My team thinks I’m a genius. But if only they knew the truth and full extent of my (ongoing) journey. I am talking about the quest to become consistently good at relating to clients of varying technical knowledge levels. Handling the lion’s share of our customer communications at wpperk.com, they are consistently surprised at my ability to translate a WordPress support brief into actionable tasks.
Little do they know, the secret is simple: Practice, practice, and more practice.
This article is not going to provide any astounding insights, use NLP, or another methodology. Nor will it focus on helping you win your next sale, but rather it will highlight some practical ways to identify common traits in your clients and provide insight on how to best relate to them. Before we get started, it is also important to note that not all business is good business and life is simply too short to work with clients that aren’t willing to partner with you to achieve success.
It all starts with a look.
We’ve all been there. You are talking to a client and you slowly see their expression changing. It could be a glazed look in their eye when you lose them in detail, a slight twitch of their mouth as they sculpt their next profound outburst, or my personal favorite, a sparkle in their eyes when you start “speaking their language.”
Clients are amazing, continually different and, let’s face it, vital to our existence. They enable us to do what we love and to create exceptional online experiences. I standby the fact that the biggest value I can bring to our team is effective client management. This is usually in the form of a true partnership. It is an art to be able to play the interpreter between the client and design or development team. This is a role that is often overlooked but is increasingly important to the overall success of a project.
For the most part, clients hold the contextual knowledge and the agency holds the expertise on how to make it work. Leverage these two knowledge bases and you have a winning formula.
We can’t possibly sort every client into a defined category as each client often brings with them a unique background and perspective. That being said, there are three common types of clients I encounter time and time again.
This character never ceases to amaze me. They fumble through life grasping the minimum amount of tech know-how to perform their daily roles. They tend to wear this like a badge of honor, often proclaiming things like, “I’m not great with computers,” while squinting and holding the phone at an arm’s length. You potentially have a visual of this person in your mind right now. Just know that if it’s one of your parents, an aunt/uncle or family friend, you are not alone.
These clients need the most tender love and care. It’s best not to delve into the nitty-gritty, but to rather explain the benefits and the why of what you are doing. For example, instead of saying something like, “We are going to install an SSL certificate onto your site and force https connections from now on,” try saying “We are going to add extra security to your website. This will protect your customer’s personal information when they are shopping on your site. You will see an icon of a small padlock somewhere on the top left of your website that indicates when this is working.”
If you feel like they can absorb a little more information, you could also then go on to casually explain some auxiliary benefits, such as the potential increase in buyer confidence and gaining some brownie points with search engines. These benefits are crucial to communicate as they demonstrate your worth and value to your client. This in turn makes them open to future discussions around improvement and will foster a partnered approach.
The know-it-all is one of my favorite types of client – both to deal with and to watch in action. Some even bring me to tears, the good kind of course! These tend to be individuals that have spent their career client side, have “built a few websites in their time,” and “used to dabble with visual basics.”
They still reminisce of the days when anything that blinked on your site was all the rage, don’t believe in transparent PNG’s because IE6 doesn’t recognize them, and love nothing more than to have complete control of everything IT related in their company. Oh – and the cloud – they don’t trust it… especially anything Google-related.
My experience has led me to deal with these clients in a similar manner to the novice. This is purely because they have been stuck in their bubble for too long. Tech has changed, the web has evolved, and their lack of current knowledge puts them at the novice level. I do, however, involve and educate them as much as possible.
Their background in basic technical concepts means that they have a point of reference and they can generally retain any information you send their way. Their predisposition to IT-related concepts means that they will genuinely enjoy your banter and really appreciate you spending the time to develop their understanding. They are also a powerful ally as they hold the power to grant or deny you access to elements of the business.
These clients know their stuff. They are true professionals who have refined their craft, chiseled out their niche in either their company, industry, or both, and are a joy to work with. Respect them for what they have achieved, applaud them for working with you, and most importantly, partner with them to succeed. There’s a good chance that although you know the digital landscape inside and out, they know enough to give you a run for your money. But they also have the most important part: context. Become their apprentice and extract all contextual information they send your way. When a Jedi speaks – you listen.
Unlike a know-it-all, the Jedi will give you the big picture and respect your craft enough to allow you to fill in the gaps. They will also confidently answer all of your questions around context.
Tread lightly when asking them about the technical aspects they have engaged you for. They will tend to respond to this with confusion because they hired you to compliment a gap in their knowledge. Where a decision needs to be made, show them your prowess by presenting a couple different feasible options that they can then consider. You may want to recommend your professional course of action at the same time.
So, what have I learned?
First and foremost, very early in my career I learned that not all business is good business. It is a pivotal moment when your business attains a privileged position, allowing you to be selective with which clients you choose to partner with. I purposely use the word partner in this context as you can have the best looking, well-coded site, but unless your client, the subject matter expert, partners with you, the site will never reach its full potential.
Get to know your clients, try to see the world through their eyes. Embrace their quirks and dedicate the time to working with them and educate and develop their knowledge base, even if it means half an hour of ‘non-billable’ time here and there. In turn, you will have a fruitful, professional relationship and ideally an amazing website.
Create your own categories of clients and commit them to memory. This will become a strong point of reference when dealing with new clients and may guarantee the success of a new partnership. Your goal, as is mine, should be to elevate your clients to Jedi status.