At the risk of oversimplifying and offending everyone, I’m going to explain the majority of bad client behavior in two graphs.
Think of something that humans vary on. IQ, natural athletic ability, how hot they like their soup, you name it. Most of those things are going to fall on what’s called a “normal distribution.” There’s an average, and the majority of people fall right around average. There are progressively fewer people as you move out to the extremes. Few people are the very best, and few people are the very worst – it’s rare to run into them.
Here’s what it looks like:
Pretty straightforward, right? And it applies to a surprising number of things. If most people like their food a little bit salty, an extreme few are going to like it with zero salt and an extreme few will prefer tons of salt. If most of us are average swimmers, then a few of us are Michael Phelps and a few have to wear life jackets just to walk on the beach.
Here’s the problem. People totally ignore this when they look at the world.
In fact, people see the world more like this:
People like to think that they are an exception. Different. Better. I’m not like most people.
Someone once asked a group of people to rate their driving skills – and 93% rated themselves as better-than-average. Even though it’s impossible for 93% of people to be better than average (see graph #1).
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. This has great side effects. If we all thought we were average and plain-Jane, imagine how unmotivated we’d become to push ourselves to our potential.
But this “I’m better, different, an exception” phenomenon does help explain lots of frustrating client behavior:
- Clients expecting policies not to apply to them. (Policies are for average people, remember?)
- Clients being late to sessions because “something unexpected came up.” (Virtually all of my clients are 10 minutes late to their sessions. I don’t get mad, but I find it very funny that they think something coming up last-minute is unique or unexpected.)
- Clients assuming that you’ll give them a discount, because surely doing it just this once won’t hurt your business.
What do we do about this?
When a client gives you a sour face for insisting on one of your policies, I don’t suggest you wave the graphs in their faces and tell them that actually, they’re average like everyone else. Here’s my formula for success:
Enforce your policies equally for everyone (unless you see a true exception or hardship), but still make all your clients feel that they are the very best. The top 1%. Brilliant, rare, wonderful.
Because dangit, our clients are cool. They let us have the best job in the world. We should treat them like gold. They are above average if they sought you out to create beautiful art for them rather than going to a run-and-gun impersonal studio. Make each of them feel like superstars, and you’ll have a lot fewer problems.
But still enforce your policies. You have to stay in business to be around to treat them well.