Here at Webbed Feet we pride ourselves in saying things as they are. Afterall, there’s no use sugar-coating something to win a client or keep someone happy because it’ll eventually come back to bite us.
However, from time to time it doesn’t work and people take it the wrong way, but at least we can hold our heads high knowing that we tried our best.
Not the right fit
There are lots of web agencies around, all specialising in different projects and at different price-points. We like to think we’re the best, of course we do, but are realistic in that we may not be the best fit for every project. If this is the case then we’ll tell the client from the outset.
I can think of two recent examples where we recommended other agencies, the first because we would not have been at the right price point and our solution would have been overkill for what she needed; and the second because it was for a subject that our team had little knowledge of, or interest in, and we knew that one of our competitors would be able to offer more value as it was their forte.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t want to work with the people, but just that they would be best suited to someone else.
This leads me on to the second example…
Don’t like the client
Everyone is different, and you can’t get on with everyone all the time! We like to work closely with our clients in long term relationships, so it’s imperative that we like them, and they like us.
Once I travelled to East London to meet a lawyer to quote for a very specific SEO (search engine optimisation) project and had done lots of preparation as it’s a project that we wanted. When speaking to the lady in question she outright rejected every one of my ideas and was very argumentative. After around 45 minutes of having everything that I suggested shot down, she told me that she wanted unique ideas, and that my advice was almost identical to the previous three web agencies that have spoken to her.
At this point I stood up to leave, and told her that if four separate SEO professionals are giving her the same action plan, then it’s a very good indicator that this plan is correct. I then gave her one last piece of advice, and told her to listen to the next person who is in front of her as they are likely right.
She apologised, and said that she’d listen to me, but it was too late, and I told her that I couldn’t work with her, and wouldn’t expect my team to.
It won’t work
When it comes to marketing it’s imperative that we believe a project will work before we accept it, because if it doesn’t then the client won’t see the results that they expect, and our relationship will turn sour when they blame the marketing rather than the product or service. I’d really hope that other marketing agencies follow this rule.
With web development it’s potentially different because if we are not doing the marketing then we will not be blamed if it doesn’t work. However, we use the same philosophy and tell the client any potential concerns before they push the button. They can of course tell us that we are incorrect, and get us to build the project regardless, or more often than not listen to us and adjust their plan. Either way we have a clean conscious and can sleep at night.
These concerns could be related to the product or service, the amount of marketing needed to make it successful, technical or legal implications, competitors, just the general concept or, a very common one, an unrealistic budget or timeline.
One way that we address some of these points, for example technical limitations, is a feasibility study where we delve deep in to the potential complications before committing, so that the client is only risking a small portion of their budget. These usually work very well.
The truth can hurt
When someone is personally involved with their website we need to, or at least we should, watch our words carefully. Sometimes however, things can’t be sugar-coated and we need to tell a client directly some harsh truths.
One example that springs to mind is where a client wanted an image that her child drew in the background of the homepage of her (serious) business website. I needed to tactfully say that we are building a website for her clients, not for her, and her clients don’t care about a 5-year old’s drawing that should be on a fridge. This concept is true with websites in general, and some clients like to talk about themselves rather than how they can help their customers, and so we have a similar conversation with them.
Another common one is when a company have been both designing and marketing a website themselves, and come to us for help because something isn’t working and they are not getting the enquiries that they expect. If it isn’t working, then at least one thing in the process is wrong, and if they created everything then some of their work must be wrong. When we point out where the issue is, they can get defensive, even though we are doing exactly what we have been asked to do. We have surprisingly actually lost clients this way, but the only alternative is to tell them what they want to hear and agree that everything is OK, only to have an awkward discussion several months later when their results don’t improve.
A word of warning
From time to time, especially with larger projects, we have to warn clients about the consequences of their proposed actions, or lack of actions. The client may not like what we tell them, but at least we have done the responsible thing and given them the facts so that they can make an educated decision.
Once we advised a new client that they were storing highly sensitive documents in a way that is very vulnerable to compromise, and they listened getting us to do a full security audit and implement our suggestions.
With websites it’s imperative that the software is kept up to date, especially with open-source platforms such as WordPress. This, amongst other things, is vital for security. We advise clients to keep things updated, but if they have not done it for a while, or of the site is old, this is not always quick or easy, and clients have to balance the costs against potential risk. If a client’s website gets hacked, we then have to have a difficult “I told you so” conversation, and also advise them to contact the relevant people about the breach. It’s usually good to be right, but not in this case.
One good client once bought a modelling website, and our advice was to spend a day doing a full backup because the website was hosted in multiple locations. The client said that he’d just spent £60,000 on the website, and, despite being warned of the potential consequences, wanted to save costs and skip the backup. A few weeks later the RAID in his server stopped working, and long story short, was mostly unrecoverable. In a panic he asked why we didn’t advise him to do a backup, and an email thread was our defence. With our client almost in tears, I mentioned that we did a partial one anyway, without charging him, and with a bit of work were able to get his site online. A very happy client indeed!
One final example that really stands out was us telling a client that they were being irresponsible and that we wouldn’t work with them.
A church contacted us for some website amendments, which would have been fine, but we noticed a publicly accessible file that caused concern.
Because the church organised trips with the young children in their congregation, they had a list of children, their photo, name, likes, dislikes, parents’ names, other responsible adult names, schools, school pick up time, addresses, ages, pets… everything, all in one file.
When we pointed out that this was publicly available and on Google, they refused to fix it, or get us to saying that they only wanted the original amendments.
We refused to work with them, and let’s just say were brutally honest with our feedback.
The client is always right, kinda
With some of the above examples we have deliberately chosen not to with a client, and of course that would be better for us both. But with others, we have offered advice and the client has chosen not to accept it, which is absolutely fine.
If a client doesn’t want to keep their website secure, or wants us to build or market something that isn’t going to work then that’s their prerogative, and all we can do is explain the facts and let them decide.
An example of when we have been brutally honest is where we put a disclaimer within our proposal, but rather than bury it deep, it was half of the page, with a bright yellow background and a big bold warning. They signed it anyway… and it turned out that we were correct.
We are Webbed Feet, we say what needs to be said.