This is counter-intuitive, but it's true: making yourself available to clients' whims outside business hours won't get you their respect. Why not? Because that's not how professionals behave, and clients can feel it. They will treat you as if you were an amateur if you're presenting yourself to them as one. This article raises awareness to that fact.
Clients Will Respect You More If You Stop Answering Their Calls On A Friday Night
We all mean well. We’re eager to help because we enjoy that warm feeling of being appreciated, of being loved.
Especially when one minute of our expertise can save someone hours of work.
But this yearning for being loved by clients: it’s a trap. It’s self-sabotage. It creates the opposite effect.
This is a recurring topic, and it came up in a discussion with a colleague recently:
We jump at our clients’ every call, but they don’t seem to respect us more for it.
It seems that no matter what we do and how fast we react, it’s never fast enough for some.
Why is that? Don’t we get points for this good, professional behavior?
Yes, we do get points for professional behavior.
It’s just that by making yourself available on a Friday night tells your clients they’re not dealing with a professional.
A professional is not sitting at her computer on a Friday night.
An amateur playing with HTML, however, might be.
An amateur should be happy to hear from her clients at any time. It’s not like she has many clients anyway.
Amateur’s time isn’t worth s!!t.
The client is dominant. The amateur is submissive.
It’s like a scene from 50 Shades of Grey.
He says you will enjoy it, and you pretend like you do, but inside you’re suffering.
Do you want to be treated like a professional?
It’s easy. Just behave like one.
In this case, let the phone ring on a Friday night, or even better:
Set up a profile on your smartphone so you don’t hear the calls from the group “Clients”, or so that these calls don’t leave notifications about missed calls until Monday morning. You can easily turn that profile off if you're working on a project that does require your instant reaction.
Let your clients know that you won’t see that they called outside business hours. Tell them it’s something you put in place so that you could tackle the next working day’s challenges with a fresh mind.
Are you in charge of a nuclear power plant?
I bet Mr. Hawthorne answers every business phone call he gets, even in the wee hours.
Especially in the wee hours.
And I bet he’s well-compensated for that.
You, however, are not Mr. Hawthorne. You do not run a nuclear power plant.
Your clients can wait until Monday morning.
Unless they’re paying you nicely to answer your phone on a Friday night.
When CEOs of nuclear power plants get a business call on a Friday night, a nuclear core meltdown could be imminent. There at least exists a possibility that someone might get hurt. You just never know.
However, when clients call their “web guys” on a Friday night, it’s probably because they got stuck setting up a Facebook campaign.
A problem with a Facebook campaign. Much urgency. Wow.
Broken GIF on a Saturday morning
One Saturday morning, a long time ago, a client called. A GIF was broken on their website.
It was presented to us as a matter of much urgency.
No, that client did not have a fat support contract with us.
We fixed the GIF on a Saturday morning. By doing so, we only reinforced the client’s belief that they’re entitled to instant fixes whenever they required them.
Years after that event with the broken GIF, we pitched them our support and maintenance contract. You’re guessing what happened next:
They strongly opposed the idea to pay for it.
And why should they pay? In their minds, we were the same bunch of web nerds, willing to fix a broken GIF on a Saturday morning, for free.
(And no, we didn’t break that GIF. It broke on its own. It could have been the gremlins - it doesn’t matter. Humans make stuff for other humans. Stuff eventually breaks. Other humans pay for maintaining their stuff.)
More on professional behavior
We wrote a couple of tips about making sure you're treated as a professional before you start a project.
Reaction to this post: other people's experiences
Readers called and emailed me to say this article made them laugh, think, or disagree. Here's the best feedback.
Laurie Varga, designer from Canada, sent her thoughts on the topic. She explained how her experience is different, and different rules may apply.
At first I wanted to disagree with you. In some circumstances and with a particular type of client it is absolutely OK to take their call on off-hours. However, you perfectly addressed my thoughts when you brought in the CEO of Bruce Power.
Based on my own experience it seems that when we are working with small and mid-size companies it is a good idea to be unavailable at times. However, when you start playing in the big leagues everyone at that level takes calls whenever. The reason they are playing at the highest level is because they work ALL THE TIME. The good thing is, these clients have a lot of power, clout and money so if you're working for them it means you're high-level material too.
At that level the game is very different and so are the relationships. If you work hard, are reliable and loyal you will often be rewarded with a long-term client. Heck, at that level people work on a handshake! They know that if you're a big-player too and if you work with other people they already trust then you must also be highly trustworthy.
I also want to add that it can come down to the personality of the designer. Personally, I DETEST 9-5 which is one of the reasons why I work for myself. As long as I'm not working too many hours (i.e., not getting enough rest) then it doesn't matter when I work those hours. So if some of my clients want to chat on a Saturday that's okay, it doesn't mean I'm going to jump on their request, but there's a level of friendship and respect there that goes beyond a typical work/transactional relationship.
And of course, if you're doing important work AND being paid well for it then yeah, it's fine to work off hours. I just completed a project and it was one of those - project comes in on Friday and is due Monday morning - kind of things. So I worked all weekend. The client was thrilled with the work and with my responsiveness, so I'm confident that will be a long-term win for me.
In the end I think your advice is very sound for most people. It sets clear rules and boundaries with clients that help raise the profile and professionalism of the designer or studio.
And Vladimir Leutar wrote a similar post on Linkedin. In his post, he writes:
I went into this yearlong experiment with one specific goal - provide above and beyond call of duty service to your clients. Be there for them, all the time, not just as a consultant, but as a friend and helper as well. It worked well for as long as I was there for them all the time; the instant I had to remind them that it is Sunday and I’d like to spend some time with my kids, thanks very much, the relationship soured.
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