Project Management

Web master challenges: Customer service

Ryan Boudreaux focuses on the customer service angle of working with clients on web design and development projects. Do you feel more comfortable with technology than customer relations?

Do you have the right stuff? Do you possess the tools, techniques, attitude, and rapport to create meaningful relationships with your clients and customers? You can be the best web developer, the paramount programmer, the preeminent graphic designer, or the top database administrator, but do you have the customer's mind-set when developing and designing websites for their organizations? Web development and design involves writing a whole lot of code, scripts, queries, and proposals, and a host of other activities, such as writing for the web, yet doing what is right for your customer takes on a whole other challenge.

IT in general is always facing challenges, and the web development spoke of the technology wheel is no exception. The challenges facing web development managers and web design teams are the same that all of  IT faces today, including human resources, productivity, budgets, marketing, public relations, complexity, obsolescence, migrating to the mobile and social network generation, data storage and retrieval, cloud computing, multinational operations, and customer service. The customer service challenge is a topic that I want to focus on in a two-part discussion.

Most of us know, have heard of, or have read the book, The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe, which examines the inner world, the exploits, and accomplishments of the first astronauts during the early days of space flight. At that time in the early 1960s, these early space pioneers did not know that they had the "Right Stuff", and I suspect that many of you are not aware that you have the same potential stored in your collective consciousness.

In your experience, has your customer ever asserted something close to this account; "We want a new web site, we want it with all the bells and whistles, oh, and we want everyone in the human resources group to update benefits and payroll content on the fly! Can you get something up for us by next week?" I have heard statements similar to this at countless meetings, and the typical first reply might go something like this, "Oh okay!"

The customer has just given you a deadline in addition to broad strokes and generic expectations; they aren't even sure what they want, but they want it up and live on the web before you can finish your second mug of triple café mocha latte.

Great customer service starts with getting to know your client. Knowing their needs, their wants, what they do, what they produce, and how they do what they do are what separate them from their competitors, and knowing this is just as important as knowing their expectations for designing their award-winning web site.

Building a solid relationship with your customer requires an understanding of their overall business goals and objectives, and conveying the corporate culture through the company website can be daunting. However, with the right tools, techniques, and rapport everything is possible.

Tools and techniques

I will lightly touch on this sub-topic, but the real heart of this piece is about customer relationships and tactics. However, just like a carpenter that has a good tool chest fully stocked with the right hammers, chisels, planes, tape measures, drills, and various other objects, the web developer too must have a good quality stock of tools. These include applications, software, a reliable network, and consistently available hosting platforms. I hate it when the text message on my mobile device is from the hosting provider telling me that my site went down.

Approach and rapport

When I say approach, I am not talking about a five-step system to punch out every web development project that crosses your desk -- what I really mean is attitude! Do you have the affinity to make and keep the customer happy? Remember the most important of the golden rules of customer service, "The customer is always right!" While we all know that in reality really no one is perfectly right, but what we have to learn from this rule is that we must treat the customer as if they are our most valued and precious resource. So while the customer may not actually be "right" all of the time, we have to treat them as if they are right all the time.

So how do you make and keep the customer happy? When working with customers, are you more challenged with customer service issues or with technical problems?

In part two of this discussion, I will present my own tips for a web development customer service approach.

About

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 g...

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