Design process, web development and the bad customer
We’ve all been there during some phase of a design process. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer, project manager or just a contact person for some process. The mythologized “bad client” situation, when you just want to give everything up, bury yourself in a hole and disappear for a period ’till deadline. Unfortunately, I am not a life guru and I can’t give you general advice on how to solve all crisis situation. But we are talking about design process and web development problems when managing the project with the hot lava separating you and your client.
Well, let’s take an overview of our average project. You go on your usual first meeting with the potential client (I will accent physical meetings and contacts because they’re much more relatable) which has a success rate of 1 in 5 at best to outcome business engagement. On first meeting you talk about the client’s demands, about some professional and personal goals achievable through partnership, you can name whatever subject crosses your minds, it’s all been talked about on first meetings :).
Then, out of nowhere (not exactly, but you know what I mean), someone mentions money and the first problems begin. You’re suddenly too expensive for the budget. The customer wasn’t ready for the information that design and web development cost that much. Then begins all classical down pricing rhetoric, elasticity with payment methods etc. What starts as an excuse ends as a slight insult to your profession. But, in a formal manner, you step above all and come to an agreement which of course, suits customer better. MISTAKE! Lesson No1, never underestimate your profession, you have your prices or hour rates.
Depending on the project complexity, you can make some exceptions regarding project tasks and make it more simple, but remember to appreciate your working hour. Best customer approach is being honest from start and admit when you see things are very likely to get complicated and wish well and part professional ways.
Moving on. You somehow made an agreement and moved on with your partnership. Kudos, that’s hard nowadays. You wait for a period of time to get the feedback on detailing the project with all the demands that project needs to include. A communication channel that suits both needs would preferably be e-mail (or Skype, Trello, etc), everything is somehow communicated and there you have it. It’s time to sign a contract. Yap, ladies, and gentlemen, the contract is still the only obligatory way to tell someone you’re probably not here to mess up and take the money and run. OK, kidding aside, you should explicitly point out the liabilities, obligations, deadlines, payments and all other important aspects that consider designing process.
You didn’t mention the number of initial versions and designing iterations a.k.a revisions? WRONG! Lesson No2, always bear in mind that customer can be unforgiving and always want countless revisions of design. To avoid this situation in the design process you must always have these numbers predefined. However, it’s still possible that one of the contracting sides doesn’t keep up with their commitments, then you need to play the honor card. You can always threaten with lawsuits, but lately, that’s only metaphorical way of letting the other side know they’re breaching the contract terms.
So, here we are. The project begins. You have the project owner (the customer), the project team (your company) and the project manager (you). You already decided on a communication channel, you defined the contract terms and the party can start. And then all of the sudden communication starts to break, you feel frustrated with the developing situation. Your dearest customer forgets to supply you with materials, your dearest customer starts to prolong the payment with some very unconvincing excuses and, which happens in most situations, is very unsatisfied with errr… everything. You are in an unthankful situation where you decide on how to react to specific circumstances. Then you think to yourself ‘where did I go wrong?’. The answer is ‘probably everywhere’.
You see, lesson No3, not only when deciding on contract terms, you need to be on your toes the whole web development process. You need to reevaluate the client’s needs, get to know the true directions of the projects. That’s the virtue of a great designer. Seeing through the customer’s words, reading more than the written words say and asking the right question. If you have the same situation with multiple customers, try reconsidering customer approach and your design process.
Maybe it’s not always the bad client, maybe you look from the wrong perspective. You need to make the customer the part of the project, make him feel important. If he feels what he does is special he will provide the material with more sense of responsibility. When he feels more like project contributor than projects owner, he subconsciously changes his mindset towards the project. You’re no longer his hireling, but his partner, or friend if you want it. And feedback. Always ask for feedback. When the customer sees you’re involved in his project and you’re asking for his feedback that can strengthen the partnership and emphasize customer’s sense of responsibility towards the project.
Lots of positivity in last two paragraphs, right? It’s not always that easy. Sometimes, you’re really dealing with an a***ole. The kind of self-centered cynic who is always endangering the project and your will to work and live. That’s the time where you just want to disconnect the partnership goals and manage the project to the silent end. And hopefully, that kind of customer disappears from life. Abandoning the project is always an option, but consider the bad publicity it can cause. One bad review is stronger than ten good ones. Also, you have the advance payments which harden the process of getting out.
Keep up the good work and I hope the force of good customers follows you on your way through the design process and web development.