Trust and good listening skills are fundamental to great communication. To ensure our clients’ success, we emphasize communication that keeps projects focused and directed.
Here’s how you can do it:
Define business goals early and often.
On day one, work with your client to create a Business Goals Statement that clearly defines the project’s measurable business goals. Most importantly, be sure that all key, decision-making stakeholders participate in this exercise.
Post the Business Goals Statement in your project management software where it can easily be referenced, and refer to them often. Keeping goals fresh on everyone’s mind will ensure they become the project mantra. A project’s Business Goals should be the litmus test by which all tasks (and scope changes) are evaluated.
Make sure the goals are measurable!
You might be thinking, “OK, ask clients to set goals - that sounds reasonable enough!” However, coming up with goals is a surprisingly difficult task, one that a client may not have done before. It’s critical that the goals have tactical approaches that are measurable. For example:
1. Increase lead generation
Tactic to achieve goal:
Conduct A|B testing campaign over the next 4 weeks to determine which layout is more successful in generating leads.
How to measure:
By building an alternate marketing form layout in Drupal and integrating with Optimizely, the client determined that the alternate form drove new leads up by 12% by the end of the 4-week campaign.
2. Increase speed and ease of adding content to site
Tactic to achieve goal:
Implement “x” administration feature that improves content entry efficiency.
How to measure:
At the start of the project, it took 2 hours to make one update on all of the Locations pages. After the new Drupal taxonomy system was added, the client could do the same amount of work in 3 minutes - increasing efficiency by 3900%!
1. Make the site flexible enough to account for ANY unknown scenario
In our experience, extreme flexibility can be a point of failure for any site. “Extreme flexibility” reads as “We’re really not sure what the future holds, so we need to keep things fragmented until someone makes a decision.” This is a costly mistake and that will inevitably end with refactoring down the road.
2. Change everything that’s “Red-Orange” to “Candy Apple Red”
This one is tricky, because it may actually be a tactic for an unidentified business goal, such as “Increase our brand awareness”. However, if increasing your brand awareness isn’t a project priority, should the color change be a top priority? Probably not.
For more insight on how to craft excellent goals, check out what Nica Lorber has to say.
Use the right tools to measure goal success.
Here at Chapter Three we use a range of tools to capture progress at various project phases. Here are a few tools we recommend:
UserTesting is the #1 most popular user research platform out there. Top companies such as AirBnb, Apple, Facebook, and dozens more use UserTesting to identify how people are using their sites and how they can improve their website strategies.
At Chapter Three, we’ve used UserTesting results to identify hidden points of failure in copywriting, UX and imagery. This allowed us to create actionable tasks that add significant business value to our clients. Check out our Ixia Case Study to learn more!
Google Analytics is a staple in the majority of our clients’ toolboxes. Analytics provides a broad range of metrics on user interaction such as pages visited, traffic flow, geographic distribution of traffic, and much more. Google Analytics is free and easy to set up on Drupal. Google’s Analytics Academy offers quality tutorials on how to get started.
Moz is an excellent resource for learning about SEO. There are free tools that analyze search engine performance, compare your site to competitors and help navigate social metrics.
Handling feature requests that don’t correspond to business goals
First, share your concern that the request is not inline with the defined business goals, since the client may not have considered that. Ask your client to explain the reason for the request, and what the real or perceived consequences would be of not having the feature. Having genuine empathy for your client’s circumstance goes a long way toward building trust.
Next, do some footwork. Use metrics tools to illustrate that the feature request may not further the client’s business goals. This demonstrates that you have their best interests at heart, and also gives them the ammo they need to take this conversation further up the chain of command.
You may find that your client’s business goals have changed, which is more common in an Agile workspace. As goals change, update the Business Goals Statement document accordingly. If the targets are changing frequently, it’s important to flag this as a risk to your project timeline and budget.
Refer to statistics and research to support your points.
So often in web design, we run into the question of what it means to support a goal. For example, a client wants to implement a bulky sticky navigation with the hopes of improving the mobile experience.
How not to respond
“No, trust me, that’s not best practice! We’ve gone down this road a dozen times and it just takes up too much screen real estate.”
How to respond
"We agree that the mobile experience is an important component of the project, however, based on the size of your menu content, we recommend against the sticky nav. A recent a study from the Nielsen Norman Group shows that large, fixed menus are actually 89% more likely to frustrate users. More and more sites in your industry are abandoning sticky navigation systems, such as x, y and z sites."
When you reference relevant research, you demonstrate your expertise rather than simply insisting upon it. It instantly increases your credibility and supports your case with tangible evidence that your client can take back to his or her higher-ups.
Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know or are wrong.
Admitting you don’t know something conveys honesty and admitting you’re wrong fosters trust. Embrace this moment as an opportunity to show your human side and the respect you have for your client -- it’s the success of the project that matters, not whether you are right. No one is perfect, and showing weakness can be good, especially if the end result plays into the overall project goals.
DO NOT, under ANY circumstance go back and create lies that hide your lack of knowledge, as they will come back to bite you. Sometimes we try too hard to show our expertise when humility is more effective.
Let your clients know what to expect.
Leaving a client guessing leads to mismatched expectations, broken promises to stakeholders, missed deadlines, and pent up resentment. This is totally avoidable!
A project plan with a clear finish line helps keep clients informed. Before each meeting, send out an agenda, and follow up each meeting with key takeaways and action items. If you don’t have a regular check in scheduled, make sure you always have your next meeting tentatively arranged.
Similarly, after every major decision or change of plan, reiterate how the overall project is affected.
These simple steps can go a long way toward keeping your clients happy and your projects on track.
And that’s it! By following these communication guidelines, you can build a long lasting partnership with your clients based on trust and common goals.
I hope you enjoyed this article, please leave comments if you have questions or feedback.