Building beautiful and functional things is only part of a web designer’s job. Providing maintenance and support for our creations is also a key part of the equation.
This is often the more difficult task. After all, support can be a years-long commitment. Plus, it requires both technical knowledge and people skills – an important combination.
Support also plays a role in developing customer loyalty. Even if you’ve built an amazing website for your client, poor support is likely to damage the relationship. This could be a deciding factor in whether or not they stick with you for the long haul.
So, what goes into providing great support? Let’s look at a few ingredients for keeping your websites running smoothly and your clients happy.
Respond Quickly to Requests
Waiting is no fun – especially when you have a technical issue or question. Therefore, our first rule of client support is to quickly respond to that initial message.
This doesn’t mean you have to resolve things immediately. It’s more of a common courtesy to let your client know that their request has been received. Knowing that they’re on your radar helps to build trust and confidence.
Ideally, a personal response is preferred. Bonus points if it adds any follow-up questions to get the ball rolling on taking care of the request. But even a well-written auto response is acceptable.
The important thing is confirming that you’re aware of their message. That starts the entire support process off on the right foot.
Be a Good Listener
When a client approaches you with an issue, it’s easy to jump to conclusions. Sometimes it takes the form of thinking you know the answer before they’ve even finished talking. In other cases, you might be quick to dismiss their claim as a case of simple user error.
It may come from good intentions (or a desire to get back to your other projects), but has the potential to rub your client the wrong way. You might be seen as terse or even rude.
Taking the time to listen is a much more effective approach. While it may eat up a bit more of your schedule, it demonstrates that you care about what your client has to say.
Besides, listening is the best way to gather information. You’ll be less likely to miss out on any important details that will help you resolve the issue. And you can always ask questions afterwards.
Exercising patience has a lot of side benefits. It helps to establish a positive rapport with clients. And they’ll feel more comfortable coming to you when they run into a problem. This is especially important for those who are technically-challenged and intimated by the situation.
Avoid Wild Speculation
Clients come to us because they’re hoping we have answers. In an effort to provide comfort and certainty, web designers may resort to speculation. Taking wild guesses as to what’s causing a specific problem or the timeline for fixing it is meant to bring peace of mind. The reality is that it is more likely to cause frustration if you guessed wrong.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t offer up a laundry list of potential causes. But they should be noted as possibilities – not certainties. And, until a proper diagnosis, timelines should reflect investigating an issue rather than fixing it.
In other words: speak in generalities until you know what you’re dealing with. Don’t let your eagerness to please a client get in the way of finding honest answers.
Immediate solutions aren’t always possible. Thankfully, most people are willing to wait for you to look into an issue or research a question. Give them (and yourself) the chance to do so.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Complex issues may take a while to resolve. But that doesn’t mean clients should be left in the dark. Periodically checking in with the latest information (even if there aren’t any new developments) goes a long way towards keeping everyone on the same page.
While this may sound relatively simple, it’s not always easy. For example, we web designers often find ourselves acting as liaisons between clients and third-party service providers. If the provider doesn’t keep us in the know, it will make our job that much harder. It can also make us look bad.
Frankly, there’s no need to shield providers from accountability. Thus, if they’re the reason progress is being held up, don’t be afraid to say so. Just keep honesty and fairness in mind when reporting the situation. Painting an accurate picture is still important.
But regardless of who’s in charge of tackling the issue, stay in touch with clients. They must be kept in the loop throughout the entire process.
Doing Right by Your Clients
All of these tips can be tied together by a single word: professionalism. It’s something we expect from those who provide us with support. And our clients expect it of us as well.
It requires us to be honest, responsive and willing to go the extra mile. And, above all, a commitment to keeping clients abreast of what’s happening.
Of course, it helps to have loads of technical knowledge. But there’s more to it than knowing code and design. It’s the people skills that enable you to build a solid relationship. And a combination of both is what makes for top-notch support.
You don’t need to be perfect to succeed in this area. Rather, it’s about putting in the effort to take care of your clients. It may just convince them to stick with you for years to come.
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