By Andrew Neitlich

The importance of delivering and delighting clients, and why it is so rare

By Andrew Neitlich

Okay, you Web designers/developers who don’t believe that service in your industry is abysmal: Here we go with another set of THREE examples. In previous blogs, some of you have gotten quite defensive, calling me a lousy and cheap client and suggesting that there is no problem.

So this blog has three differences:

1. These examples come from highly-paid professionals, some employed and some self-employed — and not necessarily by me. So stop blaming me for their poor service as you read these examples.

2. These professionals have excellent credentials — right schools, big company experience, etc. They really have no excuse.

3. I’ll show you four distinctions (expanded upon in my book at www.itprosuccess.com) to improve.

Here are the three examples:

One: A Web Developer with impeccable credentials (including senior positions at two of the top web development firms in the world) has promised deliverables for a major project five times, and missed deadlines each time. It seems clear that he cannot predict when he will complete work, and cannot manage his team. The owners of this project have thrown up their hands and have considered starting over from scratch.

Two: A Web Designer was charged to develop a new website for his publicly traded company, in order to give it a more professional look and feel for an upcoming investor relations campaign. He missed the deadline completely, so that investors went to an outdated site. He refused to accelerate the process by using existing templates, insisting on reinventing the wheel and creating everything from scratch. His final product is still a draft (although he went live with it), with typos, dead links, and missing images. His explanation: “I got lost inside my own head.”

Three: A Web Deisgner working for a national company promised to have new site up and running in time for a company launch. As with above, he completely missed deadline, and could only present some rough draft Photoshop mock ups. Since he didn’t vette these with leadership ahead of time, there was some embarrassment involved when not everyone liked the new design. Meanwhile, he is quite defensive about his work, claiming it is fine and refusing to adapt to comments from his internal customer.

With these, I think I’ve provided enough examples over last 6 months to show that lousy service (certainly lousy project management) is endemic — at all levels. There are exceptions, and you may be one. But take a hard look at your process from your CLIENTS’ viewpoint, remembering that many clients eventually just throw their hands up and do what it takes to get results, without sharing their disappointment with you (this is called a “bunker mentality” — just get it done and let’s move on).

The way out of this predicament is by shifting from project management to project leadership, which entails 4 things (again, all laid out in my book):

1. Manage expectations.

2. Manage the process.

3. Manage results (not just tasks, but outcomes).

4. Manage the relationship.

Part of your marketing is the customer’s total experience of working with you.

Many of you are failing miserably with this part of your marketing…..

  • Our motto at Lovensen, Inc is “Anyone can create a website these days, but Lovensen gives you what you’re looking for: Service and ROI.”

    I agree completely that the consumer must be able to reach when need be and overall have a good experience from the process. Deadlines must be met or you lose the trust and appreciate of the customer.

  • cholmon

    The shop I work for could very easily be Example #4. I could give instance after instance of clients who have either assumed the bunker mentality or just left in a fit of rage. It hasn’t been quite so bad lately, but I really think it’s just luck; I fully expect some of our currently happy clients to go sour in the next year. I believe our biggest problem is #3 that Andrew mentioned, managing the process. #1, managing expectations, would be the runner up, and for us the two are a deadly combination. We take on an impossible amount of work, then we couple that with promising impossible deadlines. We usually deliver 90% of what was promised, and usually weeks, sometimes months late. 90% doesn’t seem all that bad, but the 10% that is left is almost always things like spelling mistakes, incorrect email addresses, broken links…things that do not “break” a web application, but things that look awful during a presentation.

    Our process is very remedial, with the vast majority of our manpower devoted to either development issues or sales/marketing. Support, Project Management, and Operations are all the same person at this point. The (simplistic) assumption that management has made regarding our operation is that if the products are sound, everything else should follow (more clients => more money => more manpower, repeat). Our products are built and launched with just enough time put in them to refer to them as “complete” so that we can make payroll. It not only erodes our reputation, but also our internal morale. Some days are better than others, but it’s really wearing us out.

  • Thirteenva

    Let’s not misconstrue what i think is the focus of the article… It’s not just that the designer missed deadline, but that he completely blew the project by not having defined stages and some form of deliverable for the scheduled review stages. If you’re going to miss deadline, you better have some hard and fast evidence that it was unavoidable due to project complications.

    The overall deadline itself many times will change anyway… Many times the customer increases scope at many of the review points along the way… “why can’t it also do this”… etc… Also while internal deadlines along the project management time line should be met, the total project timeline shifts many times.

    Our customers deadlines seem to only be hard and fast when they decline review processes along the way and the project is agreed to only meet the scope of the original criteria.

  • Things really are that bad out there?
    Cool – more opportunities for me :)
    Delighting the customer is my main aim.

  • I am not surprised that there is poor service in the industry. But I am surprised that service that poor is provided by professionals of that level. Our processes are not perfect but definitely the customer needs to be your focus. Invovle them from start to finish, reviewing all the way. Then they understand what’s going on all the time, they feel involved, they know where the deadlines should be, they can approve everything and all the while you’re building a relationship of trust for future business and referrals.

  • markchivs

    There is no excuse for bad service of that kind from developers.

    However, what sort of systems have these companies got in place to stop this happening? Nothing by the looks of it.

    I wouldn’t give a bad developer 5 attempts to deliver and I certainly wouldnt wait until the last minute to see the state of the work from my supplier. Especially with that much restng on their delivery – crazy!!!

  • worldstallest

    As someone who has (is) working both corporate and freelance, understanding and applying the four points mentioned here is critical. However, two other words must also be mentioned in a discussion of project management: “client selection”.

    Best intentions are not enough when dealing with clients who are high-maintenance or consistently difficult, who hire consultants for their knowledge and then ignore it, or for people who flat don’t understand/value the level of effort that goes into a project.

    There are two sides to a client-consultant relationship and there is no substitute for a good fit.

    I’ve reached the point in my career where I can say “no” to projects. You can get to that point a lot more quickly by establishing quality relatationships with the right people, and by not wasting your time with the wrong ones.

  • I’m seriousily considering starting up my own business, and I’m inspired by the many tales of “dinner/breakfast/lunch” deals, as well as deals done on a golf course.

    Now, if I start my business I’ll be very unknown and untrusted, and I have the desire and ambition to be very big, very fast, so how do I get trust and respect quickly?

    When should I, IT professional/freelancer, ask a prospective client to a business dinner/breakfast/lunch and what days should this be done? For example, should I only ask for Saturdays?

    a) Before the company knows who you are, you ring them up and ask if the director would be interested in discussing my proposal?

    b) After a deal is done?

    c) During a deal?

    I’m so confused, but I want to hit it big quickly. Ideas?

  • rick

    Definitely hits home – I’ve seen this from a client perspective and as a web developer consultant perspective, from startup shoestring to fortune 500 million dollar projects. A few insites:

    1) It’s a two way street – if you are managing an outside firm on a million dollar project, you need to be fully engaged and know what you want and what the success criteria is. True, a good agency/consultant should let you know if they are off schedule sooner than later to give the management team an opportunity to revise tasks/dates/priorities. If you get to the last week prior to launch and realize you still have 6 more weeks of work – YOU ARE A RETARD.

    2) Just like in all business – there are going to be greedy dishonest folks trying to make a buck – buyer be ware.

    3) Insent with dollars for early delivery – and dis-insent by taking dollars away for late delivery.

    4) Just because you are outsourcing something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand what it takes to get done and enough savy to call BS.

    5) From a consultant perspective – many times too many hours are spent up front educating the customer – which eats into the development cycle.

    6) Even if the overall project management/planning is done by a consultant – someone on the inside of the company needs to do the same to keep them honest.

    7) Customers often contribute to delays – by not delivering to the consultant on time. Own your deliverables and don’t be part of the problem, rather be part of the solution.

    8) Guess what – the whole industry has it wrong. A web site/application is a one-off project for the most part. It’s not building track houses – so you don’t have a completely repeatable process. So when asking someone to estimate the unknown one should expect a delta between actual and estimate. The other part of it is that, like design, it isn’t like code – there is no automated compilation or validation for completeness or good ways to ensure completeness.

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