How do you look from the client’s side of the screen?

What is it like to work with you on a project?

Marketing people call that the customer experience.  It’s the term for what it feels like to shop at a particular shoe store. How delightful it is to play with your new iPad. That feeling you have after the last scene of the movie.  How irritating it is to use your software.

I’m coming to think, as a freelancer, the client experience you deliver is pretty much everything. Your dazzling creativity may or may not be the deciding factor.

Clients will work with you, or not, based on how you make them feel.

I know, I know, that sounds like a lot of huggy-kissy psycho-foof. “Kum-ba-ya” customer relations. But ask anyone, I am not known for endlessly pondering my feelings, or anyone else’s.  I’m very guy-like that way.

I would much prefer to think that my ingenious copy, my insightful solution to the problem is what matters most. But after re-examining my countless screw-ups, lost clients, missed opportunities and blown projects, I have to come to realize that the client experience is pretty much all there is.

Clients will work with you, or not, based on how you make them feel.

Man, if I could rewind a huge segment of my freelancing adventures, that is one thing I would erase and do over.

Make it so they always feel better after talking to you.

Dumb simple.  Deceptively dumb simple. And not at all easy to do.  But that’s about all there is to client handling. There is no number two.

There are a thousand permutations and variations and nuances to it. But the rule is simple:

Make it so they always feel better after talking to you.

Do that, and you will win 6.2 times as many clients as any other freelancer.

I first heard this idea years back, from a guy who was five-star master at this.

He ran a small ad agency here in Jersey.  A good client of mine.  One afternoon, we’re in his office chatting.  He was interrupted by client calls four or five times. Once, a big client called to bitch about a blown deadline.  Another called about a toothache of a rush project.  Another griped about her boss.  One even called to fire him, sort of.

But each time, by the end of the call, everything was cheerful, settled, assuaged. Sometimes it was a matter of being contrite. Sometimes just listening. Sometimes he confidently steered a client to a logical fix. Sometimes he simply commiserated. “Geez, I don’t know how you do it.”

It was difficult work. It took time and patience. But they always hung up laughing.

And, he made a lot more money than I did.  So I took notice.

“Aways leave them happier than you found them,” he said.  “Then they keep calling.”

(I realized, months later, that he had done the exact same thing to me. There were times, in the odd afternoon, I’d call him just because, well, it would be an uplifting five minutes or so.  Or, when he called me, and I’d see his name come up on the caller ID, I knew it would mean something good. Maybe som new work.  A rave review from a client.  Something good.  I always picked up.)

I cringe when I wonder what my clients thought when they saw my name come up on the caller ID.  “Oh crap, more bitching about the changes. Pestering me again for background material? Another delay?  More arguing about strategy?”

Another lesson.  Years back, my wife was told she needed some scary surgery. Our health insurer required us to see a bunch of other specialists, whom we visited one after the other.

Each time, we left the office confused, or dismayed, or feeling like clueless dumbasses.  Or, we’d drive home feeling like we had just heard the standard approved patient speech for diagnosis code 234.1.  We felt worse after every visit.

That is, until we saw Elliot Stein.

He didn’t spend any more time with us than the other guys. And he gave us essentially the same advice. (“Yeah, you need the surgery, and yes, it’s scary, and yes, you’ll feel like hell for a while after.)

But for the first time, we left his office feeling better. “Yes, we’re doing the right thing.  Hundreds of people have been through this. Let’s do it.”  We were committed, confident. A great weight had been lifted.

What did Elliot do differently? We felt like he gave a damn. The meeting was about us. Not about his credentials or the outcome statistics or that plastic model of the heart sh0wing the valves and chambers.  It was all about us and what we were worried about. Here was one guy, one doctor, on our side for once.

My wife still sees Elliot Stein to this day.  Are his credentials and qualifications any better than than other guys’?  I have no idea. All I know is, when she sees him, she always feels better after.  No matter what.

Those other docs?  Don’t even remember their names.  They get none of her business.

I know this sounds like so much airy nonsense. But it’s precisely why I choose Gelormini’s auto repair over the four other guys I could call. Why a hard-assed project manager calls one programmer versus another. (“That other coder makes me nervous.”)

So try this for one month.  The next thirty days.

(Okay, I know you won’t do this. Nobody does that 30-day trial stuff, including me.  It’s just for emphasis.)

What if, what if you worked it so every client, every prospect, every referral, every person who contacted you felt better after talking to you?  For real.

What if they felt more confident?  More convinced they had found the right guy.  Satisfied that they were doing the right thing?  Glad to find they could do this for less than they had planned?  What if they saw that there were at least nine ways to fix this, and all would be well?

Or what if, simply, you made them feel you were really glad they called?

What if they were excited to see your name come up in the email.  Or in the caller ID?

How much better would you be doing?