Before I begin, I must disclose that I have absolutely brilliant clients who are a pleasure to work with. This post is more of an “it’s not you, it’s me” commentary.
I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test several times and I always score solidly as an ISTJ. ISTJs are hyper-logical, are very direct in giving their opinions, but are often very good problem solvers. On top of these things, I’m super passionate about what I do and sometimes I sense the passion can come off as a tad bit aggressive. Taking these things into consideration, I have to be mindful of my personality when consulting to ensure that I don’t come across as a know-it-all, overbearing battle-ax. The list below explains some things that I consciously have to keep in mind when conversing with clients to help me provide quality customer service. If you also happen to have a strong personality, perhaps keeping these things in mind may help round-out your consultations.
1. Understand the clients’ side. Are they dealing with crazy office politics? Are they on a tight budget? Are there possible security concerns? If you’re meeting resistance, you have to understand what’s going on from their side. Go a step further and try to problem solve from their side. Also, understand that they may be buffering you from some of the craziness that you probably don’t want to be involved in anyways. You may not know all of the details, so believe them when they insist that a particular idea will not work.
2. Listen and use your clients’ ideas. You’re not the only one with a brain. Clients often have a pretty decent idea about what gaps their organization has. Yes, absolutely validate audience needs during front and certainly evaluate the learning solution post implementation. However, make sure you listen with both ears to their concerns. My first go-round in a front-end analysis group interview I was pretty sure I grasped the whole situation from one two-hour interview. That was very naïve of me to think. There was so much going on under the surface that I just didn’t realize at that point in time. Because of my small lens, I developed a learning solution that was slightly off-target. The SMEs gracefully corrected the situation, but I learned that day that the clients have a very good pulse on their organization and I need to trust that. Listening to their understanding of the needs gap up front has helped steer my front end analyses in the right direction and has certainly helped to create some on-point learning solutions.
3. Offer decision briefs. If you’re brainstorming with your clients and you’ve come up with several solutions that all have possible pros and cons, create a decision brief. Show your client (in a presentation or similar) three possibilities to solving the problem. Give the pros and cons for each, maybe even price out how much each will cost and how long it will take to implement. Then, give them your advice on which you think they should choose and then let them take it from there. You’ve consulted, you’ve done your part - they are the decision makers.
4. Pick your battles. Maybe battles is the wrong word to use here, but the idea is the same. Some things are worth digging your heels in. If you know the project is going to flop because you’re not being allowed to do your work, you need to say something. If it’s a matter of aesthetics or personal choice and your client has a different opinion – let it go. They’ll be proud of their part of designing and executing a great project and it will demonstrate that you all worked together as a team to accomplish something.
5. Show, not tell. Take initiative to create something and offer it as an example. Most people need a visual to understand a brand new concept and it’s important to remember that your SMEs are not ISD experts. You need to be able to give them concrete examples of what you mean. Most often this will result in your clients being very excited about something they didn’t know was even a possibility.