Business of Web Development
·10 min read

A Guide to Client Communication for Developers and Agencies

Today, we have to move fast and then even faster. We get it. There is a never-ending to-do list to complete, new website pages to optimize, and new requests from new clients are all piling up.

We get so focused on the execution that we forget about the foundation of a good client relationship: outstanding client communication.

Whether you are a freelancer juggling multiple clients or an agency with more established processes, revisiting client communication basics is always a good idea if you notice things are not going as smoothly as you would like them to.

And if you’re not convinced that client communication is the main culprit for your problems, take a look at this graphic and see if any of it resonates with you.

An image showing a cartoon depiction of the software dev lifecycle.

While a lot can go wrong when communicating with clients, there are some common threads that almost always impact client communication for the worst:

  • If you and your client think you are talking about the same deliverables when in fact you’re not, communication won’t play out to your advantage.
  • If things shift along the way, but nobody knows exactly why, clients can lose trust in the work you do.
  • If you don’t have clear gates in your project, the website process can become annoying for everybody. You can get stuck in an endless loop of back and forth, and the frustration builds up. Communicating when frustration is at its highest can negatively impact your ability to solve problems and focus on the bigger picture.

The importance of client communication

Focusing on how to improve client communication might not be as satisfying as checking that to-do item off of your list, but it will help you grow your business by making it easier for you to win, retain, and get referrals from your existing clients.

Client communication is not one-sided, but there are things you can do today to improve your side of the process. Know that there are no magic tricks when it comes to improving communication. You have to go through the steps: all the way from getting to know your client, agreeing on how you’ll communicate, choosing what methods you’ll use, to improving your communication skills and finding a shared language. This process is worth it and it begins with…

A good first (or second) impression

How to (re)introduce yourself to clients

Let’s say that you’ve already landed that dream client of yours and now you’re getting started working together on a project. You might think — they already know who I am, we talked, there is no need to make the introduction again.

There are some reasons why you might rethink your approach and see if there is anything that could strengthen your relationship with the client by taking a moment to re-introduce yourself.

There are two reasons we believe it might be good to take this step:

  • First, think of this as your opportunity to re-establish yourself as a trusted partner.
  • Second, on a lot of projects, it might just happen that you talk to one of the stakeholders during the initial calls, but when working on a project, you start to meet new stakeholders. This is your opportunity to establish trust with each one of them.

Tips for a better introduction

Start with your why. Show the client that you are excited about the work you do and that you are looking forward to applying the skills you have to their project.

Follow with your journey. This is how you started, but what kept you going? What did you learn along the way?

Connect the dots. Now, it’s the time to connect your story with the client’s unique situation. Use the things you already know about the client to make this connection.

✅ Finally, establish yourself as their trusted partner.

Communication basics: when, how, and how often

Setting boundaries is key

Setting boundaries is key at this stage. Just because the client thinks something is urgent on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t mean that you need to do it or else you’re going to lose the client. By establishing these boundaries early on, you can manage your client’s expectations so that you can always refer back to those when you don’t reply to that urgent-looking email that turned out not to be a big deal after all on a Monday morning.

Over-communicate at first

But before you have a chance to establish these boundaries, make sure to communicate often, even if that means over-communicating. Here are some action items you might want to include in your to-do list for client onboarding:

✅ Reach out first

✅ Follow up

✅ Ask questions

Set the foundation of your working relationship

Now, it’s time for that kick-off call to set the foundation of your future relationship. During one of your kick-off calls, you might also want to have as part of your agenda, the following items to go through with your client.

Establish your working days. These days need to work for both you and your client. Make sure to communicate in as much detail as you need about when they can expect you to be available for both asynchronous communication and meetings.

Agree on communication means and frequency. Now that you have established your working days with this client, it’s also important to agree on how and how often you will meet and communicate with them. For some clients, this might mean more meetings, and for others, more real-time collaboration on solving specific issues. Whatever it is, make sure that it’s very clear what your availability is and which means of communication work for both of your communication styles.

Establish reports for yourself and your client. By tracking your work, you will be able to more easily report to clients on what was completed and what’s left to do, but it also helps you pinpoint those clients that might be making it hard for you to progress on projects, that always have last minute requests, or that require more time but pay peanuts.

Follow up in writing. By following up with your client in writing about things you discussed, you will make sure that there are no misunderstandings. Ask the client to review it and come back to you if any of it is not what you talked about.

Now that you and your client have a sense of shared goals and you know how you will communicate about these, it’s time to look at your communication toolbox.

Your communication toolbox

Communicating frequently on an ongoing project establishes trust. To make sure you have the right tools to do that, find the tools that support frequent communication without necessarily having to share complicated reports and sit through one-hour-long meetings.

Essentials for good communication:

  • 💬 Set up a Slack channel. Here you can communicate daily with your client. Make sure all the right stakeholders are in this channel so that you have easy access to the right people when you need them.
  • 🤝 Know when to meet. You established your meeting schedule, but sometimes asynchronous communication gets tough and the meeting is a couple of days or weeks away. If there is no other way to solve the issue with your client, know that it is OK to ask for a meeting that is outside of the schedule.
  • 📹 Record videos with updates. If you need to share quick updates with your client, you can always record quick videos to share your progress and get feedback. You already know, we’ll suggest using Loom for this.
  • 🚀 Automate what can be automated. For example, you might automate some follow-up emails before or after a call to remind your client about upcoming meetings or to say thank you after your talk. But know that some things are better left to be personalized, such as updates on a project, follow-ups after difficult conversations, or working through solutions.

There is no tool that can solve what we’re about to tell you next. And that is: You need to practice…

Essential client communication skills

Communication is not something you’re good at or you’re bad at. It is something you can learn and develop skills for. By practicing these skills in both your work life and your personal life, you will be able to connect more deeply and solve problems more easily. Here are the top three skills we think make a difference in client communication:

  • 👂 Active listening. Make sure you listen first before jumping in and proposing a solution for your client. Although it might seem like you’ve heard the same story before, it’s important that the client feels heard. You never know — you might be jumping to a conclusion that doesn’t necessarily apply to this client’s issues.
  • ❤️ Empathy. Show the client you understand their goals and that you can help them achieve them. This is where that second step comes in handy. By actively listening throughout the whole project, you will be better equipped for a deeper level of empathy.
  • 🤩 Clarity. Communicate clearly; don’t assume the client knows all the answers. If you notice you’re going in circles, take a step back, and try to pinpoint where the communication dropped. Establishing a shared language (which we’re going to talk about next) can help you communicate more clearly.

Tools to get you started

🎓 If you’d like to go deeper and find ways to practice these skills, here are some of our favorite resources to get you started:

- Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
- Celeste Headlee: 10 ways to have a better conversation
- Quantum Physics for 7 Year Olds | Dominic Walliman | TEDxEastVan

Get to know your client’s goals in more depth

Now that the operational things are out of the way and you’re feeling confident about your communication skills, it’s time to go even deeper in getting to know your client and their goals. There is so much you can learn about the client without having to ask them questions, but nothing replaces the knowledge that you will gain from the clients themselves.

Don’t be afraid to dig deep to understand the challenges your client faces or things they are looking to improve or optimize.

Here is a list of questions you might want to add to your checklist that will help to get to know your client better:

❓What are the goals your company is currently working towards?

❓What role does the website play in your company’s overall goals?

❓What are the issues you were facing with your current website that made you say, I have to solve this now?

These questions will help you understand what the client is working towards, the role of the website in those goals, as well as what the current problems they are facing might be. Although you might have been hired to redo a certain page that was taking ages for the client to build internally, you might learn that the client is experiencing a lot of issues in how they create their pages, and you might just have a solution to offer for that that your client didn’t consider before.

Establish a shared language with your client

You might be working on a client’s website, but you’re helping the client with their overall growth by establishing a good foundation for their digital marketing efforts. Understanding the broader context can help you and your client to establish a shared language of what you’re trying to achieve.

Different projects, different communication

Different types of projects, require different types of communication, while it’s important to follow the steps we’ve outlined before, depending on the project you’re working on, you might choose to go very deep into the client’s goals (if you’re working on a complete website overhaul) or you might choose to go just deep enough broad to understand the bigger picture, without going into too many details, if you’re working on quick updates for the client.

Avoid cutting corners

When working on small projects, it might be compelling to try to cut corners and skip some of the steps. We encourage you not to since, especially on small projects, showing the client that you care about their goals and that you can help them with solutions that are tailored to them can make you their best partner and someone they will come back to and refer to others in their network. Always look for opportunities to delight.

Now that you know what your client is looking to achieve, it’s time to find a way to communicate with your client using the same language.

Establish a shared language

When working on complex and technical projects, communicating clearly and in a simple way can help you get your point across more easily. A shared language helps you and your client get on the same page, avoid misunderstandings, and prevent frustrating back and forth.

But how do you establish a shared language? We suggest you use the knowledge you gained about your client and look for opportunities where you can transform complex topics into a language they understand. For example, instead of talking about development frameworks, try talking about the performance gains they will get from those frameworks. By translating technical language into how those technical aspects will help your client achieve their goals is a good example of communicating using the same language.

Our example of a shared language

One example of a shared language between marketers and developers is what we at Prismic call a slice, a.k.a. a reusable website section.

Tell me more about slices

Slices are built by developers and made available for marketers to use in a custom page builder. Developers like slices because they fit their existing thinking about component-based architecture, and marketers like slices because they are customizable, fit their brand, and don’t hurt the performance of their website. Most importantly, they allow them to move faster and more independently when creating individual pages.

Instead of using the technical language of components that developers will understand more easily, slices are a nice neutral ground that both marketers and developers can understand and talk about more easily. For example, discussing a testimonial slice is simpler for clients, and then developers can easily break the concept into components in their code.

Learn more about slices.

We’ve found that slices not only improve the process of iterating on a website but also help establish good communication between everyone who’s working on a website.

✅ They allow us to think in bite-sized to-dos instead of big overhauls.

✅ They bring technical and non-technical team members onto the same page.

✅ They bring rapid iterations to the forefront of our communication.

Whether you decide to use Prismic and are able to communicate this way with your clients or you choose to come up with your own solution, remember that having this type of shared language in place can save a lot of time when working on difficult projects.

But sometimes, no matter how much you try, you might not succeed in establishing good client communication. For that reason, you need to plan the unexpected.

When things don’t go as planned…

Let’s face it, sometimes things don’t work the way we want them to. Maybe you got tired from answering the same request from the same client over and over again, or they just wouldn’t put in the effort on their side to improve their communication. Whatever it is, you might be thinking: “I’m out.” Before you do that, ask yourself if there is anything in this client relationship that is worth staying in for. Here is how you can do that:

  • 🧘 Take a break. Sometimes it’s difficult to look at things from an objective standpoint if your thoughts are racing and you’re angry. Take a second to gather yourself, ask for an hour or two to get back to the client, or simply go for a walk before rereading that email you just got.
  • 💔 Establish where the communication broke. Now that you are more likely to look at things from a more objective standpoint, try to ask yourself what went wrong.
  • 🤔 Figure out your role and the role of your client in all of this. Relationships are not one-sided, so if something is wrong with the communication, most likely, both sides contributed to it.
  • 🔧 Suggest how to fix broken communication. Once you know what went wrong, use the skills we’ve talked about in the previous chapter to reestablish trust with your client. Explain your point of view and suggest ways you can go from there.

Save yourself time from the beginning

Sometimes, you’ll encounter difficult clients, and what this will teach you is that there are certain types of people that you don’t feel comfortable working with or that you wouldn’t like to work for again. And that’s ok.

Next time, make sure to have that checklist handy when you’re talking to potential clients so that you can save yourself some trouble by removing those projects that are not contributing to your business. But don’t look at this as an easy way out of difficult conversations that will help you grow; do it only when there is no mutual readiness to work toward solving the problem.

Final thoughts on client communication

Building a website is never an easy feat. There are many stakeholders involved, opinions to take into account, and problems to solve and optimize. The process is never done. That’s why you and we love it. But it can get challenging at times and it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. At those challenging times, it’s always a good idea to take a break, reassess, and look at how you can strengthen your relationship with your clients. We hope these tips help you to establish better communication with people you work with.

Article written by

Lidija Kačar

Lidija is the Website Team Lead at Prismic.

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