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A major key to encouraging repeat business is making sure that your clients
receive quality service. For some of you, that may mean adjusting your perspective
to focus on your clients as much as on your projects. Quality service is based
on building relationships with your clients through:
• Demonstrating understanding and empathy
• Offering expert information and education
To deliver such high-quality service requires great communication skills.
You’ll need to explain design terms and processes, and you’ll need to do it in
clear English. (See the section called “Think with Beginner’s Mind” on page
201.) You’ll also need to go beyond the information your client gives you by
doing your own research.
It’s up to you to help your clients understand the design process well enough to
participate and provide their own explanations, when necessary. “It’s all about
making the client look good to their boss and to their clients,” designer Cathy Teal
says. Now that’s a perfect example of empathy, isn’t it? She goes on to explain:
Most people aren’t visual. They need to be told what they’re looking at and
won’t understand your designs the way you do. Most communications and
marketing people can’t tell the difference between a design “eight” and a
“five.” They lack “visual literacy.” One of our jobs as designers is to educate
our clients.
This means that you need to speak and write in plain English, not jargon.
It also means that you need to organize and edit your words so that your clients
can follow and comprehend the concepts, issues, and processes you are trying to
Begin by working out a brief audience analysis. (See pages 14–15 and 247
for an introduction to audience analysis.) Here are four useful questions you can
answer about your clients to help guide you in communicating with them:
What Do My Clients Need/Want to Know,
and What Do They Already Know About Design Issues?
Your first task is to set aside any preconceived notions you hold about your nondesigner
clients. Your clients can’t be lumped into one category because they
possess different levels of design knowledge and varying levels of interest in
knowing and understanding design concepts and processes. “Early in the client
relationship, establish how much the client wants to know,” urges designer
Christy White. “Treat each client as an individual and read his body language.
Listen to his questions and opinions with great care to determine how much information is just enough. This will make the ‘service’ aspects of your business
dealings that much stronger and more effective.”
How Can I Use My Clients’ Own Business Jargon
to Explain the Design Process on Their Terms?
As you were researching your clients’ industry and background materials, were
you jotting down their technical terms and descriptions for later use? (See pages
35–42 for research tips.)
Have you developed a good general business vocabulary? Any time you can
translate an issue or stage of a design process into bottom line (money) language,
you will communicate more effectively.
Do My Clients Judge Me Based on My Language Usage?
By language usage we mean correctness, use of standardized English, verbal and
written skills. Expect that many clients do, indeed, judge your intelligence (not
to mention your attention to detail) by your use of language. You never know
which clients will be turned off by ungrammatical, confusing, or incomplete
messages—even if they also do it themselves. Clients may even equate your skills
as a verbal communicator with your abilities as a visual communicator.
E-mail makes this issue especially important. Even if your messages aren’t conveyed in formal letters or memos, you will use e-mail as a major mode of communication. E-mail gives your messages a permanence that the telephone does not since e-mails can be printed and forwarded or filed for future reference. This means that a carelessly written and quickly sent message might wind up as an archived document with multiple readers. Writing business e-mail presents a specific challenge to the generations that grew up writing a personal and informal e-mail. Familiarity with the medium has bred carelessness with the format and content. Don’t assume that errors are acceptable because they are prevalent among your peers. Remember, you’re in a competitive field. Strive to stand out on all levels because of excellence. (See pages 28 and 200 for e-mail guidelines and strategies.)