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Those Annoying Clients

Jul 17 2007 Posted by in multimedia | Comments Off on Those Annoying Clients

They pay the bills, but they’re also the leading cause of aneurysms and hate crimes. So how do you maintain your tact and composure in the face of their perpetual ignorance?

A guy I used to work for was fond of saying, “The customer’s not always right, but the customer’s always the customer.” He went out of business three months after I quit. Someone forgot to tell him that the IRS isn’t always right, either. I’ve found it’s better to give clients what they need than what they want. They’ll respect you if you’re not a dick about it.

How do you do this? Well, assume they hired you for your expertise. Hopefully that extends beyond just button pushing and mouse dragging. You’ve witnessed the big picture, how your past tasks fit into their overall projects. Share these experiences, the domino effects, where money is most effectively spent, what gets results, etc. This could be anything: the psychology behind certain fonts, the need for contrast or conflict, harmony versus dissonance, closure, minimalism, negative space, volume, tonality/timbre – I could continue, but we’re on the clock here.

Insist that you have a single point of contact. Committees are the ultimate barrier to creativity (Ambien being a close second), because despite the theoretical abundance and diversity of ideas, they will eventually insist upon lowest-common-denominator solutions, which are rarely what’s best for the project. They’re more concerned about how their decisions will reflect in their superiors’ eyes, preferring to not screw up rather than show initiative. This makes for an impotent product that’s just mediocre enough to not rock the boat. Let them have their group meetings off site before involving you. Unless their tab’s open and you have a high tolerance for politics, then let those ticking hours pad your wallet. As a video editor, I used to quote a specific price to cut their footage, but doubled it if they wanted to be there while I did it.

I nearly had a client walk out on a session once because she felt I was rushing her. Most of my clients were lowballers and I was only trying to save her money by skipping an indecisive step that we could revisit later. The lesson was to clearly define terms up front and provide frequent progress updates in relation to the full time/budget allotment. Then it’s their decision whether to go over or not. Given your predictive experience, you have an obligation to let them know when things are behind/ahead of schedule as you work.

School the “what would it look like if?” flip-floppers by telling them that you’d be happy to demo every shade of cornflower blue in the Pantone rainbow, “but how about we just continue with this one for now, eh? We can always change it later.” And they probably won’t. Save detail-oriented work for what’s left at the end of the session, or do it on your own later. Get the important directional/conceptual stuff down first while you have them there. They’ll try telling you, “Well, I just won’t know until I see it.” Time to change contacts. Scripts are written describing specific visuals in sync with the sound. Storyboards have pictures, dialogue, and movement on them. Paste-up designs, paper prototyping – these exist for the specific benefit of these visually-impaired types. Revisit them before you spend expensive hours at the console.

Some clients want to live out their puppeteering fantasies behind the desk, guiding your every stroke. Especially with those a-little-knowledge-is-dangerous clients (video hobbyists, desktop publishers, GarageBand users, etc.), you have to cut their vicarious selves off when you sense this. They can tell you the destination, but you decide the path to get there. “Let’s try just describing what you’re going for here, and I’ll reach into my bag of tricks, okay?”

When all else fails, install a kegerator. Bring in a chef to cook for them. Send them out to your WiFi-enabled lobby so that you can get some actual work done. Or just medicate like everyone else.