When you’re part of a company that deals in client services, you’re part of a team. It’s important to remember, though, you’re not just on a team with your coworkers, but also with your clients. Every member of the team in your company - and the clients you’re all working with - is pursuing a similar end.
We as developers, designers, sales reps, managers, and product managers all work together with our clients to make sure we understand the scope, budget, design standards, and end goal that both parties agree upon before moving forward.
Sometimes we can forget we’re all in this together. There are times when I relay a story about a client, and colleagues will respond with an us-against-them mentality: “That client sounds like a real pain! But what can you do?”
Understand your client
Understand where your client is coming from. One of the best parts of working for and with The Refinery is remembrance of our client’s humanity, and that they, too, have factors, situations, and emotions (gasp!) that influence their behavior in general and their behavior towards us as their developers, designers, and product managers. Realize that they’re not being a pain out of some malicious intent - they are concerned about their product, or their deadline; maybe scared they made or will make the wrong choice. Client services are not an us against them clash, but a team sport towards a similar goal.
Remember it’s yours, too
Anything you produce is yours, even when it’s produced for a client. Every piece of work you do goes into the world with your stamp on it in some shape or form. Either you’re going to add it to your portfolio, or the client will recommend (or caution against working with) you as a result of your product, or through some word of mouth it gets around that something came from you. When you’re working with a client, it’s yours too, and your integrity and reputation are tied to it.
Bring up problems - with solutions - even if it’s not your problem
It’s important to both shine a light on an issue and help resolve said issue. As a developer, I hear a lot from other developers that they get stalled by design issues - some really neat looking button will take a full day to design. They go to the designer and tell them, only to sit and wait for a solution. Work with your designer the same way you would work with a fellow developer. Suggest something easier or something that you’ve done before that might fit well with the design. Too many times team members will throw their hands in the air and say “that’s not my job.” It’s always your job to be a team member.
Listen to understand, not to respond
When a team member has a concern, listen to the concern and hear what they are trying to tell you. If you don’t understand where their concerns comes from, say something - but try not to respond in a way that belittles their concerns or emphasizes something they’re just not understanding. Clients and coworkers are usually conscious of what they don’t know, and when they choose to ask a question or voice a concern, it’s because that concern is real enough for them to put it out there. Hearing their concerns, moving to understand them, and addressing instead of dismissing those concerns helps everyone.
Talking to your team, including your client, means everyone is on the same page from the beginning and through to the end. Every team meeting, every product check in, every standup surrounding a product or project needs to include everyone and give them the chance to voice their progress or any blockers they may have. Just remember that the client is part of that team, and gets to be - I daresay needs to be - in on those conversations about potential issues or exciting progress. Open communication builds trust between everyone and gives ease of mind to your client.
If there’s a big problem, don’t hide it. It’s not a great idea to present a freshly discovered issue with the attitude of “well, here it is,” either - see above. But making sure that your team and your client are aware of these issues is important to the trust and relationship you have with them, and it helps in building communication with your team. By bringing up issues, you’re allowing your team to step in and help you out - and ensure your client isn’t blindsided if something becomes a bigger issue for the end project.
Remember: You’re all on the same team and everyone is in it together.