If you’ve got kids, then you know what I mean by ‘favourite book’. Kids will sometimes pick one book as their ‘favourite book’, and they then want you to read it to them at night. Every night. For two weeks running (if you’re lucky).

My younger daughter’s current favourite is ‘Where’s My Mom’.

If you haven’t had the chance to read it, then it’s about a monkey who’s mother goes missing, and a butterfly who tries to help him find her, but keeps finding different mothers. After I read the same book for two weeks running, and could probably quote large portions of it from memory, I realised that it was EXACTLY like working with remote clients.

Confused? I’ll explain.

The monkey is basically a client. He knows that he wants something, but he isn’t clear about the details. In this case it’s his mother, but it could just have well been a ‘website’, or a ‘CMS tool’. He doesn’t bother elaborating on the details, because EVERYONE knows what he means when he says ‘Mom’, right?

The butterfly is the business. You, in fact. You know EXACTLY what the client (that’s the monkey, if you weren’t keeping track) wants. He wants a ‘website’! EVERYONE knows what a website is, that’s easy!

So you show him a website. The client is shocked – how could you possibly think that’s what he meant? Does that look like a website to you? The menus are too long, the navigation bar is too wide, the colours to garish – that wasn’t what he meant at all.

Then you show him another website. And another. And another. And before long, you’ve gone through so many different websites that you get so confused, you even show him the first website that he rejected, AGAIN. The monkey in the story begins to sound more and more desperate and confused – after all, he has come to the professional who is supposed to help, he has given him all the necessary details, but he doesn’t seem to be coming any closer to finding the website that he’s looking for!

The solution, in the story at least, is stumbled on purely by mistake. The monkey blurts out after another dismal failure that
– ‘Butterfly, butterfly, can’t you see? None of these creatures looks like me!’.
To which the butterfly replies
– ‘You never told me she looked like you’
And the monkey has the classic client response
– ‘of course I didn’t – I thought you knew!’

It then takes two seconds to find another monkey – or in our case, a website – that the client thinks is suitable. But after so many failures, the monkey isn’t happy even now, as the monkey they find ISN’T his mother – it’s his father (don’t worry, they find the mother on the next page). I imagine that if the butterfly would have found the father on page 2, the monkey would have been far more appreciative of his efforts.

So what can we take away from this?

  1. Never assume you know what the client wants, even if it seems simple.
  2. Never assume the client has told you all the information required to complete the project.
  3. Failing many times ensures that even eventual success isn’t appreciated.
  4. Butterflies aren’t very good at finding mothers.

So next time a client wants his mum – ‘a website’, or ‘a logo’, or an ‘email client’ – ask him exactly what he means. Can he point out other sites that he liked? What’s his favourite colour? And you can bring him a monkey on your very first try.