When you’re pressed for time, it’s easy to design a site, collect a check, email your client some numbers, and call it a day. If you want to build trust with your clients, you need a different routine that involves elements of accountability. Being accountable to clients maintains the integrity of promises and expectations.
Accountability isn’t blame, shame, or guilt; it’s simply accounting for what’s so. Did you miss a deadline? Let the client know you missed the deadline, and commit to a new deadline. In an ideal situation, you’d contact your client the moment you realize you can’t meet the deadline.
Many designers fail to account for their shortcomings to clients, especially when the client caused the holdup. This is the wrong approach for building relationships and a trusted brand. For a client-designer relationship to work, mutual respect is required. Blame is the antidote to mutual respect. Even when a client causes the derailment of a timeline, you can hold them to account without making them wrong.
Here’s how to incorporate two-way accountability into your client relationships:
1. Lead by example
Working with clients without accountability is frustrating. How many clients have you nagged about late files, incorrect logins, and other missing deliverables? How many clients give you excuses or drop out of communication?
If your client didn’t hire you as their business coach, you can’t attempt to play that role. You can reinforce your contract and policies, but it won’t change a client’s habits. The best thing you can do is set an example from the start by demonstrating accountability through your actions.
The first meeting you have with a client should involve some kind of acknowledgment on your part. Were you two minutes late to your meeting? Your client probably won’t notice, but make sure they know you noticed. Did you change the meeting location at the last minute? Your client probably doesn’t care, but acknowledge the fact that you had to change your meeting location and thank them for being flexible.
Acknowledgments are powerful; don’t go overboard. In the beginning, acknowledge the small things to get your client’s attention and set the tone for the relationship. As the project moves forward, acknowledge what’s important: promises, deadlines, and expectations.
2. Be meticulous and intentional about your reporting
Know that any data you provide a client might inspire them to request changes that don’t need to be made. As a precaution, don’t provide them with raw data they need to interpret on their own. They probably won’t understand the data from the 5,0000-foot view. Your job is to interpret the data for them and prevent misinterpretations.
You can control what your clients see by using software like the bi reporting tools from datapine. Instead of sending clients a lengthy Excel spreadsheet or screenshots of analytics from multiple sources, datapine puts all your data in one spot. You can create a custom analytics dashboard for each client to show them only what’s relevant to them. In your status report, you can explain each dataset individually and provide context, so your client knows what they’re looking at.
3. Acknowledge shortcomings immediately
The sooner you acknowledge limitations, failures, and unmet promises, the better. Don’t leave your clients hanging. Clients will trust you more when you’re up front with them.
4. Offer discounts to your clients
Be accountable for your missed deadlines. Offer a discount for every deadline you miss, provided it wasn’t the client who caused the holdup. It doesn’t need to be much, and you can set a maximum amount. Considering the late fees and other penalties many clients end up paying, it’s a powerful way to show clients accountability is a two-way street.
5. Keep your clients in the loop with project issues
There will always be aspects to a project you don’t need to involve your clients in. However, regular progress updates that include difficulties and issues you’re working on are imperative to maintaining trust.
No design project is smooth. Clients will start to wonder when a month goes by and you haven’t admitted to any delays or stuck points. Don’t tell them everything, of course. Clients tend to worry out of proportion. Tell them enough to keep them in the loop and reassure them you’re actively working on a solution.
Be committed to your clients’ success
Being accountable tells clients you’re committed to the success of their project. They won’t worry so much when problems arise, and the trust you build will give them more reason to hire you again and refer you to others.