A few months ago, I accepted what is proving to be one of my most challenging jobs to date.
It started back on Valentine’s Day when my sister’s long-time boyfriend popped the question, and she said yes.
A wedding is in the works for this spring in Atlanta where the happy couple lives. I knew, as the older sister and matron of honor, that I would play a big role in the prep work and celebration. What I didn’t know is that I would learn some valuable professional lessons along the way. That’s because, while I’m not insane enough to take on the role of wedding planner (she hired a professional for that), I did take on the role of Account Manager for the wedding brand.
Before you ask, yes, of course a wedding is a brand. Think about the best weddings you’ve been to. There is a cohesive look and feel to them that makes them the best weddings you’ve attended. While there may not be a mission, vision or brand promise (although now I’m thinking there should be) there are many tangible branded aspects to a wedding; save-the-dates, invites, RSVP cards, seating charts, menus and more. It’s important that all these items fit the overall mood and theme the bride and groom want to create for their big day.
As a brand manager I understand this more than most matrons of honor, which is why I want to get it right. That was proving to be difficult however, because my sister is the most — let’s say — particular client I’ve ever had.
I’ve worked with a lot of personalities, but none have kept me on my toes as much as my sister. When I sent her the first save-the-date concepts, which I liked, I was met with brutal honesty and direct feedback like I’d never heard. This week we reviewed invite concepts, and I was again reminded that working with family is not for the weak. On the verge of resigning or — more likely — being fired from this job, I turned to the internet hoping to find some advice for working with “demanding” clients. Here are three great ideas I’ll be using from now on:
• Get curious: Two different Forbes.com articles on this topic suggest that curiosity might be the key. From one of the articles: “Seek to understand what is behind your client’s demands. If you understand your client’s drivers, you will be better able to meet their needs. When they are questioning or critical, be aware of your own reaction and if you start feeling defensive, ask questions instead. Focus on making sure they feel heard to build relationship trust.”
Asking questions is one of the most reliable ways to do right by your client. It’s something we talk about all the time at View Newspaper Group. When talking to my sister I could feel and hear myself getting defensive. In future conversations, I’m going to ask and then — more importantly — listen so I can keep the brand moving in a positive direction.
• Suck it up Buttercup: This was my favorite piece of advice from one of the Forbes.com articles, because it’s the most realistic. One expert in this same article actually suggested firing difficult clients immediately. I don’t know what world that person lives in, but that is rarely, if ever, an option in our world and certainly not in my particular case. While she could fire me, I can’t quit on her. Instead, I’m going to buckle down and do the work. From the article, “Clients pay us to solve a problem and we need to leave our feelings and ego at the door. I … hope I can help ease their stress in the area they hired me for.”
• Focus on the end result: The clients that have pushed me in my professional career have made me so much better at what I do. Plus, the projects I’ve worked on with those clients are, without a doubt, the best work to come from our team. One Forbes.com expert said it like this, “Conflict, an inevitable aspect of relationships, can be seen as collaborative instead of adversarial.”
That collaboration results in stellar results and I now know my sister’s wedding brand and wedding are going to be amazing because of the behind-the-scenes work. The day after the wedding will be more relaxing, too.
How do you handle demanding clients? Email me at email@example.com.
Emily Caswell is the brand manager for VIEW Group, the branding division of View Newspaper Group.