We have a full-team communication style. Clients do have a reliable single point of contact but are not restricted to only addressing that contact, and hear from other team members regularly as well.
With this policy, it makes sense to take a step back and evaluate the way we should speak with clients, and set out some clear guidelines for safe and effective client communication.
These are very much a work in progress and expect other styles to penetrate this philosophy as we progress. I don’t see these as hard and fast rules, but they encapsulate what we currently expect to see in client-facing communication 99% of the time.
- Read it twice. The first part of communication is understanding and absorbing what has been said to you. Especially online, it’s worth reading things more than once. Remember that you ALWAYS could be missing something. It’s hard to know everything.
- When in doubt, ask. The PM exists to help resolve ambiguity, so if you’re not sure if an email is appropriate, or to whom it should go, ask the PM.
- Err on the side of "too friendly". With online communication, especially text-based communication, it can be easy to come off as annoyed or frustrated when you are not. Be overtly, clearly friendly and upbeat when nothing is wrong. Throwing in an emoji or two helps 🙃
- Be Clear. One of our values is transparency. Cantilever team members always give you the truth, but in keeping with 3), present it in an empathetic and understanding way. Remember that clients often have no clue what you’re talking about. Provide visual proof if you’re seeing something different than a client reported.
- It doesn’t matter if they’re wrong. It very often happens that clients will misread or forget some instructions or prior approved work. There is no need to point out these occasions, unless not doing so would make them perceive an issue with our own performance. We defend our own performance and deliveries, but it doesn’t matter who missed the calendar invite. You don’t have to accept blame in order to not cast blame :-)
- Present a Unified Front. When you speak to a client you speak on behalf of your teammates, not just yourself. Use "we" to describe our work, not "I". Take collective credit and blame.
Client was supposed to set up a follow-up call, hasn’t yet.
Not adherent to guidelines:
Doctor Booboo,You still haven’t sent us the calendar invite for friday! We said we needed it yesterday. Please let us know if you can still meet on friday.
Accusatory, frustrated sounding, quite possibly missing some detail.Adherent to guidelines:
Hi Dr. Booboo!I might have an issue with my calendar, but I’m not seeing the invite for Friday. Let me know if that slot still works for you, or if another day would be easier. Whatever works best for you is great. Thanks!
Assumes the problem is on our side. Allows for flexibility and comfort for the client to change their schedule if they double-booked while they forgot.
Delivering a new feature on the site. Design was approved last week.
Snuffalufagus, the new slideshows are up. Can you give it a shot on your computer? Let us know if you see any bugs.
Not clear about what the slideshows were – client might be dealing with lots of projects and could be confused which you’re talking about. Assumes there is a risk of bugs or the feature not working. Asks the client to do QA.Adherent:
Snuffalufagus, thanks again for your feedback on the slideshow design last tuesday. The final slideshows are QA’ed and are now live on the site.[Screenshot/Video]You can see an example here: snuffalufag.us/slideshows . Click the left and right arrows to see the transitions. Check it out on your phone too! As discussed, we set it up so that the trunk moves in the direction the user swiped. If you have any feedback on the animations let us know and we can show you alternate options by video. Thanks!
Reminds the client what they’re looking at. Includes a visual and a link. Invites the client to experience the feature, not test it to see if it works for them. Directs the client to provide feedback only on the ambiguous part of the project (animations) not the approved visual style.
Client reported a stylistic bug. It appears to be caused by their ad blocker.
I can’t get this problem, and the CSS is AJAXing in just fine on staging and prod. It’s probably just your ad blocker – we can’t fix problems like that.
Accusatory, blame-shifting, not helpful, too technical and inside-baseball. Client has no idea what "prod" means the vast majority of the time.Adherent:
Hi Lady Barnacles, thanks for letting us know and sorry to hear of the issue. Hmm, I can’t replicate it on my end, even in internet explorer 🤔.[Screenshot/video of the thing working properly]I noticed you’re using an ad blocker. Sometimes those can interfere with a feature like this. Would you mind turning it off and trying again? Let me know if you’d like to do a screen share so I can walk you through that process.
Proves what we’re seeing. It’s amazing how often a client looks at the screenshot and says "OH I was just on the old site/staging/a different site/an 8 year old computer, it’s no big deal." Provides a clear but optional next step. Doesn’t go down the road of talking through something we can‘t do until it’s clear that’s the cause. Helpful and friendly. Emoji helps.TOUGH ONE!
Client wants something out of scope on a fixed-bid project. We have to be firm.
That isn’t a part of the original scope so we can‘t do it. We have to leave the sandwich simulator as is. We’re already 25% over budget on that feature.
Conclusive, possibly wrong, doesn’t leave the option for the client to get what they’re looking for. Dismissive of the idea they presented. Our internal budgeting is not relevant to clients in most cases, and not their responsibility to manage.Adherent:
Great idea. Alas, we can’t cover that in the original scope for the Fluffernutter site, but we’d be happy to take it on as additional work. I think it would add a lot to the sandwich simulator page. We have a few hours available under your Fluff retainer, would you like to use 2-3 hours to work on this? We could also save it as a priority Phase 2 item.
Affirming of the idea of the client. Co-frustrated that we can’t do such an awesome feature. Provides two different pathways for the client to get the feature while still paying us. All Phase 2 items are "priority" phase 2 items 😇