you’ll be doing what you were hired to do. Perhaps. But “how” you go about doing it may be what your client isn’t aware of. The “how” is like your tone of voice. Anyone can say “pass the salt, please” but your tone of voice often means more than the words spoken.

So if your client isn’t clued into the “how” you’ll be working, he may end up feeling disappointed, annoyed or confused. Or all three.

Take my friend Joe, for example. Joe had recently bought and moved into his new house (the house isn’t new, but it is Joe’s “new” home). The front and back yard needed some work. Not being a green thumb, Joe wanted to get some help making his garden look beautiful.

Joe knows Jane, who runs a sustainable garden business and hired her to help with creating a beautiful garden to add to his enjoyment of his new home.

Jane came over to Joe’s house with her team for an initial evaluation, a discovery session. Aside from the introduction to Joe of Jane’s crew, nothing more was said. The crew traipsed into the back yard and proceeded to evaluate the yard, the soil, the fence, the house, the grass, and take measurements of everything.

Joe was left standing at the side of his yard wanting to stay out of the way, yet not totally sure what was happening. Was he to be part of it or was it best to let the team do their thing uninterrupted?

“This tree has to be cut down, it is blocking all of the sun, how old is it? Your house needs more water drainage from the roof, where are the other drain pipes? This shed looks awful, why is it on the north side of your property?  Where is your dryer vent? What kind of plants do you like? Will you spend a few hours per week working on your garden?”

These questions came out of the blue to Joe, who wasn’t sure where their expertise stopped – they can help me with my garden and my roof? Hmmm do they do financial planning too? As well, remember Joe just bought the house. For anyone who has just bought any house, let alone their first home, one is already caught by surprise how much it costs to repair and replace the little things within the first few weeks. Too, there is an emotional attachment to the property and one gets their back up when anyone is calling their new baby ugly.

So now Joe is a mix of bewildered and a tad annoyed. Not a good state for a client to be in.

The garden team takes more measurements, does more talking between themselves, more testing of the soil, throws out more random questions about tree and shrub varieties to see if Joe prefers one over the other – these could be aliens or far off exotic town names for all he knows, he’s never heard of any of them. He doesn’t know how to answer the questions, he doesn’t know what exactly the team is doing and he feels a little insulted and overwhelmed.

Then they move onto the front yard. More of the same. Then, they say, they’re done.

What’s the next step? The team didn’t really know. It had to be drawn out of them – they’ll go away and process what they’ve learned today and return with three recommendations. They then packed up and left all smiles as they had an excellent project to work on – while Joe wasn’t sure this project was worth it.

Joe wasn’t left with any excitement for the project. Instead he was a bit annoyed.

What was wrong – no client kick-off meeting. The client wasn’t looped in on the “how”.

Sure you’ve been hired to do something. But what your client has in their mind and what actually happens once the action gets started could be two different things. Here’s a suggestion on what could have gone better in this situation and suggestions for your next client kick-off meeting:

Introduce Your Team To Your Client
The first step could have been that each of the team was introduced with an explanation as to why they were there and what they’d be doing. For example: “Joe this is Bob who has been on my team for two years. His specialty is soil and so he helps to recommend plants that will work with your existing soil so that we don’t introduce trees, plants and flowers that can’t survive with what is already here. Instead, we use plants that can thrive in your current environment, making it easy for you to care for.” See how that is better? Now Joe knows that Bob has been a member of the team for a while and he has some expertise. When Joe sees Bob obsessing over the soil in his backyard, he can feel like he’s got a real expert helping make his garden better.

Explain Your Process
You’ll remember how the crew just traipsed into Joe’s backyard and started. For them this made sense. For Joe, not so much. What would have put Joe at ease would have been if the team explained what they would do. Something like “We’re happy to be here to see how we can help you create a lovely garden. What we usually do is start with the backyard, you’ll see us looking around at the direction of the wind, the sun, we’ll dig into the soil and do some tests, we’ll be measuring like mad and exploring each tree, shrub and weed you have back there. Doing all this helps us get the lay of the land to know what we’ll be working with.  Today is all about gathering information. We’ll then take it away, think about it, evaluate and then propose three recommendations for you.” This way Joe knows that they are gathering info and have some method to their madness.

Ask For Your Client’s Help
In this story, you saw how the team just went about their process. When they threw questions out at Joe, he was feeling weird about having some gardener evaluate the roof of his house. He felt a little defensive and his answers reflected that. What could have been said was “During our evaluation, we do a lot of talking amongst ourselves and will be throwing out questions to you. Some of them may be easy to answer, some may sound strange and out of scope for a bunch of gardeners, but it all matters, we’re gathering information and even an answer of ‘I am not sure’ or ‘I don’t know’ is helpful to us.”

Explain What May Be Weird
You noticed the team asked about the dryer vent (the heat can be used to help some plants grow) and roof, which seemed strange and off topic to Joe. To the team though, it made sense. Giving your clients heads up on these “weird” topics is helpful. It may have gone better if they mentioned something along these lines “Although we are not experts in home building, some of the questions we’ll have involve your home structure, your roof, your fence etc. This helps us plan the ideal garden to work with your environment. We know you’ve just moved in and please don’t take any of these questions the wrong way – they may sound weird but they are in no way meant to insult your recent purchase!”

And Always Start In Your Client’s Shoes
Joe just bought his house, not to mention his first house. He’s a little emotionally attached to it and that is a huge reality that needs to be treated gently. Acknowledging where the client is at makes them feel like you get it. So a suggested way of conveying that could have been something like “We know you just moved in 4 weeks ago, congratulations!! We hope our work will make you love your house even more. All of our suggestions and questions are meant to help us frame what will work best for you. If any of our questions seem insulting, first, we are so sorry – we don’t mean to pick on your new home. Second, we’ve seen a lot and are just trying to get an objective view of what will work. If we uncover any problems, we can sure offer solutions .”

These five points can help kick off a client discovery/initial meeting on the right foot and help your client feel involved in the process and aware of what is happening and why. It can help lead to a happily bought-in client and strengthen the relationship positively through the life of the project.

Were these tips helpful to you? What are some of the things you tell your clients before starting work with them?

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