“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” I usually only have to say that as I’m loudly speaking to the person next to me at a bar. But it is also something we should have no problem asking our clients. When you’re given a set of instructions, or a brief from a client, it is paramount that you as the writer know exactly what it is that they want to say. And more often than not, they want it to be said in their voice. So let’s see what a little listening can do.
When I get a job from a client, I know that I always want to make sure I understand completely what it is they expect of me. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a dumb question, and if they’re truly interested in putting the best work forward, your clients shouldn’t get annoyed at your questions (I mean reasonably speaking here. Too many nitpicking questions is a definite no-no). So a good rule of thumb is to repeat back what they want. I learned this is a valuable skill to know in the Professional Office World (that sounds like a level right out of Sonic the Hedgehog).
I’ve had bosses leave stuff on my desk, write notes, give me vague or rushed instructions and expect me to know what to do. If I don’t understand what they’re saying or what they want, I have to go and ask. And believe me, there have been times when that was the last thing I wanted to do. Some people just never learn that not all of us are psychic, and I can’t get in your head and read your thoughts. So common sense prevails here.
You can usually get the gist of what a client wants if they send over specific examples of things they’ve done in the past, or campaigns that competitors used. So I recommend paying close attention to that. Also, some clients will be clear on the tone they want you to take by what words they use to describe the project. You can pick up whether this should be fun, professional or technical in nature right off the bat by paying attention.
In the case that a client may want a revision, don’t take it personally. Perhaps they changed their mind, or decided their instructions weren’t clear enough to start out with. When you get a request for a revision the client should be very clear about what was missing/what they want to change from the original piece you sent to them. Make all the changes requested and send it off again. Usually one revision is plenty. I would believe there are picky clients out there that will send a piece back a couple times. But that shows more a lack of communication between you and your client than anything else.
When people listen to each other, and listen carefully, amazing things can get done. They get done right, they get done quickly and they get done well. Then everyone can move on to their next assignment. I think listening is a lost art sometimes, between buyer and seller as well as in conversation in general. It seems most people are too wrapped up in telling, than listening. Perhaps we should all listen a little more!