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Top Three Tips for Instructional Designers on Client Interaction

Every client that you work for is different. Each of your clients have different personalities, working styles and expectations. They also work for companies that have their own culture and expectations. So, how do you work with each of them in an effective way?

As instructional designers we design experiences that align with our client’s world. To design an experience that aligns with their world, we need to understand it at some level. We also need to facilitate a process that encourages best practice and creates an effective solution.

Our team shares insights with each other on our client interactions. Every interaction teaches us something new. Our insights have added great value to how we work with clients and this has led us to write this blog. We want to share with you what we have learnt so that you can learn from us. Effective client interactions are crucial to your success. They will make your life easier, the life of your client easier and most importantly enable you to deliver a solution that is fit for purpose.

These are our top three tips for client interaction in the instructional design world. 

1. Take Notes 

Imagine that a client calls. You pick up the phone and the conversation starts. They start to talk about a project. They provide extra context, identify problems and tell you to make some adjustments. You ask them to provide you with documentation to support you in making the updates. You get off the phone and reflect on the phone call. What do you need to do? What does the client need to do? Does anything that the client said impact the project? Can you remember the whole conversation? It’s in situations like this that you wish you took notes on every single detail (trust us, we’ve been there).

Every time you interact with a client (through a phone call or meeting) grab a notepad or open a word document. Record notes as you speak with them. If you find it hard to maintain the conversation whilst making notes, that’s okay. Be honest with the client and tell them that you are taking notes. They will appreciate that you are listening to them and placing importance on what they have to say.

You can also categorise your notes with symbols. Here are some that we use:

2. Send an Action List

You want your clients to enjoy working with you and a big part of this is making their life easier. At the end of each interaction you want them to be clear on what they need to do (without having to think about it too much). Your notes will help you know what the client needs to do. Whether it’s a resource that they need to provide or an action that they need to take. At Belvista Studios, we end each interaction by sending the client an email with what they need to do next. This means that the client doesn’t have to put effort into recalling what their next steps are. They can simply refer to the email when they are ready to take action. We tell them this will be happening during the call/meeting to allow them to focus.

3. Intent > Clarify > Action

Imagine that you are in a meeting with a client. You are discussing an induction project that you are working on with them. They discuss the following topics with you: 

  • Presenters arrive late for their induction presentations. There is a lack of accountability in the organisation. 
  • They want to video the CEO talking about the company's history. 
  • They have a range of policy documents that they want to include in the induction. 
Each of the above points are important according to the client, as they have brought them up with you. You need to determine the intent of each topic and whether action needs to be taken. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for a client to discuss a topic that doesn’t add value to the learning solution. It is your job to figure this out.

Our team uses a three step process to support us in achieving this. Here it is:

1. Intent

You need to understand the intent behind what the client is telling you. Discovering the intent will:

  • Support your understanding of what the client is telling you. 
  • Encourage the client to think about why the topic is important in the context of the project. 
These are some phrases that we use with our clients. It helps us discover the intent of a topic a client raises and whether it meets the project objective. 

  • “Can you help me understand how this helps us meet our project objective?”
  • “Can you help me understand how this impacts our project?”
  • “What specifically do you mean by X?” 
  • “Can you help me understand your intent behind this?”
  • “How will this help the learner do something differently?”
Always refer to the original project objective. The topic the client raises may be important in their world but it’s your job to help them see if it adds value to the project.

Here’s an example of clarifying the intent of a discussion topic with a client. You are in a meeting with a client discussing their induction project. The project objective is:

“Create an online induction that provides inductees with the tools and resources they need to transition with company x”.

Client: “We want to video the CEO speaking about our company history.”
You: “Can you help me understand your intent behind this?”
Client: “I think it’s important that inductees know how we started as a company.”
You: “Okay. So, referring back to the project objective, how does hearing about the company history provide inductees with the tools and resources they need to transition with your company?”

The conversation from here would differ depending on the client. Maintain a focus on adding value to the original project objective.

2. Clarify

Once you understand the intent, it’s time to clarify that you understand their point of view and the conversation that you have just had. This will ensure that you and the client have a shared understanding of the conversation outcome.

Say something like:

“I would like to clarify what we have just discussed to make sure I fully understand. You said X. Is that correct? (Allow client to respond. Repeat step 1 if required) From here… (see Action below)”.

3. Action

The next step is to determine actions. Potentially no action needs to be taken from the discussion. Express that to the client to close the loop on the topic.

If action does need to be taken, we do one of two things:

  • If you can think of an action during the conversation, tell the client what it is and note it down, telling them you will follow up with an email confirming it. 
  • If you can’t think of an action during the conversation, tell the client that you need time to process. Express that you will come back to them with next steps post the phone call via an email. 
That’s it for this blog! We hope that you gained value from the tips. We recommend practising these three tips and making them a habit. Since our team has had these insights, our client relationships have improved and our solutions consistently align with the original objective. 

Would you like to learn more about interacting with clients? We have got your back! Check out our mentoring sessions with our founder Kim Tuohy. She has worked with a large number of clients as an instructional designer and has learnt a lot along the way. You can also check her out on LinkedIn.

                                                          Invest in Yourself

If you like topics like these and want to develop yourself more, check out our creator hub here. Our creator hub offers a range of templates and services that aim to support you in developing, improving and growing to meet your future needs in the instructional design and eLearning industry.

Grab the freebies such as the exact storyboard template we use, as well as case studies on how to create an induction and branching scenarios. There are paid templates to support you with writing a contract, quoting, managing a project and writing proposals. 💙💜

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