I could have used the words teach, instruct, tutor, educate, or drill as the verb in the title for this piece, but I thought the word coach would be a more accurate way to describe what needs to happen with web development teams and the relationships they have with their clients or customers.
If your customer wanted you to educate them, then I am sure they would have paid you for that service, and not for the objective of building and maintaining their website. But, we all know that in our working relationships with website clients we sometimes have to remind them and show them the techniques that make for an effective use of their online presence for the promotion of their products, services, and overall business strategy.
This comic strip always gives me a good chuckle when I read it; everyone is quite excited in the beginning, and then it goes full circle until the new website is just an updated but just as bad facelift of the original.
How many times have you been given the project of completely redesigning an existing website for a customer, and encountered unrealistic expectations? They have these wonderful ideas about what they want and how they want the new website to look. They want all the bells and whistles of a fabulous site, just like their competitor, and they want theirs to look just as good or better! But, the project has a shoestring budget and they want it updated yesterday! I know this is an exaggeration, but it just helps to illustrate the point that expectations and reality can create a great divide between the web developer and the customer. How do you as a web development team bridge the gap?
Coaching tips for clients
Here are a couple of tips to help you coach your clients along and also to narrow the gap of understanding, expectations, and ultimately keeping your customers and yourself happy!
- Be on the same page - Make sure you and your client are on the same page from the get go, and throughout the entire process of the project. This means that both the customer expectations and the web design team expectations are clear, concise, and agreed upon before any contracts or agreements are signed or any handshake deals are made.
- Remind them why they hired you - Sometimes clients like to tell you how to do your job, or think that they know their way around building a website better than you do. Clients get excited and want to provide their input on how their new web design will look and feel, but just because they know their way around some desktop publishing software packages does not make them web designers. They may have a great-looking presentation or brochure that impressed upper management, but they have to understand that it doesn't necessarily translate to the web. You have to remind the client about the things that make for a great website, such as usability, accessibility, and design principles for starters. Most folks don't consider all the hidden characteristics that differentiate website design from other publishing resources.
- Communication, communication, communication - Keeping in contact with the client through every step of the project is paramount to keeping your web development team on the right track. It can be regular emails with status updates, or a weekly meeting or conference call with the stakeholders and points of contact on the web dev team, but you need to have a process in place that keeps everyone updated throughout the entire project lifecycle.
- Scope creep - Make sure you have all the requirements defined in the beginning and then record any requests for changes as part of a Change Management (CM) strategy that get added on as additional services, which of course, result in additional fees. You don't want to be saddled with cost overruns because your client keeps changing their requirements mid-stream.
- Overestimate deadlines then deliver early - I know it is easier said than done, but when possible, you always want to build in a cushion to the development budget and timeframe of your estimate, possibly 10% or more of a buffer, but that percentage can go up or down depending on the scale of the project. The good thing is if you find that there is a bit of an overrun from the original estimate you still have a little breathing room, and then when you do come in early and under budget, your customer will be happy too.
These are just a few tips to handle your clients with a customer service approach, while coaching them along the way will help them to understand the inner workings of web design, and will also give your web development team a better understanding of their clients.
Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal government.