Nurturing clients is an art form in itself, and one you need to master if you want your web design business to flourish.
The service you offer is your extra-special secret sauce; it’s the thing that makes you stand apart from your main competitors. So it’s essential to start building a strong, trustworthy relationship with your clients from the outset.
Here are our top tips for building happy client relationships.
Know Your Clients’ Business
Having a good general knowledge of your clients’ businesses goes a long way towards building healthy relationships. The more you understand about a client’s business and the industry they’re part of, the better you’ll be able to deliver a solution that meets their needs and requirements.
This is especially true in an industry like web design, when the success of the final product depends on it meeting the needs of the end user rather than the client themselves.
Identify Your Clients’ Needs
Many clients won’t be used to dealing with web design agencies, so they probably don’t know the right information to give you. If a client turns up with a definite idea of the design they want, don’t accept it on face value – do your own research.
Find out what their aims for the project are and who their target audience is. Ask whether they already have a website, and find out what is and isn’t working on that site. The more you know about your clients’ problems, the better equipped you are to find the right solution for them.
Listen carefully to what your clients tell you – sometimes you need to channel your inner detective at this stage, and read between the lines. You’re the professional here, so it’s your responsibility to lead the process and get to the heart of the matter.
Clarify Your Work Processes
The work and processes involved in designing a website may be clear to you, but chances are they don’t mean much to your client. Once you’re clear on what needs to be done, explain the process to your client in clear, simple terms so they understand and appreciate the work that’s required.
Take the time to check that they understand the work involved, and be prepared to answer any questions or queries they have.
Closely linked to the above, but worth a mention in its own right is avoiding technical jargon. Sure, cookies, wireframes, favicons, accessibility, AdWords, DNS, spiders, spyware etc. all make sense to you, but they could be technical mumbo-jumbo to your client.
Don’t alienate clients by blinding them with jargon. Explain things in a simple, understandable way, without being patronising, and check their reaction to see it makes sense to them.
Always Be Honest
One of the quickest ways to break your clients’ trust is to make promises you can’t keep. So ensure that you manage expectations from the outset. Be upfront about the services you provide, and the likely timescale you need to complete the job to your best ability. Set a deadline that you both agree to. And remember, it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around.
If you’re unable to complete the work to the timescale they require, explain this from the outset so they can find somebody who can – even better, recommend somebody else to do the work.
The same is true if you recommend a certain design technique or piece of software for use on their site. Don’t just focus on the benefits and leave your client with unrealistic expectations. Be honest and detail any pros and cons, leaving them free to make an informed decision.
Be an Excellent Communicator
Communication is your golden ticket to a happy client relationship. Maintaining constant communication with your clients is one of the most important things you can do – nobody likes being left in the dark. Keep them informed at every step of the way, so they don’t think their project has fallen off your list of priorities, and if you anticipate a delay let them know immediately.
There’s much to be said for sometimes picking up the phone, arranging a Skype chat, or even popping to their office for a meeting. Regular calls and meetings give you an opportunity to communicate properly, rather than hiding behind your computer and only updating them via email or social media. Speaking over phone, Skype or in a meeting will ensure that no ideas get lost in translation. And a break from the office occasionally can be great for your creative juices too!
Treat Each Client Individually
Building happy client relationships is about setting yourself apart from your main competitors and ensuring that your clients feel appreciated and satisfied with your service.
As your client base grows, make sure that your standards don’t slip. Treat each client as though they are special and equally important, not just one of many.
Designer–client relationships are often a long-term thing, so take the time to learn a little about them. When is their birthday? Do you share any common interests or hobbies? Do they have any special events coming up, such as a wedding or anniversary? Sharing interests and hobbies will give you some common ground to chat about, while sending a small personal gift at an appropriate time can be a nice touch.
Note that some people like to keep things strictly professional though, so if you feel that your client is uncomfortable about sharing personal information, be respectful and follow their lead.
Ensure There Are No Nasty Surprises in Your Invoice
When it comes to invoice time, ensure there are no nasty surprises. Always be upfront about your costs, and if something unexpected occurs, seek their advice at the time and be clear about any extra costs this may entail.
This is especially important when working on things that aren’t immediately obvious from the client’s side – you know how long it takes to clean the code on a website, research an article, or test a site across multiple browsers, but your client possibly doesn’t. So document the time you spend on things and be clear why this work is necessary.
Provide an After-Care Service
Once you’ve presented the finished product to the customer, don’t simply turn tail and walk away. Ensure they understand how everything works, and check that they’re happy with the finished product – don’t wait for them to contact you if something is wrong.
Actively seek feedback on the product, and ask whether they’re happy with the service you’ve provided. If they do have any criticisms, don’t take offence. Nobody likes criticism, but it’s important to respond positively and then learn from the experience. They will appreciate this, as will your other clients.
So these are our top tips for keeping clients happy. What do you do to ensure you have happy clients? Tell us below…