I don’t have a big business by any means but I always have a steady stream of work. While some of this may be due to design skills or pricing, I would say that 90% of it is due to how I treat my customers. Customer service is a big part of any business and if you want to be a freelance designer you have to know a thing or two about customer service. While some of this may seem like common sense, I am always amazed when faced with truly bad customer service.
Recently, I sold my condo and used a realtor who happened to be my property manager. I thought since I already had a relationship with them that the process would be more convenient. Boy was I wrong. My horrible experience with them has also made me reflect on how I treat my customers.
I think the biggest role of any kind of business person is to educate his/her customer. Here are some informal tips for building customer relationships:
- Educate the customer. A lot of customers approach me when they first want a website built. In the beginning, many of my customers do not know what questions to ask. I find out as much as I can about what the purpose of the website is for and then I give some options of what CMS platforms to use. I tell customers the pros and cons of different services and I am open with my information. This open exchange of information leads the customers to do more research and to formulate more questions and to gain trust. Sure sometimes the customers run with the information and try to do things on their own. But that’s OK too. One time I had a customer try to create a website on her own after I gave her some information and she came back to me for more help. I tried to help her and I pointed her to resources that could be useful to her. Even though she didn’t use my services as a designer she was very grateful for my help.
- Listen to the customer. When I was selling my condo, the most frustrating part was not feeling listened to. If I made a request, I would get ten excuses back. Nobody wants to hear excuses, even if they are valid and legitimate. If a customer asks me to do something that I don’t believe will be the best solution, I will always listen to the customer and figure out why the customer is making that request. Then I usually serve up two options: one exactly as the customer requested, and the other using my own problem solving approach. Don’t ever tell a customer that you have over a decade of experience and know what you’re talking about. No one wants to hear that. Instead, ground your work in reasoning. Explain to the customer the thought behind the choices you make. This also goes back to #1, Educate the customer.
- Be transparent from the beginning. I give a price quote to all my customers at the beginning of any project. If for any reason down the road, the price quote needs to be changed, I communicate that before I start the work. No one wants to be surprised with a hefty bill after the fact. Unfortunately, I had to deal with an unwanted and unknown expense when my realtor showed me the bill after I had finished closing. This made me very upset. It is extremely important to be clear and honest from the beginning in order to gain trust. If I have a job that I know will cost more after the fact, I tell the customer exactly what I have to do and how much time that will take before I start working on the job. Usually, if the customer is aware of the work and time involved in a project then he/she will be more amenable to changes in price. If you just pop a bill after the project is over then there is less chance the customer will be open.