Tom Jepson Creative

We're our biggest customer... - The challenge of overpowering motivations

As UX professionals we understand explicitly that the only way to deliver a truly valuable solution is to explore and understand the problems of the people who will be using it.

One of the biggest challenges we can face, however, is clients and stakeholders who have 'overpowering motivations' when it comes to solving a problem. Something you might hear (especially when you are joining a project mid-way) is:

“We’re one of our biggest customers so we really know the problems we’re facing.”

I know you're grimacing when you read it; I did, too, the last time I heard it. It's the sort of statement that offends our sensibilities as UX pros. But we need to take the time to understand where it's come from rather than dismissing it out of hand.

'They're asking for help, but...'

Something to be mindful of when you're engaged with a client 'who is their biggest customer' is why they're requesting your help in the first place. What is motivating them?

They've requested your expertise since they might understand that 'UX' is important to sell products or make people hang around a little longer. However, are they giving you the remit to bring your expertise to the table or are they looking to guide the thought processes and prescribe what's required?

Acknowledge what they're asking and play it back to them with an extra question or two: can you ask something which causes them to pause, even momentarily, and consider an additional perspective?

'They already know what they want.'

What someone asks for and what they might actually need are more often than not two dramatically different things.

I firmly believe that it is our job to educate clients, stakeholders, and user on what 'good' and 'right' looks like. It's also our job to be wrong and to take on board outside perspectives to help drive our thinking forward.

When a client asks for one solution ('We want an app!') to their overpoweringly motivated challenge but you know deep down that it won't serve their needs, take a breath. Trying to change their mind with brute force ('This isn't what you need - you need...') or dismissal of their request is only going to serve to antagonise your client and position you as someone who doesn't listen.

When you're discussing what the client is asking for take the time to find out why they are asking for it, especially if it feels contradictory to the challenge in hand or to what you might perceive as a 'good' solution.

While it might seem like you've got 'a difficult client' on your hands, there is no benefit in meeting the perceived trouble half-way.

Once you're on the road take some time to listen. Absorb what they're saying to you. Respond with exploratory questions rather than reacting emotionally. You want to open the door to discovery and set the stage for updating both your clients' knowledge and your own understanding of the problem space.

Sometimes, people might not be moved: you just can't change their mind or present enough of a case to find an alternate route to a solution. These are 'red flag' clients and might best be avoided. It's up to you to play out this scenario. Is the pay-check really worth the strife of working with a client who is setting themselves up to fail? Beware those who say 'Why didn't you tell me? It's your job to change my mind.'

Whoever they are and however you chose to approach the client-consultant relationship keep an open mind, an open ear, and be ready to do overcome some overpowering motivations.