It was early in my web development career. The client had emailed me, “What is going on with our website?”
I knew I had failed to handle this project correctly. It was a mistake I vowed never to make again.
Web design is seen as a process where the client and designer meet and discuss what needs to be done, and the designer goes off to do their work, and at the end, voila, a new website emerges.
Perhaps you believe radio silence in the middle of a web project is okay. If you’re the web developer doing the work, you may think communication takes away from your work. I would argue that good communication is your work. Here’s what I mean by that statement.
Have you ever made a large or important purchase, and after paying, been left in the dark about what’s going on?
I had a friend that recently dropped her truck off at the auto dealership to get a dent taken out. Since the truck was already there, she decided to get the 200 point inspection. The dealership said they would call her when the truck was ready to be picked up.
A few days went by. Then a week. Then a few weeks. Finally, the dealer called her back to pick up her truck.
But the whole time, she was worried that the dealership was not doing what they were supposed to be doing. Her phone calls were met with vague answers. Her overall impression of service there was negative. All because there was a communication breakdown between the auto dealership and herself.
Even if the truck was serviced perfectly, her perception is that particular dealership is untrustworthy.
A Watched Pot Never Boils
To understand what a client feels, we have to put ourselves in their shoes.
Time seems to drag when we are anticipating something, and then it doesn’t arrive. Our imagination begins to run wild, as the void that should be filled by communication is remains empty. The enthusiasm we felt when we first made a purchase (or started a project) begins to wane as time goes on.
If we don’t know what’s going on, we imagine the worst is what’s really going on. That is how we are hard-wired as human beings.
As web professionals, our first job is to build trust with our clients. No project can be successful without trust between both parties.
Steady communication is how we can build trust and reassure our design clients that all is well, by giving them updates on where their project stands. Even if it is just to check in regularly, that flow of communication builds rapport, and ensures both the web consultant and client are moving towards the same goal.
How Should You Communicate?
Many of my colleagues in the web industry have different ways of dealing with client communication. Curtis McHale sends two emails a week to update his clients. If there are questions, he communicates further. Some designers use a highly systemized onboarding process to answer common questions early on through automation. They then divert this time to client consultation throughout their design process.
I like to communicate with clients using methods they are comfortable with. Most of my communication is through email. Phone calls are also important, especially at the onset of a project. Skype and Google Hangouts are also good for communicating during the early stages of a project.
How Much Communication Does A Web Project Require?
With longer and more complicated web projects, I like to send a few emails a week, to keep my clients in the loop, and let them know how their project is progressing. On shorter projects, or when a project is more complex than it originally appears, I like to email more frequently — perhaps every couple of days.
Every project is a little different, and judging how much to communicate is a subtle art. The goal should be to never have a client ask what is going on with their project because they are in the dark.
Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Communication?
If you’re asking me if it’s possible to overcommunicate on a web design project, the answer is usually no. My aim is to anticipate any questions that will come up and answer them before the project gets rolling. This allows both myself and my clients to proceed without trepidation or concern.
Overcommunication Works For Everyone
Maybe it’s because I work with so many clients remotely, but I really believe that communication is the one thing all web development teams can do more of. There’s a reason project managers are often one of the first hires for growing agencies. However much you think you’re talking with clients, you probably can do more.
Anticipating needs and setting the project tone early is one of the best things a web consultant can do to start a project on the right foot. Communicating regularly, being honest and transparent, and keeping clients updated is how web professionals can keep a project on the right track.