"Yes, and" or How to Say No and Make it Sound Like a Yes
An irate client called me from the floor of a convention. He hated the convention panel we had produced and said, “it looks like an impossible-to-read eye chart full of small type.” I promised to investigate and get back to him. I told him we would try to redo the panel, and also identify what went wrong so we would not do it again.
I quickly met with my team who were confident in their work. They brought copies of client emails and texts which showed the requests and feedback that led to the development of the panel that the client was displeased with, particularly regarding the small type. Case closed, the team thought.
Looking at all the comments revealed to me:
1) Legal had added several words of conditional language throughout the copy. The product would “help,” which grew into “may help.” Other additions were “virtually,” “making it possible,” “could,” “should,” and so on.
2) The brand team had requested that more product features and benefits be added. They wanted to make sure the panel addressed all of their target audiences’ needs.
3) In the name of serving the client, the agency team did exactly as the client asked.
I questioned our team on their thinking. They told me they had seen two options—saying no or yes. They felt “no” would irritate the client and was not in keeping with our commitment to client service. So they picked “yes.”
I explained that while an outright “no” was not appropriate, “yes” was not either. The result of saying “yes” was a call from a very unhappy client.
I suggested a different approach: “Yes, and…” This approach is often used in improv or brainstorming to drive creative thinking. It can also spur creativity to solve this kind of situation.
1) “Yes, we can change the booth panel to accommodate the feedback. This is how it will look.”
This approach signals to clients that you hear them, and their input is important. Rejecting the clients’ feedback outright is likely to make them defensive and closed to other ideas or suggestions. By sharing a mock-up of the work, the agency can help them understand the impact of their decision—too much copy, resulting in too-small type, and a panel that is difficult, if not off-putting to read.
2) “And, we have explored other options that meet your objectives and may work better in a convention environment.” The agency can show how these options look and why the agency thinks they might work better to meet the clients’ goals.
This approach signals to the client that the agency is thinking ahead, is not merely an order-taker, and has the client’s and the brand’s best interests at heart.
It also places the client firmly in the decision-making role. When given this choice, most clients will say “Yes” to the second option—no one wants materials that are hard to read or don’t convey a clear message—"And” it will result in a stronger relationship where the agency is recognized for its advice and proactivity.
Stacey Singer is a Client Retention and Growth Specialist. Stacey is available to speak on Behaviors that Fray Client Relationships and How to Avoid Them. You can reach Stacey at (908) 313-6539 or email@example.com.