A Developer’s Guide to Communicating With Clients
If you are a developer that does not always feel comfortable to communicate with the clients and all you want to do is just code and more code, then this article is created with you in my mind.
While working with clients on daily basis, monitoring the communication between clients and developers and occasionally assisting developers in complicated dialogues, I have collected a good understanding of what’s the good way to communicate in given situation. And although each situation requires an individual approach, it was possible for me to standardize it a bit and share with you few situations and examples on how I think communication should go.
We all need to understand that each day there are big challenges on the plate for developers. They work really hard to provide solutions for complex problems, they are sometimes handling several projects at the same time and dealing with different cultures on a daily basis. They are in most cases introverts that don’t easily get comfortable to communicate so they just need some time to adapt to the newly situation and the client.
So let us see what are the situations I wanted to highlight in this blog post.
1) Informing clients that you have received a task
The first thing that crossed my mind as important is noting clients you have received a task that has been assigned to you. Maybe some of you might think how this is a no brainer but this little step is very important in everyday communication.
Let’s put this in context:
Situation A) The client assigns a task. A developer is available to look at it.
Solution: You should inform the client that you will look at it right away and come back to him with the more informed feedback or you can take a quick look and in the first response provide some questions to better understand what needs to be done.
Situation B) The client assigns a task. A developer is not free to look at it immediately.
Solution: Thank them for providing information regarding the task and inform them that you will start with it as soon as possible. This way you have let them know that you are not available at the moment, but as soon as you will be, you will work on it.
- Ignore the task for a day or couple of days while you don’t become available for resolving process.
- Share additional information of why you cannot take this task right away. You will just complicate things that shouldn’t be complicated.
2) Frequently updating the client about the task progress
In most cases, a developer would inform the client that he has started with the task and he would not give any updates until he’s not finished. If we are talking about a task that needs a day or two to be completed, it is definitely right approach, as we don’t want to burden the client with too much updates. However, more time-consuming tasks that need at least 7-10 days to be fulfilled should be given updates from time to time.
The status updates shouldn’t be:
- Too big or too short
- Too often (i.e. if you are working on it for 7 days, 3 updates are enough)
Always have in mind to write only relevant and important information such as what you have done so far and what is the next step in the task progress. It is good to ask some questions too.
But what to do in the situation if you have not yet started with the task (it happens) and it is time to post a status update?
No one is proud of situations like this, but let’s see what you can do!
- Solution: You can start with it now and at the end of the day update the client about the progress. At least you have done something. 🙂
- Solution: You should be honest with what is going on. You were busy with the emergency task(s) and you are starting with this task now. You will apologies and prioritise this task. Maybe the client will not be satisfied with these explanations at the moment, but don’t be afraid. He will appreciate your honesty after some time.
- Lie to the client that you have done something which in reality you have not even started yet. Remember that lies always come out in the end. 🙂
3) Avoiding writing too long posts
You should remember that the client doesn’t have the time to read long posts, especially if something can be said in short and without complications. If you have written too long post, it might seem that you didn’t understand the task well. So always try to simplify things, if you can.
Since writing a long post would take a lot of your time, why shouldn’t you ask the client for a quick Skype call to discuss it?
You will know right away what he thinks of proposed solution and it will be less time consuming than writing a long post. Also, a voice communication is better for creating a bond with the client.
4) Notifying the client on the time about your vacations and obligations
Inform the client about your planned vacation in advance so that he can plan tasks towards you. Also, don’t take any complex tasks knowing that in the middle of their progress you will be gone and not available to check upon them.
When you are about to go on a vacation, name another developer to be on the service if something is urgent.
In the situation when you got sick or have some unexpected things to deal with, ask your teammates or team leader to write a quick note that you will be unavailable for a specific period of time on projects you work. With these approaches you will receive a lot of respect from the client.
But what should you do if the project is progressing slowly because of the client and now you have a 2 weeks delay from release?
(You have planned on taking a vacation in a week because the project supposed to be finished).
This is something that definitely requires individual approach and a deeper analysis of the situation. If you are very indecisive about how to react, the following question will maybe help to make a right decision:
- How important is this project for your company?
- Will this project really be launched in 2 weeks or maybe in 4-6 weeks?
- Are you able to move your vacation for few weeks or not?
- Can someone fulfil your position while you are away?
If you are willing to give it a try and move your vacation towards the project, you should let the client know that you’ve decided to stay in order to get things done, but make a clear deadline for how long you will be available. This way you will not feel guilty if another deadline is passed.
If you have mastered these skills in your everyday work then clients probably enjoy working with you. Some advanced things that you could do:
- From time to time make jokes with the client because it would make your everyday work more pleasant.
- Wish them all the best for birthday and holidays you know they celebrate.
And as an icing on the cake, the hardest question is left for the end.
What to do in the situation when the client is angry and rude?
From my experience, it is important to not be emotionally involved with a message and to respond cool-headed. The tone of the message should be calm and with respect. Don’t be afraid even if it is your mistake. Examine the situation – why did this happen and can it be fixed. Try to propose a solution. If you are not sure how to handle this situation, ask for your team leader to jump in.
I have written all of this from my personal experience, and I really do believe if you are following these suggestions that you shouldn’t have any big problems with the project communication.
The fact is that good communication is sure evidence of a future long-term relationship. If the client is satisfied with the communication, then he is also happy with you/agency. But, there could be even one more positive thing. If the client is happy, there is a greater chance that he will recommend you, or your agency, to his (business) friends. In other words, any “friends” that “happy” client informs about you can have its process of choosing eCommerce agency very shortened. Because good word gets around.
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What is your experience with working with clients? Do you have any tip to include in this post?
Feel free to share your thoughts with us!
Very useful Guide for all the communicator.