Feb 3, 2016
Building Great Client Relationships
Some musings on what it takes to make clients happy and build lasting relationships.
I’ve been a software consultant for 6 years now. I’ve worked with all sorts of clients: small businesses, non profits, individuals, and even large enterprise organizations. Admittedly, this is just a drop in the bucket over the span of an entire career, but during this time I’ve learned a ton.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about about what it takes to have happy clients. I have great relationships with my clients because of three things: communication, responsiveness, and honesty. I know, it sounds super cheesy, I know. But these to me have been more important than the work itself.
Don’t get me wrong, the actual work you do is very important. Do the best damn job you can. Seriously. However, giving yourself the space to do a good job is accomplished by being honest about what it’s going to take. It’s about communicating issues properly so you and your client can find solutions together.
As an expert in your field, it’s up to you to translate technical/advanced concepts into terms that non-technical folks can understand. They’re hiring you not only to do the job, but to communicate clearly what you’re doing.
Communication is about guidance. Give your clients enough information to make decisions on their own. Don’t just tell them why doing something is bad, help them understand why. I can’t stand when developers say “We can’t do it because it’s the wrong way.” What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to the client. Take the time to talk about tradeoffs, costs, and timelines so clients can decide what’s best for their business.
Similarly, if they’re requesting something to be built or designed – dig deeper. Find out what the core problem is, and see if you can work together to find a better way to solve it.
Doing this is hard. It takes practice. But it’s well worth it. When you’re able to effectively translate your knowledge about a problem or project, you’re bringing the client into the process and helping them make an informed decision.
This one is so damn easy. I don’t understand why people aren’t better at this. So much of the fear of hiring a developer or a freelancer is that they’ll go silent when there are questions that need to be answered.
It makes sense. People want to know you’re available, that you’re not going to just disappear with all their money. They’re putting a lot of trust into you by agreeing to work with you. If you get an email, slack message, text, call, whatever – just respond. That’s it. If you don’t know the answer, say “Let me check it out and get back to you.”
That’s so much better than silence. When you’re absoutely silent, you build resentment. By the end of the project, there is a much lower chance the client will be happy and want to work with you again.
Being straight up with your clients (and prospective clients) is the best way to build trust. It lets them know you’re not just going to agree to anything they request, and that you really have their best interests at heart.
Sometimes when someone comes to me with an idea, I point them to a solution that doesn’t involve me at all. Things like showing them how to create an awesome onboarding process using Typeform, or telling them that Squarespace can be a beautiful solution for what they’re looking for. Or that Shopify can be set up by someone with no coding experience at all. All of these tools have a ton of themes and add-ons that require no additional coding to manage. Often, the right answer is “You probably shouldn’t pay me a bunch of money to build something that you could get online for cheap, if not free.”
Other times, people will come to me with extremely unrealistic expectations. They might want to build a massive application within a month. Well, the reality of it is that while we could get something out in a month, it won’t be good. And they’ll definitely end up paying for it down the line.
In both of these cases, I’d rather turn down the project or send back a realistic estimate, even if it’s not exactly what the client originally wanted.
Most of this stuff is pretty common sense. Building a good relationship is easy. Be a good communicator, be responsive and be honest. Over time, you’ll build up trust. If your clients trust you, they’ll be more open to your input on projects. They’ll be more open to referring work to you. They’ll do everything they can to help you be successful, since you’ve already done the same for them.
As an expert, our skills are temporary. Half of our knowledge becomes obselete every few years. However, as a consultant, as a collaborator – the necessary skills don’t change. That’s why it’s really important to constantly practice them and get it right.
Comments? Questions? Drop me a line at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you.