I’m going to go on a bit of a rant today, but I promise if you read all the way to the end, you’re going to learn the number one way to improve your sales and repeat customers.
Literally, the number one thing that has kept my clients coming back to me, referring me to their friends and contacts, and giving me great reviews.
Want to know what that is?
Of course you do!
Treat Your Customers Like a Human
That’s it. I could honestly stop right there and be done. What I think a lot of web designers, but especially coders (sorry guys), forget is that we’re dealing with human beings. We might be the experts in code and putting all of these tech pieces together, but that doesn’t mean that we are geniuses who can cloak our businesses in mystery either.
You want to know the things I hear most often from my clients?
“Wow, you’re such a breath of fresh air to work with.”
“Thank you for explaining this and not talking down to me.”
“I know you’re a developer, but you’re not like other developers I’ve worked with.”
“You’re always such a delight to talk to.”
“Wow, you actually email me back!”
And over, and over again.
Most of my clients are not totally new to the website world. They’ve usually built a website before they’ve worked with me. They’ve worked with other website developers and designers that have helped them get online. They’ve continued to have someone help them keep their website updated in some capacity.
And most of my clients have been burned by the web developer who came before me. Some of them have been burned multiple times. To the point that they think a rude and misogynistic attitude and ghosting for several days or weeks is the norm.
What I think a lot of web developers especially (but web designers, too) forget is that we’re not working some crazy magic. Just because my expertise is code and building websites doesn’t mean that I am better than my client who is a non-tech savvy massage therapist or an attorney.
We All Have Our Expertise
The number one thing that I keep in mind when I’m working with clients?
We all have our expertise. Just because I can code does not make me better than someone else.
I have always been book-smart. But I’m book-smart in the things that interest me. I like putting together puzzles, examining and watching people, and examining the data that helps me determine whether or not I’m on the right track. All of those things work well with my experience and expertise in marketing, not just in building websites. I build websites that work well with my clients’ digital marketing strategies because I like putting together those puzzles and figuring out the best ways to talk to their ideal audience. I build websites that automate parts of their businesses and make their lives easier, grow with their businesses, and are flexible for changes that they’re planning for down the line because I love to think through growth and put those pieces together. Those are my expertise. I just happen to approach that expertise through front-end development and PHP.
My clients, however, are experts in accounting, finance, online business legal, massage therapy, physical therapy, building community with older adults, food entrepreneurship and restaurants, higher education, and aviation. I am fully aware that if I tried to step into any of my customers’ shoes and try to run the businesses that they run, I would fail.
And that’s the key here. Just because I’m an expert in PHP does not make me better or smarter than my clients.
Any time they try to tell me I’m a “genius” or “magic,” I remind them that I could not do my own taxes (I can’t, ask my mom). I could not do the things they do because they are experts in their businesses. I just happen to be an expert in mine.
Having an attitude and mentality that I’m nothing special just because I’m a coder? It’s helped me to speak to my clients in a more positive way. It reminds and humbles me when I feel great for figuring out a complex issue. It encourages me to remind them of their own expertise when they compliment me for mine.
And you know what? Every time I tell a client that they’re an expert in their business and I just happen to be an expert in my own? They preen in joy and appreciation.
Speak Their Language
Probably the thing that’s helped me most in my career as a web developer in businesses and as an agency owner? Translating my “web dev speak” to English. If I tell my customers that they have to get out of their own industry terminology and speak in their customer’s language, well, so do I.
Sometimes that looks like me stopping myself, taking a beat, apologizing, and saying “Hold on, let me translate that into English.” I’m very aware that technical language can be and get overwhelming. I do my best to translate that into something a little more friendly, being careful to explain my processes and making it feel like it’s not the scary thing that so many of my clients think it is.
Let’s be real – a lot of what we do when we build websites is something that isn’t that difficult. Buying a domain name, for instance, doesn’t have to be a big scary thing. Purchasing hosting is pretty user-friendly, too. But so many of my clients find those tasks overwhelming because of the stigma attached. I try to do my best to break down those barriers and remove those stigmas. And you know what? They’d still prefer I handle it anyway.
Speak with Respect
You’d think that this is not something I’d have to say, but I’ve literally been on calls with other web developers and watched them treat their clients with so much disrespect it’s infuriating to me.
Story time – I was helping a new client out with a huge migration. They had just moved to WordPress from a more specialized CMS and were having issues on their new server. Long story short, the developer they were working with had launched them on a Windows server. If you know anything about WordPress, you know that while it totally can run on a Windows server, it’s best on a Linux environment.
I, a female web developer with 16 years of professional experience – 8 in WordPress, was brought on to help them transition from the Windows to a Linux environment and ensure there weren’t issues.
This other web developer, was, frankly, out of his depths. With all the issues they’d run into, he’d become defensive and almost aggressive with the Marketing Director. I sat on a phone call with the Marketing Director and this developer, planning out the checklist I was going to create to ensure a smooth transition to Linux, and listened to him berate and talk down to the Marketing Director and myself. We are both women and he didn’t know my expertise.
After a few days, he figured out that I knew my shit, but I still watched him speak down to the Marketing Director while being polite to me. On the same Teams call.
Want to know what happened?
I’m now their regular web developer and he lost a steady gig. Because of how he behaved towards both of us, but largely to the person who was in charge of his employment.
Why would you do that? Because he felt like he knew more than them and had obviously been used to not fully communicating what he was doing in his own processes. That mindset lost him income.
Follow a Process
That leads me into my next point. No matter what you’re doing – whether it’s a small update or a full website build – you need to follow a process. You don’t need to have someone else define and set up your process or do what you see the big agencies doing. Find the process that works for you and your business and stick to it.
Following a process not only improves the quality of work you put out, but being open with your clients that you follow a set process builds trust. It helps to improve your communication, helps you to explain to them exactly where their project is, and keeps everything flowing smoothly.
Take it from someone who struggles with knowing “what’s next” in a project; when you build out a set process, it takes all that guesswork away and makes everything a lot easier.
Communicate in a Timely Manner
Which in turn, makes communicating easier.
Let’s be real – web developers and website builders have a terrible reputation in the communication department. So much so, that when I email back within one to two business days, especially when I’m first working with a client, they thank me for actually responding.
I’ve heard horror stories of web developers taking deposits and never getting back in touch, or “dropping off the face of the earth” for months at a time, or not responding for a week or two to an email.
Really, are any of us that busy?
If you work in this business, chances are that talking to other human beings isn’t your favorite thing. You chose to be shut up with your laptop in a dark room for days at a time, after all. But the reality is, unless you want to hire someone to do your communication for you, you have to buck up and do it.
What’s helped me is setting times throughout my day where I check emails and respond. I try to check first thing, around lunch time, and at the end of the day. Do I respond outside of those hours? I sure can. But sticking to those times helps make that a priority and reminds me to actually do it. If I can’t answer an email right away because I need to research or I simply don’t know what to say, I’ll acknowledge that I got the email and that I’m looking into it.
I use Google Workspace, so I can “star” those messages that are read but I need to respond to or do some digging on. If it’s a bigger thing, I add that research to my Toggl Plan to ensure that I don’t forget it. Basically anything to remind me to actually get back with them.
I’m not the best if I’ve read an email and sometimes I’ll literally forget I haven’t responded or I did only in my head. And hey, that happens. I’m just honest when it does, apologize, and move on.
Be Honest & Authentic
Above all else – be real with your clients. Don’t try to cloak your work in mystery and jargon so you can make them feel stupid or as an excuse to charge them more money. Just because I use English and translate my work doesn’t mean I get to charge less. In fact, it honestly means I get to charge more and earn more overall because my customers are happy with me. They’re thankful I speak their language but also more than happy to let me take care of the things they don’t have the expertise to handle.
When you make a mistake, be honest that you’ve made a mistake. Don’t lie or try to hide, because honestly, they typically know anyway. When you confront that issue and are honest upfront, it goes a long way to build trust with your clients.
We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all have our own expertise. And we all have the things we love to do. Remember that, treat your clients with respect, and you’ll be amazed at how much that improves your customer care off the bat.