you only thought you were communicating clearly | a true story

What I said is not what the client heard. That happens. But I took special pains with this client to make sure everything was agreed on on both sides and that we all had clear expectations.

Then something changes. And it becomes obvious that, while I was sitting here happy that we were all on the same page, the client had a different idea of what we had agreed on. Whose fault? You guessed it, mine. I am, after all, the client services guy. If client communications breaks down, it is by definition my responsibility.

Solution? Luckily for me, the client is flexible, and his compromise works for both of us. But why was this even an issue?

Pride. I was so sure we had communicated clearly, that I did not talk with him last week to confirm where we were at. Because I knew. I could have called him last week just to check that everything was going as we had planned. I bet he would not have minded.

If this is sounding familiar, that is because I wished that Kinko’s had done the same for me instead of dropping the ball. Now I did not mess up even on the same scale as Kinko’s, but that I must make the comparison… well, it sickens me. I should be better than this, we should be better than this.

Lesson #1: just because you can recognize less-than-great client service in others does not mean you shouldn’t look in a mirror from time to time.

Lesson #2: Humility in client services is critical.

6 Responses to “you only thought you were communicating clearly | a true story”

  1. 1 Amber B. October 19, 2006 at 3:04 am

    So what *did* you do?

  2. 2 brianatportent October 19, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    I accepted that it is my job to clearly communicate expectations with the client, and that because that did not happen in this case, I accepted responsibility for the screwup. So we said we would meet the client’s deadlines, though he also cut us some slack.

    One part of the story I am leaving out is that we handle a large number of projects at any one time, so it is not a matter of me saying “oops” and having everything be copasetic. When I screw up expectations, and have to agree to deadlines that are earlier than we would ideally like, that is putting a strain on our whole team.

    So I am saying that client services is not just a matter of my ego and my reputation, but a matter of project scheduling, and through that of employee morale and everything else in the company. This is why I am so bothered that I partially blew this one- because of its effects on my coworkers. The client will get his deliverables on time, no question. Next time I need to better manage expectations so the strain on our team is reduced.

    quick math= you said 5 words, and I wrote… a lot. What would happen if everyone reading this started commenting?

  3. 3 Kimberly October 19, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    Question? You say you took ‘special pains’ did that include a follow in writing? In an earlier conversation Linda mentioned Active Listening skills that are used in CI…. I think of it as having my little ‘tool belt’…. open ended questions, paraphase, perception check, summarize, summarize again and avoid at all cost a$$umptions. That’s great for the verbal part but I then always follow up (summarize) a major conversation with an email.

    Don’t get me wrong…. there also are some people that no matter what you do to keep clear communication it doesn’t seem to work. I consider myself an ‘excellent communicator’. Hey, I used to train on the topic.

    I have one client in the SE that is notorious for this. I’ll send an email with specific requests 1, 2, 3, 4 and she’ll respond with a one liner about only one of the four. How many times have I exclaimed ‘what are these people thinking’? For this client a LOT!

    I like what you said about ‘pride’…. I can’t get caught in my ‘pride’ of doing ‘everything’ and going above and beyond because if the ball drops it just doesn’t matter.

  4. 4 brianatportent October 19, 2006 at 5:05 pm

    I do summarize important phone calls as soon as I am off the phone, and send it over email with a “this is what we said, right?” so the person I talked to can right away tell me if I do not understand what they were saying.

    For the sake of client confidentiality, I am not going to get more in depth on what exactly we did. Suffice to say that, while everything that was in writing made sense to me, there was still a difference in understanding between myself and the client that led to a difference in expectations.

    Thanks for your comment, Kimberly.

  5. 5 brianatportent October 19, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    Let me clarify something- I am not talking about a problem client in this post. I am talking about a problem situation with a good client. The conversation where we agreed on deadlines was just right- clear communication, clear expectations, and clear commitment on both our parts.

    So while I agree with you Kimberly that some clients will always be challenging to deal with, this is not one of them.

  6. 6 Kimberly October 19, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    As long as we’re ‘clarifying’…. I wouldn’t label the client I was referring to as a ‘problem client’ either… but ‘challenging’, yes… only because when everything appears ‘crystal’ it not always is…. moral? add some windex to the tool belt? 😉

    This whole line of thought reminds me of an exercise I used to do in my AL trainings…. have two people sit back to back…. each draw a mountain, a tree and a house…. everyone knows what they look like, right? Then each in turn describes their picture for the other to attempt to duplicate…. how close did you get?

    As you might guess a mountain is different for different people…. those in the NW tend to draw Mt Rainier versus the Rockies for instance…. so if I say to my client ‘when we are done we’ll have a beautiful mountain’ and we both ‘agree’ does that mean we have ‘clear communication’?

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I'm now blogging about internet marketing at

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At Red Beard Consulting I work on internet marketing primarily for speakers. I also work with Infusionsoft.

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