There may be only one true advantage that I have over most other web developers.
This advantage is very counter-intuitive for many in my industry.
My greatest advantage is the almost two decades of education I received from working in front of customers, day upon day in a customer service setting.
The biggest thing I learned in my 20s and 30s was the ability to listen to people and understand what their needs were based on what they would tell me.
Many people don’t know this about me, but I had a full-fledged career managing retail bakeries in the 1990s and 2000s.
During this time, I had to learn how to listen to a variety of people: customers, teammates, mid-level management.
Each person sees things from the perspective of what matters to them. Being able to step outside of your self and see things through someone else’s eyes is a tremendous asset in any business.
In any business, you must maintain balance between receiving more work (customer service), and making sure there is enough time to do that work (production).
In my blue-collar years, every team member at each location had to remember this philosophy:
Customers are the reason for your work, not an interruption of it.
I believe much of that philosophy became ingrained, and carried over into my web development career.
Confidence And Reassurance
Whenever we go to a service professional: a doctor, lawyer, or accountant, for example — we want to have confidence in ourselves that we’re making the right choice.
Because the reality is, the pain and effort of choosing a new service provider is always greater than sticking with the one we’ve already chosen.
Some of our fear is that we are somehow going to make the wrong choice.
We fear that the wrong choice will leave us with someone who can’t do the job we need them to do, or the investment we put into them won’t line up with what we get in return.
What we’re really investing in though is an ongoing relationship with a service provider. If we make a good choice, we won’t have to go through this selection process again for a very long time — or perhaps ever again.
One way we judge whether we’re making a good choice is whether the person sitting across from us actually listens to what we’re saying.
If they seem to care about our situation, and if we choose to work with them, we believe they will do everything in their power to help us with our problems.
On the other hand, if the person we are asking to help us seems aloof, distant, or indifferent about our well-being — we see that as a red flag.
People have intrinsic worth. We want the people we are seeking help from to acknowledge and respect that intrinsic worth. We do not want to become vulnerable when we need help the most.
Calming The Fear
There are different ways to demonstrate self-confidence.
One way is quietly demonstrating our expertise and reassuring our clients that we can help them. Another form of self-confidence is to throw our expertise in a customer’s face, confusing them with insider jargon, or showing no regard for their lack of knowledge in our field.
Which model do you believe will attract more repeat business?
Yes, every service profession has jargon that only they understand. I don’t understand auto mechanics or legalese. Most web development clients aren’t familiar with technology jargon.
Your customer is an expert in their business, not your business. As much as you can, leave the jargon out of conversations.
If clients are seeking help, they are in a place where they need reassurance, not more confusion.
We should talk in a way that is not intimidating to clients. They shouldn’t need to learn our secret languages to be able to speak to us. It is selfish to expect them to.
There’s a big opportunity for web professionals in making their clients feel reassured.
Many of my clients come to me with their confidence in the web industry shattered because of inferior service they’ve gotten elsewhere.
Technology is already intimidating for a lot of people. (You can substitute whatever your profession is for “technology” and I’ll bet it still applies.)
So why add extra stress to an already stressful decision?
You have to reassure clients that you’re on their side and you’re here to help them.
People don’t want to be confused. They want to feel like they are part of the process.
And if customers feel like you are trying to confuse them on purpose, that will start to erode your business relationship.
There is a reason honesty and transparency are pillars of our core values. Honesty builds trust. Giving people the runaround destroys trust.
Taking Responsibility For What We Say “Yes” To
There are web developers in the world that take on clients that are a bad fit. I believe they do this when they don’t know who their ideal customer is, or if they feel they can’t say no to work.
But when you feel like you can’t say no to anyone, it almost guarantees you’ll get burnt eventually — because you’re choosing clients that aren’t a good fit.
But that’s not the client’s fault. Not if you are the one who says yes to them without vetting them first.
Recognizing a bad client-provider fit and avoiding it will save you stress, no matter what your profession.
But the real point I’d like to make here is about empathy.
Empathy Covers A Multitude Of Sins
Many web developers forget that their clients have probably been burnt before, too.
Many times, a good and decent web consultancy is battling not only against the current problems they have to solve, but the ghosts of former web professionals.
When an industry has many bad actors, it becomes difficult for clients to figure who’s one of the good guys and who’s not. Ask the used car salesmen you may know about this one.
The only way to distinguish that you act with integrity is by establishing a proven track record. This takes sustained effort, and a commitment to honesty.
Honesty pays off because it establishes trust. It means not exaggerating our skills, just to win a client. The client relationship should be treated with reverence, because they are real people, not just dollar signs.
For if you have client trust, and you set expectations correctly, you may have the freedom to learn new expertise by stretching your limits.
Communication And Listening Still Count
Communication is something I value, and something I want all the people I do business with to value, as well.
I know that listening is a competitive advantage.
When you listen and pause you get a better sense of what a person’s past experiences are. If you’re better equipped to address someone’s fears and concerns, you have a better sense of what steps you need to take to reassure them.
And by “reassurance”, that doesn’t mean handing out false promises.
It means being honest.
Reassurance means having self-awareness of what you can and can’t do, and communicating that clearly to a client. If self-awareness means only promising what you know can deliver on, then empathy means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and being able to see what keeps them up at night.
All business is built on a foundation of trust. The more secure you make your customers feel, the more successful you’re likely to be.
The opposite of feeling reassured is feeling of dread and foreboding whenever you enter a situation.
Clients should never have to dread dealing with a service provider. Dealing with a business should be a pleasure — something to look forward to. And every single one of us should look forward to talking with our clients as well.
Good work can only be produced when trust and mutual respect are present.
Fear, gossip, back-biting, and resentment are all the enemies of a healthy working relationship, and will surely destroy any chance of doing meaningful work together.
But if you build a foundation on respect, empathy, honesty, and good communication, there’s every probability you and your clients will be allies for a long time to come.