Running a Service Business: operate in good faith

Running a Service Business: Operate in good faith, act with good will

I’m part of a number of Facebook groups – some related to WordPress, others about creativity, and many small business communities. A couple days ago, someone posted about their shipping rates having disappeared on their website and if someone could help, because their original developer wasn’t responding. I offered to take a look. The original developer had used an outdated and unsupported plugin that had known issues clearly documented in the reviews and around the web from way before the website was ever created. Yet he had used it, because it was free and seemed to have worked when he installed it.

Then when it stopped working and his customer frantically reached out to him, he gave her the cold shoulder. I also learned that he frequently did that with the client and failed to ever explain how things actually work. It left the client feeling bewildered and afraid to change anything lest their site broke.

Ladies and gentleman, this is not how we should operate in the service business.

It appalls me when I hear of developers and designers treating their clients like idiots. Your clients are smart and savvy people who have hired you to help them with this particular sphere of their work because they recognized they aren’t equipped to deal with it themselves. However, this doesn’t make them dumb. It makes them incredibly smart. It takes chops to admit you don’t know enough and should bring in an expert. Let me also remind you that they are paying you for the help. If they don’t understand something, part of your job is to educate them and explain things to them.

Do you know what Wanderoak‘s clients love? They love that we explain everything. We go above and beyond in explaining details and covering the details. We create support videos and thorough written instructions. We link them to external articles if that will help. We answer every question. We often send emails that are over 500 words and our clients read EVERY WORD.

We have always done this. In fact, the longer we have been working, the more we explain. The clearer we have been, the more focused we have been on the education aspect of our job. And let me be clear:

Educating clients is part of the job.

It’s not an added component your clients should pay extra for. It’s part and parcel of the job they hired you for. It would be beyond stupid and absolutely in bad faith to make something and then leave them to figure it out and fuck it up themselves.

Bobbi and I started out making things simple and easy to understand, with clear instructions, because we wanted our clients to KEEP things the way we made them. We put so much hard work and thought into every design and development decision and it would suck if one (or more) uneducated move on the client’s side messed things up.

But as we started to do this, we found clients loved it! They deeply appreciated it.

Of the two of us, Bobbi is way better at explaining things and because of that she takes the lead on this. I’d say, she is an over-explainer, which, as far as I’m concerned, is a major strength. She’s even made me a better explainer, although I’m still nowhere near as good as her. But we have taken this strength along with the feedback from our clients, and made it a core part of our service.

At least half of every bit of feedback we get is about this aspect. This excellent customer service, this focus on education. It’s a reminder to us that our clients are highly intelligent people who, more often than not, want to know how things work. They don’t need to know how we made something, but they do need to know how to operate it themselves.

Some people make sites for their clients and do so in a way that compels the client to hire them for maintenance – makes it absolutely necessary. I’ve heard of WordPress developers who refuse to give clients access to the backend, forcing them to go to the developer if they need even one sentence changed. That is infuriating. This is no way to treat your clients. It’s disrespectful.

Build your clients a fabulous website that they can manage on their own. Give them the training needed to maintain it. Let them come to you for help when they can’t figure out something advanced. Let them come to you if they want something more. Offer advanced help on retainer.

Offer something that will truly benefit them – not just get in their way or just something convoluted so you can make a buck.

This is all to say: Be ethical, dammit.

All our clients become repeat customers. Do you know why? Because we are trustworthy. We explain things. We treat them with respect. We care about them. We are not trying to cheat them. We have their best interests in mind. Why? Because it’s good business. It’s also something that clearly helps our bottom line. It’s much easier when clients come back to you with more work than going out there to find new clients.

You are in the service industry. So provide service – which includes support. And do it well. Operate in good faith. Act with good will. Make smart decisions that are also good. Don’t make smart decisions that are evil. If you don’t want to deal with people, hire someone to deal with them for you. Or get out of the service business. But if you want to stay? Do it well. Make people a priority. Not the code. Not the design. The PEOPLE.

Then the people will reward you.