Client Indecision and How Event Planners Can Work Through It

March 19, 2020  |  by:

Client Indecision and How Event Planners Can Work Through It

Client indecision cuts into event planning margins. But what is driving the indecision? And what the hecking heck can you do about it?

I asked thirty event planners what the hardest part of planning events was. After tallying up over 200 issues that plague their – and your- work life, 21%, a fifth, were attributable to indecisive clients.

A fifth of the event planning process is being railroaded, upended, and delayed by the inability of your clients to make up their gosh-darned minds. That’s a whole lot of slowing things down. And when you charge a flat rate for your services, time is indeed money.

The Psychology of Client Indecision

Dr. Roy Baumeister over at Princeton has researched decision making. He coined the term decision fatigue and attributed many abysmal decisions to the burden of day-to-day decision making. 

Each choice carries certain consequences – good and bad.

According to Dr. Joel Hoomans, “Each choice carries certain consequences – good and bad.” Consider, we make 226 decisions about food daily, and around 35,000 choices each day. It doesn’t take a genius to appreciate how this impacts your clients. And it’s not merely about who the photographer is, but the style, location, poses, costs, broader budget, and more. Add in the florist, cake, DJ, invitation design, and, well, you get it.

A fork in the road representing client indecision
Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

Too many options leads to indecision.

And that’s not even close to the only problem. Dr. Kimberly Key, writing in Psychology Today, explains, “Too many options leads to indecision.” And wow, does that ever apply to the event space. There is no shortage of possibilities.

Dr. Key highlights other causes of indecisiveness. Your clients might be terrified of making a mistake. And when many clients consider the event to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, that piles on the pressure.

Then there are those with a rebellious streak. Dr. Key describes those who have had their wishes thwarted through childhood who “may rebel… and do all kinds of things that go against what others want in an attempt to be free, yet the scar of not trusting their instincts may be so severe that they can never connect to what they want.” This resonates with what I’ve heard from wedding planners and brides when a mother or father gets involved.

And there’s more. Some people are Maximizers, who need to weigh up all possible options before they make a decision. They’re actually excellent decision-makers, but they can take a while before coming to a conclusion as to which caterer wins the gig.

What The ^&$# Can You Do About Client Indecision?

We’ll begin with a handful of simple solutions to try. Please remember, there are many reasons for client indecision, so each client will be different. No one solution works every time.

According to Dr. Baumeister, decisions compound throughout the day, so try to get your clients to make decisions in the morning. By the time dinner rolls around, most people are simply pooped and would prefer to push off decisions until tomorrow. And tomorrow never comes.

Try and set a forcing function. A deadline, arbitrary or real, can help focus the mind. You do this with yourself whenever you add due dates and calendar reminders.

…an overload of options may actually paralyze people or push them into decisions that are against their own best interest.

Limiting recommendations is an obvious solution to client indecision when it comes to getting a speedy go-ahead. Us humans are entirely overwhelmed by too many options. The New York Times reports, “an overload of options may actually paralyze people or push them into decisions that are against their own best interest.”

Many event planners offer their clients only three options. But if your client is struggling to make up their mind, perhaps a single firm recommendation will get them to commit.

You can use your client’s own words to help them come to a decision. Corina Wan at QC Event School suggests if you’re “…bringing up ideas during the meeting, try to relate it to what they’ve previously said. The ThymeBase team does it ourselves. We have a style board that we reference to affirm choices. We use our past discussions to help us through any current blockers.

Practice Empathy

You don’t need me to tell you to be kind to your clients. I mean, you’re an event planner – you’re great at styling, organizing, psychoanalyzing, and reassuring. But take it from someone in customer support for nearly two decades, empathy ain’t for your clients, it’s for your sanity.

When a client is difficult, patience comes naturally when you consider what’s happening behind their red-rimmed eyes. Your clients are nervous, with a lot riding on the event. They might be having budget problems or are scared-sh*tless of their in-laws.

When you know what your clients’ worries are, you can better solve their problems and help them make decisions.

Susan Sotherland, author of The Susan Southerland Secret: Personality Marketing to Today’s Bride, says, “When you know what your clients’ worries are, you can better solve their problems and help them make decisions.”

A very cool side-effect of empathy is the ability to not take things personally. And that keeps your blood pressure down when a client is hemming and hawing and insisting on the umpteenth change.

Build Up Client Confidence

In negotiation, demands that are backed up by objective sources are likelier to be accepted. 

The same thing goes for getting a decision made. When you recommend a vendor, be ready to explain why they’re the right one. You might base it on fashion trends, client budget, past work, or whatever else.

By having a coherent basis for the recommendation, you’ll give your client the confidence to say yes. And you’ll minimize second-guessing too. If you really need a confidence booster, you can muster-up someone your client trusts to make the recommendation.

Constraints Are Awesome

I used to play guitar in a wedding band. Mostly Jazz trios at receptions, but I played the occasional full gig, top forty hits, and golden oldies. Being a musician, I know how creativity soars through constraints. You know this too. You’re bound by your client’s budget, so you get imaginative.

That budget also constrains your client. You can leverage their budget or seasonal restrictions to help narrow the likelihood of their being trapped by decision paralysis. Limitations are not something to be overcome, at least, not when you’re trying to hurry things along. In fact, they’re something to align around.

Ugh! Backseat Planners & Client Indecision

When your client utters the words, “my friend said…” you instantly know you’re about to be second-guessed. I can’t tell you how to handle these secondary clients because I have no freaking clue, but if you ever figure it out, tell me. We’ll write a blog post about it so other planners can learn.

Then we’ll chip in for the statue of you!

Some planners contractually assign a final decision maker, but the backseat planner doesn’t care, right? They’re still whispering in your client’s ear, complicating things, and telling them that they heard from a cousin’s friend that the other venue was cheaper.

The Big Picture For You And Your Client

For your client, the goal is a great event. Many choice-hangups won’t change the guest experience and aren’t worth getting jammed up over. It’s worth reminding them of this from time to time.

And anyway, I don’t believe it’s all about maximizing decision making efficiency. The trick, the magic, is in lessening the impact of client indecision. It’s in having a tool like ThymeBase’s event planning software that helps you stay flexible, alerts everyone when a change has been made without sucking up vast swathes of your time. It’s about getting to done. But most of all, like your clients, it’s about putting on a fantastic party. 

Even if you didn’t get to dance.

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