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Educating the Client - Web Design Solutions
by William Szczepanek

Article 18: December 16, 2008

What’s Your Problem?  Do you ever do research on the Internet and have websites ask you what your problem is? I haven’t had that happen yet. They all promise solutions, but how can they provide a solution if they don’t know what my problem is?  Websites are often more concerned with providing solutions for their owners than for solving the problems of their customers.

Can these companies solve any problems that I may have?  Some say they can, but probably won’t.  So, how do I know if they will be able to handle a specific problem?  I suppose I need to call them and ask.  Have you tried that lately?  If you can manage to get through their call tree of most likely questions, you may be able to talk to a real person.   If that person is from India will they understand your real business issue?  Real business issues are difficult enough to discuss in this country. Do you plow through the FAQs never getting the answer you require?  Customer service has never been worse.

The word “solutions” is one of those buzzwords that is supposed to sound good, but really doesn't have much meaning.  Like “world class”, or “strategic partnering”. When the issue at hand is complex, then providing a solution is usually not easy.

Selling end-to-end solutions alone doesn’t show that you have the least bit of knowledge about your clients' needs.  With Web design, the client often does not know what they want.  They think they do.  Often small businesses want a site that will sell their product or service as inexpensively as possible.

Very often when I ask a client if they want SEO, they will say, “No. I just want a website.”  When I ask them if they want to be found, they say, “Sure, but I don’t want to spend much money.”  Basic SEO can be provided at no extra charge.  Monitoring results and making adjustments can take time and energy though. Unless clients know what they are getting as part of the set up and what it might cost to get their site recognized, they just don’t know enough.  They need to be educated. For them to provide you with enough information to design what they really want there needs to be a dialogue that deals with both the things they want and the things they don’t know they need yet.

They also need to trust you, and you need to be able to trust them.  Not that you will be the one with all the design ideas, but that you will be the one to lead the implementation of those design and development ideas that are chosen to a results-oriented conclusion.

What do clients need to know?  They need to know that custom graphics can be quite expensive, but that there are thousands of great, inexpensive stock photos.  They need to know that the higher the resolution of the photos, the longer the time it will take to load a page. Optimizing graphics is important.  They need to know that special programs to control actions on a page can sometimes be easy to implement and sometimes can be hard, depending on the level of difficulty.  They need to know that content writing requires not only a knowledge of the product or service to be described, but knowledge of how search engine robots read these articles. They need to know that basic Search Engine Optimization is easy, but results are dependent upon the effort of their competition and the uniqueness of their business.  Above all, they need to know what their problems are and what their customers’ problems are. On top of that, one of the most important “things” that clients must understand is that “things” change. The best approach today can become dated quickly and an effective website may require a good deal of ongoing work on their part.

The first planning meetings with a client need to delve deeply into all of these issues.  A checklist of questions is essential, but more importantly, it is the side dialogue that surrounds the answering of these questions that is really important.

A good designer needs to be part psychologist and part magician. Maybe witch doctor is a good term ― one that brews potions that will get clients to tell us what they really want.  It takes a great deal of effort to determine the requirements for a particular project. It takes a great deal of rapport to work with a client to really understand what they want and the associated cost to fulfill that want.

A website is a reflection of the client.  But, when they look at it they don’t want it to look like themselves, with all the wrinkles or blemishes.  They also don’t want it to look like their competitors’ sites. They want it to be something special. Something unique that will differentiate them from all of the other widget makers of the world. Really good websites cost more because they do more and most importantly get better results.

In today’s world of instant gratification and useless customer service techniques that cause the customer to search for better solutions themselves, a new method of client interaction is required ― one that bonds the client to the service company through mutual respect and trust.  Trust is accomplished through ethical procedures and candid views that both endear and educate both sides. These types of relationships are getting more and more uncommon in the world today, but in the long term, the principles surrounding these relationships are necessary to get the job done well.

So, what’s your problem?  If you don’t have a website you have a problem.  If you do have a website you have many problems.  Hopefully, your website provides some suitable solutions for you and your visitors.