Listen and identify pain pointsYour first task in creating a comfortable environment for your client is to simply listen to what they have to say and ask good questions in response. If they currently have a website that they aren’t fully satisfied with, find out why. Go beyond just the basics of the design itself. You may find that there were problems with updating the content or content management system. Perhaps the site itself just wasn’t as flexible as needed. It could even have been a lack of trust or poor relationship with the previous designer. Find out what happened and what caused any problems that occurred. This information will give you a good idea of what the client’s hopes and pain points are. You can then formulate a plan that takes this into consideration.
Explain the processIt can be very difficult to explain what we do. If you’ve ever tried to brag about a fancy feature you’ve added to a website to someone who’s not in the industry, you know what I’m talking about. They can often get this bewildered look over their face, smile and say “Great!” (even if they have no idea what you just tried to tell them). So the key here is to politely explain the process of how you’ll help your client accomplish their goals in layman’s terms. This, however, can be a double-edged sword. The last thing you want to do is insult their intelligence by speaking to them as if they were a 5-year-old. Try to think about how you’d feel if the roles were reversed. If the client were explaining their business to you, how would you want them to do it? A simple outline of the steps involved should suffice in most cases. Let them know that that they can feel free to ask questions at any time. Having an open line of communication is a crucial part of building trust.
Be confident and honestAs someone who doesn’t necessarily have the social skills of a game show host, I know that speaking confidently can be difficult. Just remember that you’re an expert in your field and you know what you’re talking about. If you speak with knowledge and confidence, that can go a long way toward putting your client at ease. Now, we know that some people (not you) will speak with confidence regardless of whether they know anything about a particular subject. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t have all the answers. There was a point early in my career where I felt like I’d be seen as a fool if I didn’t know something on the spot. If you don’t know something, just advise your client that you’ll be happy to research the answer for them and follow up later on. It’s also advisable to be honest about the pros and cons of the project’s various facets. For example, rather than saying a specific piece of software will “solve all of your problems”, explain what it does well and point out any limitations it has. Over hyping something will only set up unrealistic expectations. Overall, being honest and open will get you a lot more respect. As a bonus, you won’t have to worry about covering yourself because of false promises. It’s just easier!
Beyond businessThe relationship between you and your clients can often be a long-term one. With that in mind, getting to know each other on a slightly more personal level can bring some extra comfort to you both. Take some time to chat about a common interest. It might be that you both are parents or like the same sport. Maybe you see a picture or other knick-knack in their office that represents a favorite hobby. Obviously, you don’t want to get too personal. There are also some folks out there who aren’t really into bonding. Just use your best judgment.
A comfortable client is a happy clientThere is no magical formula for making your clients comfortable with you or the project you’re working on. More than anything, it’s just a matter of treating people well and having a bit of empathy. Find a way to genuinely relate to someone else on a human level. Over the course of many years, I have worked with clients who have come from different backgrounds, age groups and so on. Some have been very much into technology, others not so much. I’ve found that those factors don’t mean a whole lot when it comes to the final outcome of the project. Some of the sites that I feel came out the best were ones where I had a good rapport with the client. When there is good communication and mutual trust, the outcome tends to be much more successful for everyone involved. Perhaps our job really does go beyond design and code. Even though web design is a highly-technical line of work, there is more of a human element involved than we might think. And, no matter how great our technical skills are, our ability to work with people may be just as important.
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