A Simple Guide on How to Effectively Talk to Clients

talk_nerdy_to_me.jpgEveryone needs a website made, but not everyone can talk “tech” like we can. From the farm owner in Indiana to the brain surgeon in Malaysia, we quickly see that employers can come from all walks of life. Learning how to carry on a compelling conversation about web development is a paramount skill that all web developers should possess if you want to keep the checks coming in. Maintaining your audience’s interest and gaining an accurate picture of what they truly need to get done can prove to be a challenging part of any web development project, but here’s a few tips that might help a bit.

Get an estimate of their computing/technological expertise.

So that you know how in-depth you have to explain certain concepts or ideas, you should first try to determine the individual’s computing/technology knowledge. This can be accomplished indirectly with, what I’d like to call, fishing questions (similar to “fishing for compliments“).

For example, you can ask in passing, “Hey, what operating system do you have on your home computer?” or “What’s your preferred web browser?”. What you’re really trying to learn is: (1) if they know the basic terminologies like operating systems and web browsers, (2) if they have any experience with computers and the internet, (3) their tech savvy-ness, (4) how and why they use IT. A person using Linux probably knows a thing or two about computers and Mac’s are generally appealing to artists, designers, and musicians.

Other fishing questions are:

  • What do you already know about search engine optimization?
  • Do you use Adobe Photoshop (or a similar digital-image editing software)?
  • What are some websites you frequent on your spare time?
  • Do you subscribe to any RSS feeds?

Don’t underestimate a person’s knowledge.

You know that colleague who insists on explaining to you the difference between HTML and (X)HTML when you’ve just finished a strict-doctype XHTML website? Don’t be that guy. People don’t like to be treated like they’re stupid, and not being able to understand a person’s knowledge is a sure-fire way of landing yourself on his or her bad side. If you’re unsure of their grasp on a particular subject, don’t assume they don’t know anything, ask fishing questions and judge by their reactions whether or not you’ve explained enough.

Use actual examples.

When talking about a web project, it helps to have a computer with an internet connection nearby so that you can both communicate look at stuff that’s on the internet. For instance, if you’re trying to determine what look-and-feel a client wants for their website (i.e. “web 2.0”, dark, clean, etc.) you’d get a more precise answer if you were to show examples of websites that may have a similar theme that they described.

Keep an emphasis on the bottom-line.

People may not understand what SEO is, or how it’s accomplished, or why valid mark-up matters when trying to achieve a search engine optimized site, but if you talk in terms of results, they’ll be inclined to keep listening. For example, trying to describe the importance of standards-compliant XHTML, you can say: “standards-compliant XHTML ensures that the website’s mark-up is valid and supported by most modern web browsers which in the end means less maintenance and fewer customer support due to browser-rendering issues“.

Keep it simple.

Sometimes we have a tendency to overwhelm employers with technical jargon and over-explanation because we want to show them our knowledge and expertise. There’s no need to explain how you’re going to mock-up the web design in Photoshop (layer by layer, in excruciating detail). Most probably, they don’t care and you’ll only risk complicating things and adding to the client’s anxieties about a topic they’re not well-versed in.

Encourage questions.

It’s always good to figure out any questions or needs for clarification as early as you can to avoid dissatisfaction at the end. Give off the attitude that you’re always willing to answer questions and that no question is too simple or silly. If you have the luxury to meet with a client in person, you can do this by judging their facial reactions to the things you say. If they seem confused, ask: “should I explain further?”. If you’re meeting remotely (emails or phone calls), regularly say things like: “I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you may have”.

Talk using familiar analogies.

A great way to relate information to employers is by using scenarios and situations that are pertinent with their background. Be creative, make analogies funny, and most of all, use it to relay complex concepts. To illustrate with a satirical example: if you were talking to a basketball fan, you could say “using tables instead of div’s for page layout is as bad of a decision as picking Michael Olowokandi over Michael Jordan on your fantasy basketball roster because…“.

Be yourself.

Don’t pretend like you’ve worked on hundreds of websites and that you’ve been doing this for 15+ years… if you really haven’t. If you look uncomfortable or unsure of yourself, it gives off the impression that your trying too hard to impress or appear knowledgeable in the subject. A lot of web designers and developers nowadays don’t hide the fact that they are small, young, and playful. When working in an industry that’s complex and intimidating to outsiders, it’s a welcoming relief to find people that are normal. It can prove to be a plus when you don’t obfuscate the fact that you’re just starting out in the business. It’s easier to talk to a person who’s honest, sincere, and up-front then someone who appears to be B.S.’ing you all the time.

Do you have your own tips on how to effectively communicate with your clients? Share them by leaving a comment!

Tags: clients, employers, guide, project Mmanagement, tutorial