One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with clients can be determining what it is they want and need. Usually, the exploration phase of a project will reveal some clues. But there are times when everything provided to you is vague enough to leave some serious doubt in your mind.
That’s not an ideal situation. If you’re unsure of what a client needs, you’ll have great difficulty in building a website that serves both them and their users in the best possible way. It can also throw a major monkey-wrench in your ability to make progress.
Whether you’re dealing with someone who can’t make up their mind or just doesn’t know much about the process of developing a site, there are some things you can do to get the information you need. Let’s have a look at some ways to do just that.
Read a Client’s Cues and Expand Upon Them
When discussing a web project, you’ll undoubtedly have some pertinent questions to ask. But you won’t always get the most complete answers – at least, not right away. That’s why it’s important to provide clients with some solid follow-up questions.
To ask a good follow-up, you need to listen for those little cues in a client’s response. For instance, your initial question may be about the types of functionality they need from a WooCommerce-based store. They may respond that all the products will be set up exactly the same, but that there’s a new line of merchandise coming out that will be slightly different. The words “slightly different” are a cue that you need to explore a bit further.
If you just take them at their word without asking some relevant follow-up questions, you could be in for a major surprise later on. What is just a slight difference to them could actually mean that you need to build this site with a fundamentally different approach. So, ask them about that slight difference and see what it might mean to the project.
The goal is to ensure that you know the full scope of how everything is supposed to work. Even if you’re missing just one piece of the puzzle, it could mean having to rip things apart and start all over again.
A website needs some level of consistency in order to be successful. Its design, content and functionality all need to come together in order provide a great user experience. That’s not to say that there can’t be some variation from page-to-page, but things shouldn’t be wildly different, either.
This is an area where some clients will really struggle. That’s somewhat ironic, as it’s one of the traits you’ll need from your client in order to do your best work.
Think of the areas where a consistent approach will play a key role in the development process. Customizing a CMS like WordPress (or the decision to use a CMS at all) calls for consistency. The very idea of a CMS is to make managing content much easier. Therefore, if a site’s content and related layouts are all over the map that makes it much harder to plan and develop for. And the more oddball exceptions you have to build in, the likelier it is that something will break down the road.
So, early on in the project (before development has even begun), it’s worthwhile to mention the importance of doing things in a somewhat consistent way. Explain that having a certain plan for building features, along with displaying and organizing content, will lead to a site that is easier to use and more cost-efficient to maintain. This is especially important for larger sites that have a lot of content.
Another benefit here is that, when a client has this picture of consistency in mind, they may just become better at articulating their needs. If they’re developing content in a similar way each time, it can lead to a less scattered strategy. Sometimes a little structure makes a big difference in quality.
Introduce Potential Scenarios
Perhaps one of the worst things a web designer can do is to assume that they know what a client wants without having some tangible proof. While you certainly have a shot at making the right guess, you’ll more often end up with a mess on your hands when things don’t look or work as expected.
One reason that this happens is because sometimes, our lines of communication are a little too general in scope. For example, it’s one thing for a client to say that they need to export data. This provides you with a basic idea of what they want. However, it’s better to know exactly what data they’ll need, what format it should be in and how they want to access it, as it may require a more in-depth solution.
This is where you can introduce some different scenarios to your discussion. It’s a great opportunity to find out exactly what a client’s expectations are, and even help them make the right decisions early on. And the best part is that it’s not very difficult.
Sticking with the data export example, you might ask your client to walk you through exactly what they want to happen during that process. Their explanation might just lead to some follow-up questions where you’ll both develop a clearer picture of how things should work.
This puts you both on the same page, which should lead to fewer roadblocks as the project moves forward.
Know the Individual
The most important part of assessing a client’s needs is in knowing a bit about who they are and what makes them tick. We’re all individuals with our own thoughts and ideas. And so what worked for Client A may not do the trick for Client B.
Overall, it’s about applying the tips above in a way that fits the person or people you’re working with. Doing so can streamline the entire process and provide you with the information you need to build the best website possible.
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