The true meaning of ” Clients are always right even when they are wrong”.
As I read through the infamous book The art of client service by Robert Solomon (2008) ( the one that is suggested to be put under pillow of everyone who wants to set feet in to client service industry) I came to chapter 41 “ There is no No in your client vocabulary” (Solomon, 2008)- you never reject a client . “Such a cliché “ I though, they must include this specific rule in almost every book I have ever read about client management. I have even developed a condition to immediately think of Yoda with the light saber, in a ready to fight position, telling me “Say NO you must not”.
“Clients are always right… even when they are wrong” (Markert, 2007). It seems against agency’s nature to disobey clients. How can they put this as an absolute truth when it clearly is a big disadvantage to agency’s side? Is this rule actually applicable in reality where, according to Tom Markert (2007), the author of “You can’t win a fight with your client”, clients make requests all the time, some are outrageous and undeliverable.
So I sent myself out on a quest to find answers from a non-bookish source. I interviewed Mrs. Tran Phuong Thao, RMIT alumni who graduated from Bachelor of Multimedia design in 2007 and worked as an account manager for Leonito JSC – a brand consulting agency which also provides advertising , public relation and event management services. She recently switched to the dark side of the Force, I mean, the client side in an NGO’s internal communication department.
When I asked Thao if the Never say No is truly an unconditional policy; she laughed and replied “That’s elementary, my friend.”
That was it; quick and a little upsetting. There was no more myth busting for me. Then I asked her how can an agency keep up to that principle and survive fatal requests from client. By fatal I meant the demands that involve changing in budget, deadline of scope of work (SOW) (especially after the sign off) which would seriously affect the overall quality and process of a project and threat the agency’s reputation. Tom Markert (2007) affirmed that there is no limitation on how shocking a client’s request can be.
Thao admitted that during her 3 years of working as an account person she never had to say No to any client; emphasizing that she had a good start at the very professional agency and over all had comfy clients. However, indeed there were some memorable cases. For example, one of their big clients requested to have almost every meeting with the present of 40 members of the clientèle. That was the case of a strong “brain-hurricane” to deal with all the demands and changing from such dense establishment. Another closer case was when a client already approved and signed off the logo and other print designs but later on determined to change all because his Feng Shui master said so.
Don’t reject clients- educate them instead.
“I guess I was lucky because my clients over all were not hard to work with”, said Thao. “Yet, it is the fact that much more complicated scenarios could happen and it would be frustrating to deal with obstinate clients”.
The books taught us to provide alternatives for clients (Markert, 2007) and consult your team to give client best possibility of what they want (Solomon, 2008). Thao suggested me to “educate” clients. Beside negotiating and collaborating, agencies need to show their expertise at their finest to persuade clients. Clients usually do not have enough specialized knowledge or experience, thus, they need agencies to do the job. Remind them why they had to hire you from the beginning. You do not have to say no to clients, make them say no to their own changing by providing a better solution and proof that it is the best option.
When an agency reaches to a certain level in size and prosperousness it can finally say No to a client if the client does no corporate and mindlessly refuses any effort of the agency to help. “Mine firm, however, haven’t achieved that yet” she laughed and added.
Always prepare safety net for your agency
“Anyway, there are cases in which clients are really stubborn “,Thao continued. That is why all the possible challenges should be foreseen and well knitted safety nets must be included in the contract. “Every agency does this. This is how we are able to avoid saying NO to them”.
Agency can be flexible about changes in time and budget; they are actually the most frequently modified sections in every exchange but when plan or SOW is touched extra fees will be added according to the contract. Thao listed quick tips to avoid these sudden changes from clients:
- Always have close communication with client.
- Remind clients that we do not work alone to serve them, we work together with them.
- Ask client to establish PMU (project management unit) from the very beginning to work with agency directly and consistently.
- Constantly update work plan and process.
- Ask for sign off at all milestones.
It was very interesting and helpful for me to have this interview with Thao. I realized that it was not about proving if the client was wrong or you were right, thus, saying No is not necessary and not helpful at all. It was about changing their perception about the current situation then it would definitely be legit to reject bad ideas without saying you-know –what-word. The books did not exaggerate while stating this golden rule. It sounded a little negative at first but now I can clearly see when it says “Clients are always right even when they are wrong “it means “Clients are always right to choose your suggestions, they just haven’t realized that yet”.
Story and illustrations
by Le Hanh Quyen
Markert, T, 2007, You can’t win a fight with your client and 49 other rules for providing great service, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY
Solomon, R, 2008, The art of client service, Kaplan Publishing, New York, NY.
For more information about Leonito JSC please visit : http://www.leonito.com/