One of the biggest challenges in the web-development business can be managing web-development clients. In fact, in general, web-development experts run into the same kinds of problems that many technical experts experience during their careers: servicing people who obviously have far less knowledge of your area of expertise than you do.
This challenge of managing clients is made even greater when web-development professionals decide to go it on their own as independent contractors. As such, there is no sales team or customer-service department to smooth things with the client. Instead, it’s often only you, and you not only have to provide the service, but manage expectations, too.
As a result, it’s incumbent upon you, the independent web-development pro, to develop some of these relationship-building skills. It doesn’t mean you have to become Don Draper, the famous ad executive from the Mad Men TV show. But it does mean that you might have to start using some interpersonal “muscles” that you’re not used to flexing. Just like all muscle use, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
But don’t worry. These challenges of managing customer expectations are very common in the business world. From gourmet chefs to golfing coaches, there is no shortage of experts having to deal with less-knowledgeable but valued clients.
Here are some specific tips on how to successfully manage the expectations of web-development clients:
While many business professionals focus on the terms of the project or contract, what’s at least as important is making sure that everyone actually understands what those terms are and what they mean moving forward. In other words, contracts are not dispute-resolution mechanisms of the first resort. They’re enforced when everything else breaks down. So, talk to your web-development clients and get on the same page from the very start.
Many business experts will tell you to keep communicating with the client. This will help to ensure that being on the same page will continue from project start to finish. However, there is always the possibility of communicating too much with the client. They can be busy. Some don’t want to be bothered with too many details.
Every web-development client has a personality of their own. So, instead of vowing to constantly communicate, simply keep an eye on the situation, sweat the big stuff more than the small stuff, and intervene with the client when not doing so could lead to even bigger problems ahead.
There are two basic ways in which to study the expectations of web-development clients: from a macro perspective and a micro perspective.
From a macro perspective, or the big picture, developing a broad learning curve about all types of clients is key. In other words, learn from experience; learn about the red flags that pop up with many clients, and what works and doesn’t work to resolve issues. For example, sometimes client relationships can break down over minor issues, such as expense reports. To avoid problems, work out arrangements beforehand and, if problems still arise, the client is always right — if you still want their business.
From a micro perspective, get to know your specific web-development clients. Just like all people, your clients will all have a personality of their own. Some will want frequent updates and feedback, others will rely heavily on your expertise and management skills. Get a sense of what works with whom, and stick with it. It’s a formula for maintaining good long-term relationships with satisfied clients.
There are two ways to approach web-development clients when it comes to assuming how much web-development knowledge they already have. You can either assume they already have much knowledge, or you can assume that they don’t.
As much as it might be tempting to give your web-development clients a lot of respect and credit by assuming they’re already very knowledgeable, the reality is that you’ll probably get much farther by assuming they don’t.
Think about it: If you assume they already have a lot of knowledge, but they don’t — and, more importantly, they’re unwilling to admit such a lack of knowledge — that’s when big misunderstandings occur. On the other hand, if you assume they don’t know, but they do, they’ll tell you, from which point you can talk more confidently together about your common knowledge on web development issues.
This principle applies as much to a fast-food customer who thinks they’re cheeseburger is too cold as it does to a web-development client who insists on certain project decisions — despite your own best advice. Remember, if you’re in the business of providing web-development services to clients, that’s what you need to do. As tempting as it might be to get into a philosophical argument about who’s right, simply listen, explain, and execute according to your customer’s wishes. Unless it’s an unworkable solution, the web-development client is usually right!
Alternatively, sometimes, instead of simply arguing why the client is wrong, providing easily understood explanations of your reasoning, much like an educator, might help turn them around. So, instead of saying, “no, this is not possible,” how about trying: “I don’t think it’s possible, and here’s why.” If the client agrees, terrific. If not, just remember “the customer is always right” and move forward.
I think we should differentiate between saying “no, something’s not possible” and “no, something’s not possible and let me explain why”… often the role is also being an educator.
As easy as that may sound, this kind of empathy can be extremely difficult to execute, especially for web-development experts who are very good at what they do, but are dealing with clients with perhaps a lot to learn on the topic. Remember, they’re not you. It’s why they need you.
Think of it this way. Despite the fact that you may be one of the best web developers on the planet, you may not know one thing about buying an expensive sports car. But you want to buy one anyway. So, how would you react to the sports-car salesman who looks down on you because you don’t know what a semi-automatic transmission is? Similarly, don’t look askew at someone who doesn’t know the difference between scrum and kanban. It’s not their job to know. It’s yours. If it needs to be explained, always do it with patience and some understanding.
There is an old saying that any battle plan is outdated the second the battle starts. What this means for web-development pros is that, as much as you can plan and create contingencies for a project, you just don’t know what’s going to happen, and neither do you web-development clients.
Sometimes clients can be more difficult than you imagined. Maybe you’ll make unforeseen mistakes, which happens to everyone. Perhaps there’s a hurricane. Stuff happens, and just go with it, instead of worrying about how hard things get. The more you can go with the flow, the better you’ll be at adapting to uncertainty, as well as serving the needs of your valued web-development clients.