As a freelancing, you don’t enjoy many of the perks afforded to companies with larger staffs of specialized employees. On a day to day basis, this is challenging but not impossible. But when something goes wrong, the difficult scale can ramp up quickly. Unlike an agency, you don’t have a customer service department to jump in. You are customer service, and that’s something that many creatives and developers have a hard time with.
But have no fear, even if you’re not a people person, there are a few simple techniques you can use to stay on top of issues, and keep your clients as happy as possible, even when there’s a problem. And don’t worry, I won’t make you where one of those phone headsets.
Get On Top of the Issue Immediately
The first, and most obvious thing to do when there’s a problem is to address it immediately. Figure out exactly what is wrong and who it affects before you do anything else. It can be tempting to immediately reach out to your clients, but by taking a few minutes to compose yourself and gather the facts about the issue, you’ll actually have something to say other than “We’re looking into it.” Of course, you don’t want to delay client communication any longer than absolutely necessary, clients are looking for actual information from you, not vague platitudes and assurances.
Figure out what’s going on, then contact the client and explain exactly what the problem is, and you plan to address it. You’ll come across as much more capable and ensure your clients’ are confident in your ability to deal with the situation.
Figure Out Who the Key Players Are
In the world of web design and development, solutions often have a lot of dependencies. An issue can be in code, with the hosting company, a web service, or in any of dozens of other possible places. That’s why it’s essential to have a list of all the key players on every project, with all of their relevant contact information. Nothing is more frustrating than sitting around when you’re client’s site is down because you’re waiting for a key player’s updated phone number to be sent to you. Take care of this before there’s a problem.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
In a client’s mind, there is nothing worse than radio silence in the middle of an emergency. Even if it seems like you’re following up too often, or giving too much information, don’t worry. Giving a client too much information is always better than not enough.
So what do you communicate, exactly? First, a summary of exactly what the issue is, and what you are doing to remedy it. After that, send regular updates on status, any progress you make, and when you bring in third parties (e.g. the hosting company). Be conscious of the language you use; avoid jargon and overly technical explanations, but never talk down to your customers.
Create a Postmortem
Once the issue has been resolved, the last thing you want to do is write up a postmortem, describing the problem, how it was resolved, and what you are going to do to ensure that it doesn’t happen again in the future. This ensures that everyone understands what happens, and stresses your ability to both handle the situation, and take preventative action for the future.
If you follow these simple tips, you should be able to survive a client issue with your reputation intact. And, if you play your cards right, will even remind your client why they chose you to begin with. Just remember to be polite, prompt, and transparent.
Don’t make excuses, just fix the problem.