Educating the Client: 5 Key Guidelines to Set Yourself Up for Success
If you are familiar with professional service companies specializing in Web Development or Digital Applications, then you are undoubtedly aware of the pressures and day-to-day struggles that come with meeting the demands of clients. Contrary to social folklore, the customer is not ALWAYS right, however they should always be HEARD. Instead of arguing and potentially losing a client, here are some helpful actions meant to prevent you or your company from constantly battling over the same ground.
The basis for these guidelines is Education. Educating your clients isn’t difficult, however it is an essential part of any successful project and following these guidelines can certainly improve the working relationship you have with clients. It is very important to note: this Education needs to take place before the project begins and even before pen touches paper. Trying to implement these recommendations after work has begun is asking for serious trouble.
1. SET EXPECTATIONS AND BOUNDARIES
Setting a solid foundation for a new project means forging reasonable/attainable expectations with your client. Promising too much or too little is easy to do. It is imperative that you make your presence and views on important topics known from the start. The client needs to know and more importantly understand that hiccups can and will occur causing inevitable delay or push back of other requests. Of course, you and your team do your best to minimize these mishaps, but we are all human and software is challenging! Setting these expectations with the client ties heavily into the next key point.
2. THE MORE COMMUNICATION THE BETTER
Before you get red-faced, I’m not implying you talk with the client daily and in turn get loads of requests and feedback while not getting any actual work done. Communication in this sense refers to meetings or demos you set up and speaking to the client ensuring they know that feedback needs to be thorough with explicit details on what they require. The C-word also refers to you as the designer/developer reaching out for questions and concerns along the way. There is no need to wait until interim meetings when something pressing is hindering you from delivering the highest quality product.
3. YOU’RE AN EXPERT, SO BACK IT UP WITH FACTS
Sometimes this is the most difficult guideline to handle with finesse. You are trained, certified, college educated, and/or have designed and developed for years; one or more of these things qualify you to do your job and do it well. Clients have opinions and some are much more vocal about them than others. Establishing your credibility is fundamental in getting the client to understand you are not injecting your personal styles for the sake of it. A few ways to soften the edges and effectively guide them is to show some solid research or data that backs up your decisions, or give examples of other sites or books that use your design and function well. Also, when demoing to a client, don’t just click through the process, take time to explain in detail WHY you did these things.
4. FEEDBACK IS SUGGESTIVE AND NOT PRESCRIPTIVE
Nothing is worse than hearing “I just don’t like that”, or “Could you try something different?”. Educating the client and nicely pressing them to continually provide meaningful input until the project is complete is highly beneficial for both parties. It is vital to take the time at the beginning of a project to really listen (and ask questions) about what the client is looking for in a website which in turn could help circumvent the need to teach this lesson at all.
5. STICK TO THE CONTRACT
The main reason a document outlining the work to be completed and the terms in which they are handled is drafted and signed is to protect both parties. Sounds simple enough, but often work is shoved in to a workload that was never discussed during contractual meetings. Without question there are exceptions and new items that arise during a lengthy project but be sure to stand firm on variations from the agreed upon terms. Reading the contract out loud to the client and conversing about all questions/concerns is a necessary practice in establishing a firm base for success. Some key things to highlight in your detailed contract should be:
- Intended work hours
- Milestones/Phases for the Project
- Payment rules
- Requirements for Feedback
- Overall budget with overtime costs
It can be a wonderfully pleasant task to create a beautiful website for a new or established company. Everyone can be on the same page and the budget can be effortlessly adhered to and the client can receive everything they wanted. For the imperfect scenario (basically 99.999% of them), you can follow these 5 guidelines to hopefully prevent World War III. Educating the customer has been and always will be the smartest way to provide effective and fruitful client services throughout any project.