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9 Brilliant Ways To Ensure Client Satisfaction and Project Success

Arguably the two most important aspects of a web design freelancer or web design firm's operations are client satisfaction and project success. Without client satisfaction and project success, you'll be hard pressed to obtain quality referrals, testimonials, and additional work from a client.

In addition, if you can't deliver for a client, then you may face a variety of counterproductive and irreparable problems. These problems include (but are not limited to):

  • Negative Press: The kind of press that can severely damage the credibility and legitimacy of your operation.
  • Negative Word of Mouth: Many and most web design operations rely on building a positive reputation through word of mouth from clients. It's imperative that the good things said about your business outweigh the bad. Negative word of mouth (even in small doses) can really work against you.
  • Legal Problems: You knew this one was coming. If you don't do what you say you're going to do, then you may find yourself in a situation where the client feels as if you misled them and breached the contract. They might be so agitated by the situation that they seek legal counsel against you.
  • Financial Loss: If a client is unhappy with your service or the outcome of their project, then you may find yourself in a situation where they refuse to pay. No one (especially with the current economy) wants to be in this situation.

The Challenge

It can be really, really difficult to please people nowadays. Most clients want to be treated like royalty, and well, most of the time they should be (after all, they are paying your bills). The problem is, there are only so many hours in the day. If you take on more than one client at a time (which most people do), then it may seem like there are simply not enough hours in the day to "wow" each client.

Because time is never on your side, it's important to have a solid, efficient, and streamlined strategy which you can reference each and every time you sign a new client or begin a new project.

Well, look no further, because you've found it!

The Plan

First and foremost: have an open mind. Although it may take you some time to get used to implementing each of these strategies, you and your clients will be glad that you did. I promise.

That being said, here are the strategies I've used to drastically improve client satisfaction and project success across the board.

1. Use a Solid Web-Based Project Management Application

Project Management Application

In my article, 11 Absolutely Necessary Web-Based Tools for a Freelance Web Designer, I discuss the importance of utilizing a number of invaluable web-based tools to help streamline your operation. At the top of my list is a project management tool called Basecamp.

Basecamp is the heart and soul of my company's operations. In addition, Basecamp is the medium for which many of the subsequent points in this article are possible. Do yourself a favor and get Basecamp if you're not already using it. There are many flexible payments plans, and even a 30 day free trial for new users.

If you prefer not to pay for your web-based project management application, an open source alternative is ProjectPier.  Unlike Basecamp, ProjectPier can be installed on any PHP/MySQL server. Although I don't like this application as much as Basecamp, it is free - and cost supersedes user interface aesthetics and application functionality for some people in these tough economic times.

2. Take Surveys After Project Milestones

Surveys

The best way to know how your clients are feeling about your services is by asking them to take brief surveys. We've gotten into the habit of administering these surveys after each of our primary project milestones.

Survey Monkey is a free web-based survey application which I highly recommend. Survey Monkey has tons of different options and abilities that can really help you obtain crucial information from clients.

Projects with multiple milestones will find surveys to be the most useful. There is nothing better than obtaining important feedback early on in a struggling project and then, based on that feedback, making the necessary changes to the process so that the client is satisfied for the rest of the project. Surveys give you the ability to take an unsuccessful project and turn it into a successful one.

The biggest reason why clients are unsatisfied and projects fail is because there is a barrier in communication. Surveys, without a doubt, will help lift that barrier - just make sure you're asking the right questions in your surveys.

Also, make sure that your survey application gives your clients the ability to opt-out of receiving surveys in the future. Some clients may not want to take multiple surveys. If a client does not want to take surveys, then you will need to rely on conversation as the primary means of obtaining a client's thoughts and feedback pertaining to a project.

3. Punctuality

Punctuality

The definition of punctuality, per Wikipedia (in case you don't know):

Punctuality is defined as the quality of being prompt, precise, or exact.

Regardless of whether you're five minutes late on a conference call with a client or five days late delivering a project milestone, punctuality is an integral quality that every professional should possess.

Let's face it: no one likes waiting. When you aren't on time, you give people the impression that your time is more important than their time. Although this may not always be your intention, this is usually how tardiness is perceived.

Outside of business, I struggle with being on time. But during the typical work day, you will never find me tardy. There are a number of things that I do to make sure that the client or coworkers are never waiting:

  • Set alarms. Whether on your cell phone or wristwatch, set an alarm which gives you a friendly reminder about an upcoming event. Double check to make sure that you've entered in the correct information. If you're relying on that alarm, incorrectly inputted data is certainly a recipe for disaster.
  • Use a calendar. Whether it's an old school calender hung up on your office wall, a web-based calendar from an application such as Backpack, or calendar software on your mobile device, make sure you have some sort of calendar. Don't do business without one!
  • SMS Reminders. My suite of web-based applications (all from 37signals - Basecamp, Backpack, and Highrise) gives me the ability to have SMS messages delivered to my phone at any time I wish. SMS messages can be used with Basecamp's Milestones, Backpack's Calendar, and Highrise's Tasks. Warning: if you use all three of these applications and set a lot of reminders, you should make sure that you have a text messaging plan that allows for many messages. You certainly don't want to be paying cell phone carriers tons of extra money for text messages (they already charge too much as it is).
  • E-mail Reminders. Also from the three aforementioned web-based applications is the ability to set e-mail reminders. E-mail reminders are more convenient for people who don't want to be bombarded by SMS reminders.

Punctuality can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Embrace technology so that you're never late again!

4. Stay on Budget

Stay on Budget

Nothing can kill client satisfaction and project success quicker than pulling a fast one on a client with regards to project cost. Here are a few tips:

  • Always draft up extremely detailed proposals. Less is more does not apply to creating project proposals. Communicate to the client what will and will not be included in each project deliverable and how much it will cost (oftentimes we use a range in hours and price).
  • Make sure that your clients understand that it is not uncommon for the "scope" of a project to change - especially for larger-scale projects. When the scope changes, the cost must be adjusted accordingly. After all, you shouldn't be expected to work for free.
  • Don't ask for extra money if a project is taking longer than expected. Unless the scope has changed, this is your problem (unfortunately). Rather than putting yourself and your client in an uncomfortable and undesirable situation, take some notes with regards to why the project is going on longer than it should be. Using these notes, adjust the cost of future proposals so that you aren't being over worked and under paid.

5. Organization

Organization

Not everyone is organized, however, I truly believe that anyone can be. Just like anything else, you need to work on it. You need to practice.

An unorganized person will not succeed at running their own business or freelance operation - plain and simple. In addition, poor organization will more than likely reflect in your work.

If you're unorganized, don't worry; here are some tips which can improve your organization:

  • Embrace technology. Use some of the aforementioned web-based tools (specifically Backpack) to help get your affairs in order.
  • Clean your work space. Clean it really, really well. A messy workspace will promote disorganization.
  • Practice makes perfect. Start organizing everything. I use Backpack's "Pages" to organize and file information about my company's operations, store template messages (which are huge time savers), and much, much more. Start organizing things you wouldn't normally organize. Do whatever it takes to get yourself into that mindset.
  • Promote an organized lifestyle. Because I organize everything, I promote an organized lifestyle (rather than a disorganized one). Don't just organize your professional life, organize your personal life, too.

6. Be Personable

Be Personable

Just in case you don't know what personable means, here is the definition from The Free Dictionary:

Pleasing in personality or appearance.

One of my favorite compliments from clients is that I'm very personable in my professional approach. Most clients, whether they represent small, medium, or large companies or organizations, like being talked to in a personable manner. However, there is a fine line when using a personable approach with clients. Here are a few tips:

  • Make it personal. From the beginning, I refer to a prospect by their first name. Some may see this as unprofessional, others as disrespectful. However, it's worked for me. I've always been a first name basis kind of guy, though. Business should be personal. A client should feel that you care about them, their well being, and the success of their company or organization. By using first names, you make it personal.
  • Informal but professional. Don't try to be something you're not. I was a bit skeptical about starting my own business simply because I never subscribed to the formalities that the average businessman uses. As long as you're professional when working with clients, be yourself. Don't let the notion that a business person should be playing a certain role dictate who you are. Not a formal person? No problem. Neither am I. Be informal but professional.

7. Transparency

Transparency

No, I'm not talking about clients seeing through you. I am, however, talking about being honest and up front about information that your clients should be privy to. Generally, the more transparent you can be with your clients, the better. The more a client knows about you, your business, your process, and your operations, the more they may feel like they can trust you - and in case you were unaware, trust is vital in business.

Here are a few ways to increase transparency with your clients and prospects:

  • You: Include a page on your website with a brief biography. Make sure to include any and all information which may be relevant to a client.
  • Your company: Also on your website, include some information about your company. How long have you been in business? What is your mission? Goals?
  • Your process: Whether it be your design process, creative process, or your business process, share your process(es) with your prospects and clients. If you don't want to divulge secrets about how your company operates to the public, then don't; share the information privately via e-mail or include it with a project proposal.
  • Your operations. This may tie into your process, it may not. Needless to say, share important information about your operations with prospects and clients.

If you operate under a code of anonymity, then you're going to have a difficult time surviving in today's ultra-transparent business world. But really, sharing the aforementioned information shouldn't concern you. If you run a legitimate operation, then you've got nothing to hide. People have an easier time trusting people and companies who they feel having nothing to hide.

8. Solid Web Design Process

Web Design Process

There is no one-size-fits-all web design process. What works for one company or individual may not work for another. That being said, you will only discover what works best for you through trial and error. Don't make the mistake of subscribing to a particular design process from the start. Try a few different alterations. Sure, something may work great, however, by making a few changes, you may find that it can be improved upon to work even better.

The primary focus of your web design process should be maximizing quality, efficiency, and delivery.

  • Quality. Your process, from start to finish, should be shaped in a manner which allows you to deliver the highest quality product. Quality should always be priority number one.
  • Efficiency. This is something that will take years and years to perfect. Find a process which allows you to minimize the number of hours it takes to complete a deliverable...without impacting quality.
  • Delivery. Your process should constantly yield successful projects. If a project is unsuccessful, then chances are you will need to go back to the process and make some changes.

9. Use Current Technology

Use Current Technology

Nothing will make a client more unsatisfied than finding out that, after spending thousands of dollars and investing hundreds of hours into a new website, the technology used to build the website is over a decade old. Here are a few tips:

  • Drop the tables and use CSS/XHTML. Your clients deserve better than table-based layouts. Only use tables when dealing with tabular data. CSS is not that hard to learn. Plus, since the market share for Internet Explorer 6 continues to decrease, there will be less of a need to learn browser specific CSS bugs. No more excuses, learn CSS!
  • Package a Content Management System with your websites. I absolutely refuse to build a website that isn't built on a web CMS - preferably an open source web CMS like Drupal or WordPress. Having a client pay you to update the basic content on their website is just wrong this day and age, in my opinion, especially with the technology that is currently available.
  • Validate the XHTML/CSS when possible. Even if you don't believe in standards, validate the code. You'll decrease browser bugs, make your client look more professional, and look like a more competent developer. All good things.

Got any other ideas?

The aforementioned points have been realized and collected over the last five years of working with people in a professional environment. Although I strongly believe in each of these points, I would like to hear other strategies that people are using to increase and ensure client satisfaction and project success. Don't be shy!

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