Imagine the scene. You’re pitching an idea to a client, or explaining how a new feature in their WordPress site will work. You’re confident your approach will help their business in a myriad of ways. But you see their eyes glaze over. There is a pause during the conference call. The client, in a word, has no idea what you’re talking about.
The reality is, our non-tech savvy clients don’t understand the world in which we live. The WordPress terminology we take for granted is another language to them. This can lead to more than just a confusing conversation, it can mean setbacks, delayed work, and even strained business relationships. The good news is, there are ways you can eliminate this disconnect and be a greater asset to your clients.
1. Be a Translator
Chances are, your clients won’t know much beyond the word “WordPress”. The CMS we all know and love might be a mystical concept to your client (after all, they hired you to work on it for them). When sitting down with a client for the first time, throwing out basic terms like “PHP”, “databases”, or even “analytics” can be hazardous. Although you may feel it’s not necessary to explain everything to a client, a certain amount of clarification is in order when you work on their product (especially when billing time comes). Taking the time to “translate” WordPress and other terms into accessible language will give the client a grasp of what you’re doing, and help them feel a part of the process.
Say you’ve been hired to improve the performance of a very large WordPress website. After a few minutes you realize they’ve never installed a means of caching their many images, posts, and pages. The obvious solution is to install a performance-enhancing plugin like W3 Total Cache. However, when meeting time comes and the team leader needs an explanation on why they should install an additional plugin to speed up their site, how do you proceed? Throwing out words like “database caching” or “minify” might only serve to confuse your client. It’s not that they lack the ability to understand the technology (most of the time). Chances are they are simply busy people who need to understand your work quickly and efficiently. Breaking it down to something as simple as “a tool for making space” will help speed along the approval process.
This may seem obvious, but after working as a developer for years, you might become blind to this habitual use of jargon. When you write out a proposal for a new client, look at the terms you commonly use and consider how a novice would react to them (keeping in mind not everyone will speak up if they don’t understand something). Practice breaking down complex terms and ideas into everyday vernacular. You might even go as far as writing it out on a Post-It note and keeping it by your phone. Every little bit will help, and your client will appreciate it.
2. Be an Educator
There are many reasons why you need to bridge the communication gap with a client (not least of all it helps get you more clients), but the most important might be educating. After a few years working in the WordPress field, you move from just wanting to make ends meet, to becoming a sort of advocate for the technology. It may seem strange, but even in 2015 there are people in the business world who shun modern advancements (just look at their websites for proof). One of our goals as WordPress developers is to evangelize for our industry. The best way to get people on our side is by enlightening them. You are a teacher in the school of web development and don’t even know it!
Sometimes it’s as simple as leading a client by the hand. A common situation that I’m sure you’ve encountered arises when you launch a new WordPress website for a client. You’ve spent weeks, perhaps months, building the website. WordPress is humming at optimum efficiency, every plugin is in its place, and your carefully chosen theme is looking great. Now is the time to hand the reigns over to the client. How do you ensure they won’t bring all your hard work crashing down? Investing time to educate a client on the basics of WordPress, explaining the terms, even going as far as guiding them through making a new post, is the way to go. Making sure they know what they’re doing will keep the site functioning for as long as they need it to.
Although we’d like our clients to be dependent on us for their every need, there are just some things they need to do themselves. It’s not our job to train them for every possibility, but taking steps to make sure they understand what we’re doing goes a long way. Even a user-friendly platform like WordPress has its daunting features. Consider taking a day during your contract to explain the most salient aspects of the software to the client, especially when it concerns the work you’ve done for them. Alternatively, provide video courses or written tutorials for your client to go through at their leisure. Let the client come to you for the bigger tasks.
3. Be a Mentor
There are those clients that think they know what they’re talking about, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and trendy apps. Although it’s nice that they have their own Twitter or Instagram accounts, that clearly doesn’t make them equipped to do the heavy lifting, like installing a new theme or managing the database. However, that doesn’t change the reality that they want to stick their noses in your creative process, often hampering your progress on a project.
This is very common when designing or installing a new theme for a WordPress site. You may encounter a client who has their own ideas about how they want it to look, but lack the know-how to articulate it. They may even confuse commonly used terms like “flash” with “splash” (don’t laugh, it’s happened). Use the opportunity to discuss what they need, breaking down the specific words they are using, in order to come to a better understanding. A short session devoted to helping them find a better way to articulate their design needs will save you hours of useless programming.
Clients like this may feel like a burden, but it’s a blessing in disguise. People in this category are the most open to learning new things. They may not have the skills to grasp complex terms or ideas, nor do you have the time to train a new developer, but their enthusiasm means they’re open. Use it. Finding ways to channel that passion into other aspects of a project will prevent their meddling, expand their knowledge and give you room to work. Find something that is not crucial for them to look at. Maybe allow them dig into the analytics numbers or ask them to find the best Twitter integration plugin for WordPress. Redirect their semi-knowledge and put it to effective use.
4. Be Patient
It’s not always easy trying to communicate. Learning to express complex technical concepts to anyone is a challenge. Sometimes it’ll feel like you’re teaching a child – someone who is eager to learn, but is reluctant to make an effort. Other times you’ll have clients that absolutely refuse to learn. But being a WordPress developer has always required a healthy dose of patience. A client may be able to afford to be belligerent or resistant, but you can’t. Striving to be the most professional, most reliable developer will not only help facilitate better communication, it will also help you land more client referrals in the future.
Of course, the worst case scenario is if the client refuses to meet you halfway. How can you effectively communicate with a client that simply does not want to learn? Perhaps you’ve encountered a client like this: You’re working on improving their WordPress theme, and send the client proofs for a new design. Instead of taking the time to look them over, forming a well-thought out opinion and then emailing you, they call right away. Next comes a lengthy phone call where they spill out a long trail of random thoughts about the theme, often contradicting themselves. Efforts on your part to improve the process or explain the work more thoroughly are rebuffed. Making it even worse is the client’s insistence that they have more know-how about WordPress than you do.
Clients that resist improving communication are nightmares, but there are solutions. In many cases, reducing the amount of time you have to speak with them is the solution. Setting a time limit for calls or a window in which you will be available to only them via email might be enough. You could also consider finding another person within the client’s company to communicate with, preferably someone involved in the project and better placed to understand your work. Finally, if leaving the project isn’t an option (and we never want it to be), being firm – while respectful – about what you’re trying to do or say is necessary. It may feel like trying to plow through a brick wall, but slowly you’ll make progress.
The communication gap between developers and clients can seem like a daunting problem. However, with a little effort and foresight, you can bridge the gap and ensure a fruitful, working relationship. Here’s a quick recap of those four important techniques:
- Find ways to translate WordPress terms into common vernacular. This will speed up the workflow and help the client feel a part of the process.
- Take the time to educate them about the technology. This will give them a better appreciation for your work and equip them to do more themselves.
- Use their enthusiasm for WordPress to your advantage.
- Exercise patience throughout. This is a necessary element that will save your sanity.
Do you have any tips or stories that have helped you better communicate with a tech novice? Share them in the comments below, along with any questions you have!
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