Photo by Vance Osterhout

Let’s be honest: customers can be very frustrating. Not all of them, of course, but those who are… ? I’m still surprised by the behavior of some of the customers I’ve interacted with during the last 4 years:

  1. “I’ve updated your plugin and it doesn’t work anymore”. What they’re not telling you is that they also updated 10 other plugins and installed two more… and, guess what? Those are the ones causing the issue! ?
  2. “Send me the invoice of my last payment”. Well, they didn’t give me much information, but I guess this one’s easy—I just need to look for the customer using their email and… Oops! There aren’t any subscribers with this email address. How am I supposed to find you? ?
  3. After several emails discussing a new functionality the user needs (one that would only work for them and nobody else) and a few hours invested, I tell them that “I’ll be happy to implement the solution; just let me know how your database is structured and I’ll add the required filters in our code”. Their answer? “Thanks for your patience and time, but please cancel my subscription. Your tool isn’t what I need.” Really? ?‍♀️
  4. “A very, very slow plugin. Affected the performance of my web site.” Hey! That’s a huge problem—let’s work on it right away: “Thanks for the feedback. Can you please let me know where do you experience the performance issues?” Seven months later and still no reply ?‍♀️
  5. Incoming email at 2am. “I’ve read you know a lot about wordpress. My website shows a blank screen… this also happens to other pages in my hosting. Is this a wordpres problem? or is there anot her reason??” (sic) You know I care about you and I’ll always try to help you… but that might be out of our scope, don’t you think? ?
  6. 6 months after we completed a migration process successfully, the customer re-appears with some questions: “hey, why does post 127 look like this?” ? It’s been half a year since we worked on this, do you really expect me to remember how your posts looked like? ?
  7. “Cancel my subscription right away or I’ll sue you”. ? Sure, if you want to stop using our service, we’ll be more than happy to cancel your subscription (as we always do, by the way). But there’s no need to threat anyone. A polite request would have been much more appreciated! ?

Even if it only comes from a minority of your customers, these threats, these tickets with incomplete information, these customers that ask for your help and then leave forever, these nonsense criticisms… they all consume your energy and might even infuriate you. But you shouldn’t despair—there’s a lot of things you can do to avoid these situations and enjoy a happy and fruitful relationship. Often, these problems arise because people have trouble communicating what they need or understanding each other—it’s as simple as that.

How to Know What Your Customers Really Want

That’s a good question, buddy. If I knew the answer, I’d be rich! In the last meetup we had here in Barcelona, JuanKa talked about the relationship between developers and customers and shared a few tips and tricks to guarantee the success of your projects. In the end, JuanKa said that it all reduces to respecting each other and properly defining the goals and scope of your projects. Let’s take a look at the 5 top tips to satisfy your customers.

1. Look for Some Common Ground, so that You Can Understand Each Other

One of the most frustrating problems I usually have is the difficulty developers and users have in understanding each other. For instance, most of the examples I shared in the beginning of this post were due to the fact that users weren’t telling me the whole picture—I guess they just assumed I’d know better. A few weeks ago, my patner Antonio shared an article on how to write effective support tickets. If you haven’t read it, do it—as a customer, it’ll help you express yourself better and get a solution faster; as a developer, you can pass it along to your own users ?

Confused woman
If you can’t understand each other, you’ll get frustrated easily and the project will get stuck.

But it’s not always about users expressing their needs poorly. Sometimes it’s on us—developers using weird concepts and making assumptions about what a customer knows or doesn’t know. For example, sometimes I assume my users have some basic HTML and CSS knowledge because they’re WordPress users. I’m often right—but not always. Talk to your users and get to know them better. Use concepts they understand. Let’s make our lives easier, shall we?

2. Always Ask for Real Feedback

Once you know how to talk to your customers, it’s time to ask for some feedback. Remember your user will spend hours using your product, so their ideas, suggestions and complaints are paramount to your project’s success and development.

Jennifer Lawerence in an awkward situation
All users have an opinion they’d like to share. Some will come to you. Others won’t. Either way, be open to their comments and listen to them!

Agile methodologies advocate evolutionary development and early delivery, encouraging rapid and flexible response to change. If you apply one of these in your company, you should encourage your users to take part of the development and involve them in testing.  The more involved they are, the more feedback you’ll get from there, which means the better will the project suit their needs.

3. Limit the Alternatives or You’ll Be Overwhelmed

Asking a user to get involved is a double-edged sword. Sure, you’ll get way more feedback, suggestions, ideas, proposals… But it also means you’ll have to deal with everyone’s particular needs, which may not fit the goal you’re pursuing. The more input you have, the easier it’ll be to feel overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed man
Feedback is good, but it all has a limit. Let them talk, but direct the conversation so that it follows your own needs.

I’d recommend you direct the conversations with your customers in a way such that the feedback you get serves your needs and not the other way around. Unless you’re talking to some prospects in an exploratory way, you should be asking the right questions to get the right answers. That is, make sure their input and help covers the topics you’re worried about, and prioritize their feedback based on its fitness to your project.

4. Always Remember that Your Project Aims to Solve a Certain Problem

We’ve been talking about “solutions” and “features”, completely ignoring “problems” and “goals”. Remember that any customer that approaches you will have a problem they want you to solve. It’s paramount that you discover the root cause of that problem and understand the expectations of your customers. If you do this properly, you’ll be able to build the right solution.

5. Learn to Say “NO”

Yes, that’s my last advise. You’ll have to say “no”. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re a freelancer and your income depends on the projects you take. But there are some customers that aren’t worth it (you know who I’m talking about—those who just drive you nuts). Don’t be afraid to turn down a project that doesn’t fit your own requirements or that requires a level of expertise that’s way above yours. Say “no” when you can’t or don’t want to and be happier!

Man says no
Sometimes, the only solution is to say “NO”.

Antonio talked about this very same lesson last week. Customers that change their requirements continuously, customers that don’t know what they want, customers that pay late, customers that ask for your help at all times, customers you simply don’t like… there’s plenty of examples of customers that’ll take all your time and energy, without giving anything back. Get rid of them ASAP.

In Summary…

All relationships are complicated. Customer-provider relationships are no exception. At the end of the day, you want to work with people that make you happy and whom you might help. Sure, there’ll still be a few customers that’ll be slightly frustrating… but there’ll be others that’ll make you very happy! ???

Featured Image by Vance Osterhout via Unsplash.

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