If you want to become a freelance web developer so you can start building your empire, there's one thing you need to master beyond coding: dealing with clients.
Your skill at handling client relationships can make or break your success as a freelancer. In this special guest post, Pete Trbovich writes about common mistakes that freelance developers can make with clients. After all, when you know them, you'll be a whole lot better at avoiding them and running your business like a well-oiled machine.
Take it away, Pete!
Does your business attract more negative reviews than you think you deserve? While every web developer hopes to be at the top of their game at all times, no organization can completely escape the occasional negative review. Negative reviews, however, become disconcerting when you believe your product is one of the best in the market. Often such reviews are a result of poor client relationship management.
If done right, client relationship management can strengthen engagement, build loyalty and create a powerful emotional bond with your customers. It differentiates your product in a marketplace where thousands of developers purport to offer the exact same service as you do.
While it is important to know how to best deal with clients, avoiding common pitfalls is just as vital in ensuring your relationship with them is always at its best. The following are 10 mistakes web developers should steer clear of when relating to their clients.
1. Lack of Enthusiasm
Customer service is all about interpersonal relationships. Whether it’s a B2C or B2B engagement, it all boils down to two or more people talking to each other. People have an innate need to be acknowledged, respected, and listened to. Clients are therefore attracted to businesses that make them feel valuable and special.
Lack of enthusiasm is a deal breaker. If you are responsive to your clients and show them that they are the very lifeblood of your business, they are less likely to move their business to the competition. When your client needs something done, make every effort to quickly meet their expectations. “Good” is never enough, so always go the extra mile whenever you can.
2. Slow Response
Few things demonstrate enthusiasm better than providing a speedy response to client inquiries. If you do not reply to calls and emails quickly, the client will start to think that you are either too busy for them or simply don’t care. After all, 41% of consumers expect a response within six hours or less. In some ways, a client is like a jealous lover. They don’t like to think you have other customers that receive the same or more attention from you.
In fact, the last thing you should ever do when dealing with a client is to tell them you cannot attend to their inquiry because you are busy with another customer. Clients want to know that they’re your number one priority. You’ll need to delicately balance your time and make sure no client feels they’ve waited for too long to hear from you.
3. Failure to Meet Deadlines
Breaching deadlines is in some ways related to slow response, but it doesn’t always amount to the same thing. You can be slow to respond but still meet the deadline you had committed to.
The thing about deadlines is that a developer must be well aware of what they can and cannot do within reasonable timelines. An inability to meet deadlines in one of the most common causes for the collapse of developer-client relationships. Commit to deadlines that are fast but that also realistically factor in potential inadvertent disruptions. This way, if all goes smoothly, you might even please the client by completing the project early.
There will be rare occasions when a deadline is impossible to meet. In this case, informing the client of a looming delay is usually acceptable to most reasonable customers and shouldn’t jeopardize the relationship. Managing their expectations in advance is always better than apologizing.
4. Excessive Scripting
Information technology has taken scripting and automation to levels never seen before. In some scenarios, scripting can be an efficient way of making sure your message is always consistent and there’s no contradiction. Similarly, automation eliminates human involvement in routine processes, thus cutting personnel costs and reducing errors. However, too much scripting is a customer experience killer.
Scripted and/or automated responses can sound plastic, insincere, and cold. Speaking to a real person with dynamic points of view is always way better than conversing with a machine or a scripted customer support representative. A real person doesn’t simply “follow procedure.” Rather, they listen, think through the problem, and respond with a practical, personalized solution.
5. Stagnation and Lack of Value
Never allow your clients to get to a point where they believe they can do what you do. Whenever they think “coding,” your name should be the first that comes to mind. To avoid falling into irrelevance, always work on improving your technical knowledge and skills. This includes enrolling in classes and keeping abreast of industry developments and new techniques.
Always do more than the client expects and offer additional services whenever possible. Make suggestions that will improve your client’s product. In short, make yourself as valuable as you can. You do not want them to start wondering why they are paying you for something they could do themselves.
6. Failure to Reward Loyalty
Once you’ve been in business for a while (and as long as the quality of your work is good), you’ll have a set of clients who have stuck with you from your early days. Note that each client has literally thousands of developers they can choose from, so the fact that they’ve remained with you is a reason for reflection. They’ve been with you through the difficult months and years, so it’s only fair that you return the favor.
Many developers are unable to grow their customer base because of a failure to recognize loyal clients. As they focus on wooing new clients, the older ones can feel disgruntled and walk out the door, thus stagnating overall growth. Your existing customers are the easiest way to new ones. For example, some web hosts go as far as paying their existing customers to refer their friends and even provide a significant discount. Maybe you could be creative and think of new ways to reward your customers. If you’re looking for inspiration, check these 25 quirky ways to show them appreciation.
Returning the favor doesn’t mean doing something costly that gravely impacts your bottom line. It’s the small gestures that count the most. Extras with a purchase, occasional discounts on costs, and proactively calling to find out how they are getting along are all ways you can show gratitude at minimal cost to you. Pleasing these loyal clients can make them your most enthusiastic salespeople.
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7. Fixation on Making Money
There’s something repulsive about a business that cares only about how much money it makes. Worse still, this fixation with money is difficult to hide. Of course, you are in business to make a profit, as that’s the goal of most companies and you need to make a living. Your clients know your service is not free and that, like them, you have bills to pay and dreams to realize.
However, they don’t want to get the impression that money is the only thing on your mind. Clients want an assurance that you have their best interests at heart and genuinely want them to succeed. A quality product at a good price accompanied by great customer service is the way to build a sustainable business. Prioritizing money at the expense of these things is always counterproductive in the end.
8. Inability to Handle Criticism
There’s no business that won’t encounter dissatisfied and angry clients every so often. If you are doing the right thing and ticking all the right boxes, such incidents will be few and far between. However, it’s important to think about how you’ll handle them, since that one incident can deal a mortal blow to your reputation.
There’ll be clients who believe you didn’t deliver as promised. If they are angry, you could instinctively fire back at them and get defensive. That’ll only exacerbate an already bad situation. Start by looking at things from the customer’s perspective. Time and money go into hiring a developer. The client shouldn’t feel that they were wrong to hire you in the first place.
You may need to spend a couple more hours on the project or even forfeit part of your profit, but this is a small price to pay to ensure you retain the client in the long term. If you want to learn how to deal with negative feedback, I highly recommend this article by HBR.
9. Using Technical Jargon
As the developer, you are the subject matter expert. However, unless the client or their representative has a background in web development, you want to steer clear of complicated terminology. If you are good at your work, you don’t need to impress customers with difficult terms. Instead, strive to speak in a language that the client understands.
A conversation that would otherwise be customary when you are around people in the industry could leave clients struggling to understand what you are talking about. In addition, some clients consider the excessive use of jargon as a cover for incompetence and lack of practical skills.
The real danger here is that some prospects won’t even bother telling you they don’t understand you. They’ll simply switch to a developer who they can more easily relate to.
10. Treating Your Employees Poorly
If you are a freelancer or the sole employee in your company, then you probably don’t have to worry too much about staffing issues. However, when you are running a multi-person organization or team, personnel matters can determine how clients perceive your business.
If you are unreasonable, unrealistic, or disrespectful when dealing with your subordinates, a client is likely to have a dim view of your business irrespective of how good your service is. Most people naturally empathize with the underdog, and in employer-employee or manager-employee relations, the employee is the underdog.
As you push staff to their limits and encourage them to deliver their best, do so while respecting their value as a person.
Avoiding these 10 mistakes increases the chances of your client staying true to you. Above all, remember that your customer is a person (or, if a company, represented by individual people). Effective customer service is primarily hinged on good interpersonal relations.
“Penguin” Pete Trbovich has been blogging so long his first blog was on a papyrus scroll. He spends an inordinate amount of time raving about coding, Linux, horror movies, Magic: the Gathering, and Frank Zappa. His motto is “Everything is broken and no one knows why.”