S03E03: Nurturing a communicative relationship

This is a transcription of episode 3, season 3 of the boagworld podcast: Nurturing a communicative relationship..

Paul Boag:
Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com, the podcast for those involved in design, developing and running websites on a daily basis. Today is a super exciting one because it’s not just myself and Marcus, we also have Pete Boston. Hello, Pete.

Pete Boston:
Good morning.

Paul Boag:
So what do you do at Headscape? Have you been on the show before?

Marcus Lillington:
Probably a long time ago, you have.

Pete Boston:
I did a long time ago. I was also vaguely featured on the 12-hour marathon we did.

Paul Boag:
Oh, yes, the 200th.

Pete Boston:
About 18 months ago.

Paul Boag:
That was a fair, fair length of time ago now, yeah.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, it was quite a long time ago.

Marcus Lillington:
Pete was in on a – might possibly have been more than one when we were at Basepoint.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, I might have been in a couple actually.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Pete Boston:
It’s a long time ago.

Paul Boag:
So do – yeah, introduce yourself to the listener. What is it that you do at Headscape?

Pete Boston:
I manage projects.

Paul Boag:
You are a project manager.

Pete Boston:
I make sure that you two especially don’t run away with the client and agree all sorts of extra things that we are going to deliver for free and make…

Paul Boag:
You are thinking of one particular meeting that happened recently aren’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t think he is, I think he’s thinking about every meeting.

Pete Boston:
Well, yes.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Pete Boston:
No.

Marcus Lillington:
Pete is one of the – how can I put this – according to Andy Budd, a pointless middleman.

Paul Boag:
Is that how we describe project managers? I don’t believe it.

Marcus Lillington:
I have added the word pointless in there, but certainly middleman, yes.

Pete Boston:
I did read that post of Andy Budd’s and I thought, maybe that is me.

Paul Boag:
That strikes me as absurd because the project – in my mind a project manager is the person that protects the production staff from clients and protects clients from production staff and that’s how I see it.

Marcus Lillington:
Andy’s view is one of that middlemen aren’t necessary and that clients and creatives should be able to communicate but…

Paul Boag:
Which we agree with and we do all the time. Get the designer talking to the client. But you still need somebody that keeps control.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, his argument is that you don’t. But I disagree, the major – to be fair, I will be fair, now. The major thrust of it is there are so many agencies out there who are made up of…

Paul Boag:
Oh, that article.

Marcus Lillington:
75% sales…

Paul Boag:
You are really being unfair to him. I didn’t read at all like you are painting it.

Marcus Lillington:
And there is only a few hard done by creatives in there who are asked to basically create gold out of lead by the salespeople.

Paul Boag:
No, you are being really unfair.

Marcus Lillington:
By the salespeople.

Paul Boag:
He wasn’t having a go at – well, he was having a go at nasty salespeople like you, but then we all do that.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, maybe that’s when I am taking offense.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, it could well be. I didn’t see him being negative about project management.

Pete Boston:
I didn’t take offense, I just thought he was wrong.

Paul Boag:
I didn’t – I know, I agreed with him.

Marcus Lillington:
And basically, if you are not a designer or a developer then therefore you are just a middleman.

Paul Boag:
No, I didn’t read it at all like that. He was struggling with the – which I think is a perfectly valid point that there are a lot of agencies out there that are more focused on selling the solutions than they are talking to the people that have to actually produce those solutions and make them happen. It was just he’d had a conversation obviously with a number of people recently and it had got his goat again and he was ranting, he wasn’t having a go at project managers or salespeople or anybody.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, he was.

Paul Boag:
No, he was not! God, poor guy. Andy, I love you even if Marcus thinks…

Marcus Lillington:
I think he’s great and as I said his blog is probably my most commented on of all of them. I read him more than anyone else. But sometimes he winds me up.

Paul Boag:
Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with what we are talking about today.

Marcus Lillington:
No, we were going to talk about cricket, weren’t we?

Pete Boston:
Yes, absolutely.

Paul Boag:
No, no, no.

Pete Boston:
Googlies and Alistair Cook.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, well done. I have got my new ticket. My tickets came yesterday for August 16th, first day of the third test against South Africa. Hurrah, hurrah.

Pete Boston:
At Lord’s.

Marcus Lillington:
At Lord’s.

Pete Boston:
You know that means don’t you, Paul?

Paul Boag:
House of Lords are we talking about?

Marcus Lillington:
Fantastic day out. I haven’t been to Lord’s for about five years. So it’s high time.

Paul Boag:
There we go. Isn’t that the place where people go to get well when they are ill?

Marcus Lillington:
That’s right, Paul.

Pete Boston:
That’s right, yeah. Of course. People who go and watch cricket to get better.

Marcus Lillington:
It really works.

Paul Boag:
Well, either that or it will bore you into submission, one or the other. Anyway, so Pete is on the show because we are talking about communicating with clients and relation – that kind of relationship with clients which I think lies really I think at the heart of our approach at Headscape. We are very much a kind of client orientated company as we have been talking about for the last few weeks and we believe that we are a service based company which means that it’s about keeping your clients happy. So that’s why we have two fulltime project managers that are dedicated to this and we have had three in the past. We obviously don’t care as much about clients now as we did.

Marcus Lillington:
No, no, they were just slacking too much.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, they were, weren’t they? Yeah, exactly. Exactly, so which we –

Marcus Lillington:
It’s worth mentioning that we did dabble in products but we’re rubbish at it.

Paul Boag:
Is that it – yeah it is.

Marcus Lillington:
Not dedicated enough, always listening to our clients.

Paul Boag:
Well, to be honest I think this goes back to what Dan James talked about in last week’s interview, which you didn’t listen to so you don’t actually know what he said.

Marcus Lillington:
I think it was a fantastic interview.

Paul Boag:
He actually said we turned out – that we are not good at products is basically what he was saying and that we are about working with clients. That’s what we do well and I think that’s exactly the same with us. We need clients to…

Pete Boston:
I don’t think we enjoyed it, did we?

Paul Boag:
No.

Pete Boston:
Our dabble with products.

Paul Boag:
No.

Pete Boston:
Not that I was really involved.

Paul Boag:
No, but I like having that third-party involved in the process.

Pete Boston:
Absolutely.

Paul Boag:
It’s part of it.

Pete Boston:
It’s all part of the fun.

Paul Boag:
So anyway – so over the last couple of weeks of doing the show we’ve basically fallen in love with our clients and our clients have fallen in love with us and we’ve all got a very lovely relationship now and we’ve established – in the first episode, we established about how we need to learn to appreciate and love our clients, and in the second episode, we talked about how we can help the clients fall in love with us. So now we are all gooey, right? But the question is how do we stay like that and I think it’s like bad romantic comedies. I hate romantic comedies.

Marcus Lillington:
I wouldn’t even know how to compare to a bad romantic comedy. I don’t think I have ever seen one.

Paul Boag:
You have never seen a romantic comedy?

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
Oh, come on, your wife must have made you watch one, surely.

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Pete Boston:
You’re lying. Surely.

Paul Boag:
Not anything like Hitch or 10 Things I Hate About You or… there’s hundreds of them.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t know what you mean.

Paul Boag:
Cath makes me endure them all the time. Twilight?

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
They’re all, they’re terrible.

Marcus Lillington:
No. I told you, I go and watch only good films.

Paul Boag:
Well, good for you.

Marcus Lillington:
But that you sneered at.

Pete Boston:
What was the other one? You’ve Got Mail. That was out a few years ago, but my wife loves that.

Paul Boag:
Oh. They are awful, they’re all awful. I will tell you why romantic comedies are so bad, right?

Marcus Lillington:
I just wouldn’t go. Just like no, sorry.

Paul Boag:
Oh, I wish I could get away with that. My wife would kill me. So let me explain why romantic comedies are bad. The premise of all romantic comedies is boy falls in love with girl, girl falls in love with boy, right? Then they have some misunderstanding.

Marcus Lillington:
That you want to kill them over.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, that could easily be solved if they just sat down and had a civil conversation.

Pete Boston:
Or communicated with each other.

Paul Boag:
Yes. And hence that’s the premise of this particular episode because I think that there were too many web design relationships with clients that are fundamentally bad romantic comedies, which all bad romantic comedy to be fair and that’s why they just cannot be like – honest with one another. It just annoys me. It’s farce. I hate farce. You know that whole thing where one person walks in one door and another walks out the other door, they miss one another or some situation happens that one person misreads and then…

Marcus Lillington:
It’s all right if it’s funny. But if it’s like weak, no.

Paul Boag:
It’s all weak, it’s terrible. Anyway, so that’s what we are talking about today. We are talking about…

Marcus Lillington:
Romantic comedies.

Paul Boag:
We have fallen in love with our clients and our clients have fallen in love with us. How do we maintain that and how do we keep it going? For me, it was all summed up in a tweet that I read. And this tweet was written by – purposely in the show notes that go with this I purposely marked out who the tweet was written by. You cannot see.

Pete Boston:
Tell us, Paul.

Paul Boag:
No, because it is a well known designer who I love dearly.

Marcus Lillington:
Who works for Headscape?

Paul Boag:
No, no. it wasn’t anybody from Headscape.

Marcus Lillington:
Not that well-known.

Paul Boag:
No, more well-known, I think. Who wrote, client’s hassling me for constant updates. Does he want me to build a website or send him e-mails, which for me kind of sums up a lot of how – a lot of clients feel – not clients, web designers feel and why you need the middleman, going back to what we were talking about earlier. I can associate with the frustration but I can also associate with how the client feels and I think it goes back to what we said in the very first place which is that we don’t just build websites, we offer a service.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s right.

Paul Boag:
And so, yes…

Marcus Lillington:
You have got to communicate. You have got to tell clients where you are at even if it is to say nothing has happened.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
And then phone him up or email over.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. I mean, Charlie was talking about this yesterday about how he is having a daily conversation with one client just to say not done anything. But just – I think that’s an important part of our job it’s that realization that it is our job to build website and send e-mails, not one or the other or build websites and make clients happy. So that’s really kind of what I want to get into. I think part of the problem a lot of web designers feel is that when the client wants these constant updates, it’s like there is a lack of trust there. So they don’t trust us to just get on with it. And I suspect there is probably an element of truth in that especially when it’s a new client that doesn’t know us very well. But I don’t think that’s the only reason, I think there’s kind of a fundamental part of human nature to want to control what we don’t understand and most clients don’t understand how websites are built and so worry about it. So that’s really what I want to get into.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, the best clients are certainly the ones that do understand the process.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, because they don’t worry so much. Because they can see that we are in charge and we know what we are doing and all the rest of it.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So I thought let’s talk a little bit about what benefits this kind of communication has, really.

Marcus Lillington:
Brings to the table.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, what – before we get into how we do it, what benefits are there and from my point of view, I wrote down a few in the post. I would be interested whether you guys got any others in your head but the big one for me is if you are communicating with your client regularly, you are avoiding kind of micro-management. And that when the client’s worrying about something because they don’t know what’s going on, that anxiety leads to a desire to control and that’s kind of where micro-management comes from. And I think many web designers mistake micro-management as a character trait amongst clients but I don’t think that’s the case. I believe micro-management arises because the client lacks confidence in our ability to deliver. And if we give the client confidence because they see you as the expert and they see that you are in control and all the other things we have already talked about, then that makes them relax a lot more and they are kind of less likely to micro manage – I mean, some clients are still…

Marcus Lillington:
I think it depends on how well you communicate where you are at. If you just kind of – you could just list have made it green, have moved this over a bit and see what their response could be; could you put it back again or don’t like the shade of green. So as long as you are communicating properly…

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
…or sensibly, then yes, I agree.

Pete Boston:
A lot of it depends on the client as well. Some clients don’t particularly like big, long e-mails to tell you. They just appreciate a Skype or a telephone call. Often telephone calls are much preferable to long e-mails. I try and establish that or suss out what the client wants and how they prefer to communicate and then adapt to them rather than me steamrolling in to say this is how we are going to do it, just kind of planning it at the beginning and that’s really the benefit of a client that does have a dedicated project manager at their end where you can talk about these things whereas often when clients or a team doesn’t have or a client doesn’t have a project manager at their end it makes a bit more tricky because you are dealing with kind of a board with nobody necessarily leading it. So yeah communication is a key.

Paul Boag:
I think that that point of finding the right communication method to the client is really, really important. Because I mean you get some clients that want everything written down in black and white. And every point…

Marcus Lillington:
Quite a lot of clients do like that. They work via e-mail.

Paul Boag:
But then you get other clients like – I am thinking about Cindy for example who is a chatty person, actually likes – although we do make the occasional…

Marcus Lillington:
That’s because – mostly…

Paul Boag:
But that’s because of the distance.

Pete Boston:
Pick up the phone though – she likes picking up the phone and talking to you rather than necessarily writing long e-mails. Occasionally you do and if you do have a telephone conversation which has important points, that you need to document then send it in an e-mail or stick it in a Basecamp or whatever.

Paul Boag:
That’s another important point.

Pete Boston:
Just document it in some way because it’s very easy to have big long conversations and then a week down the line you have forgotten what you actually spoke about.

Paul Boag:
Or with a telephone conversation like that, it is actually very possible to go away with different views about what was agreed. So actually writing that down and kind of repeating it back is a good way of bringing it home.

Pete Boston:
That’s right and try and put it, sticking it in bullet points. Say, following our call, this is what we discussed/ agreed. Bullet point down to five or six bullet points and then, happy with this, question mark. And then just get them to approve it.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, or even taking the approach of – if I don’t hear from you I will presume that that was what was agreed upon.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, well that can be a dangerous approach

Paul Boag:
It can backfire.

Pete Boston:
E-mail? What e-mail?

Paul Boag:
Yes, that is the danger there, good point. The other thing, really good thing about communication is which – I think a lot of web designers – a lot of the web designers think well if I spend time communicating with the client and going backwards and forwards to the client then that’s wasted time, that I’m not charging for properly because I mean we were talking about this yesterday when we were discussing charge-out for Headscape and actually you can’t charge a client for the amount of project management that really goes on because they don’t like it.

Marcus Lillington:
You can but…

Paul Boag:
They won’t pay for it.

Pete Boston:
They’d never buy anything.

Marcus Lillington:
We should be able to and we charge a lot more project management time than we used to. I think that’s because we can. And it’s wrong.

Pete Boston:
We do but I also think that there is a difference between project management and accounts management and I think I do a fair amount of account management as well, just general chat about where the project is, where it’s going, what might be coming up which isn’t necessarily directly related to exactly what, the project we’re working on at the moment.

Marcus Lillington:
I would agree, that’s not chargeable. But when you are working on a project, making things happen and organizing people at this end and at their end et cetera, that really should be payable on a T&M basis.

Paul Boag:
But it doesn’t happen,

Marcus Lillington:
Nobody will do it.

Paul Boag:
But, my point was…

Marcus Lillington:
Well some do, a very few.

Paul Boag:
We have kind of come up with the complete opposite and made it sound like it is better. My point is it’s worth doing anyway even if it’s not chargeable because it ultimately I think it protects your profits because it avoids misunderstandings and it prevents surprises, both of which can impact on your profit margins. Having that kind of clear and regular communication avoids those kinds of things and I think that a lot of money is lost on projects because something suddenly your client had one perception of it and you had another or whatever. So I think it is important stuff that needs to be done. So how do we better communicate with our clients? We have mentioned a couple of things. You talked about telephone versus e-mail and that kind of stuff. We’ve talked about, what else we talked about? If you have a phone call to them put it down as an e-mail afterwards to kind of summarize key points. Is there anything else that kind of leaps out at you from that point of view that you do a lot?

Pete Boston:
Well some clients do like using Basecamp, especially which is essentially like e-mail.

Marcus Lillington:
Basecamp is quite friendly, isn’t it? Unlike some other systems.

Pete Boston:
Well Marcus doesn’t like Jira. I think Paul doesn’t either.

Paul Boag:
No, I hate Jira with a passion.

Pete Boston:
Let’s not get into those arguments now but either Basecamp or Jira are good because somebody coming in from outside the project can very, very quickly pick up what’s been going on whether they be a member of the technical team or design team or a project manager come in to…

Paul Boag:
Or on the client side.

Marcus Lillington:
I was going to say what’s great about Basecamp is its kind of worldwide familiarity. Everybody knows it, really.

Paul Boag:
And it’s also so simple is the other huge advantage of it.

Marcus Lillington:
So it’s great for project management. Yeah sure, using something like Jira for snagging tasks at the end of a complicated project is fine. But for, you wouldn’t want to use it to communicate with a client.

Pete Boston:
No, I agree. Trying to train a client up in Jira, it’s a pain and by the time they’ve learnt it, the project is finished.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly.

Pete Boston:
But say from an internal point of view I use it all the time just to track tasks, see histories, et cetera.

Paul Boag:
I mean, I fear I’m making a sweeping generalization about…

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not normally one of your fears, Paul.

Paul Boag:
No, I don’t normally worry about such things. I think we as web designers, rather than you guys – not that I’m saying – I know you came from a design background. Us middlemen. I mean, I’m a middleman. Ironically, probably so is Andy Budd.

Marcus Lillington:
Saying nothing.

Paul Boag:
I don’t suppose he does a lot of hands on design anymore, but anyway – poor Andy, he so doesn’t deserve your harassment. He is turning 40 soon, like me.

Marcus Lillington:
Is he? You youngsters.

Pete Boston:
And me.

Paul Boag:
And you, yeah of course yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
When are you 40 then, Pete?

Pete Boston:
In July.

Marcus Lillington:
So you were all born in 1972?

Pete Boston:
Scary.

Paul Boag:
In fact, by the time this program goes out, I will be 40.

Marcus Lillington:
Of course, it’s the end of the month, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Well I’m 45 now, nearer 50.

Pete Boston:
You old git.

Paul Boag:
My word. Scary thought. Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, I think a lot of web designers are kind of, we’re a bit geeky. And so we kind of love – we are very much antisocial. So we like – we are very used to Twitter and e-mail and IM and Facebook and all that kind of stuff. But I think we tend to have this desire to communicate with clients in that kind of way, which is all well and good but even as web designers that use those kinds of tools all the time we seem to get into flame wars every five minutes because you don’t have that body language, you don’t have that verbal communication and all the rest of it. So I think with clients, the telephone for me is a really important part.

Pete Boston:
That’s where you need the pointless middlemen.

Marcus Lillington:
There is one better, which I think is IM with video. I think it’s –

Paul Boag:
You really like that.

Marcus Lillington:
– fantastic. Obviously, if the client doesn’t want that, fine.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
But if they think it’s great then it’s the best of all because you can really tell what people mean.

Paul Boag:
Well it’s not the best of all. The best of all is face to face.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, face to face.

Paul Boag:
Because there is that element as well – I don’t know whether I should cover this now, we’ve just gone so far off of my notes, it’s pointless. But the other element that I think to good communication and that good ongoing relationship with the client is the non-work stuff as well. I mean, like when we went out to the States, the time that we spent going out for a meal with the client, you chat with them.

Pete Boston:
Critical.

Paul Boag:
It is so fundamental to the relationship.

Pete Boston:
Building up that relationship and that trust as well.

Marcus Lillington:
Who was the guy? It was Swedish, I think he was – Swedish agency who insisted on getting drunk with his clients before any project started.

Paul Boag:
Just brilliant, I love it.

Marcus Lillington:
That was at the very first South by Southwest I saw him talk, I can’t remember what it was about –probably about good client relationships, that’s the current one – other than he was Scandinavian. But yeah, that was it, everyone has to go out and get drunk before they start a project. That’s okay I guess if you are doing three projects a year. But if you’re doing fifty, it could be quite hard.

Paul Boag:
You could end up with a serious drinking problem, couldn’t you? But I do think – I think if there is that kind of personal relationship that you are willing to bear with each other a little bit more when things get a bit bumpy, and I think trust is another big issue and I think trust and honesty is a really big issue I think in a lot of client-designer relationships or client-agency relationships, however you want to word it. I think part of the problem is that as web designers we often go into that relationship with the wrong attitude because we’ve endured bad experiences in the past, well I mean it’s on both sides.

On one hand you have got clients who have endured web designers who have been less than honest and haven’t delivered and everybody seems to have a horror story about working with a web designer and then as web designers we have bad experiences from previous clients who have endlessly iterated stuff and all the rest of it. I mean, design iterations I think are a really good example of that.

Many web designers because of bad experiences of clients constantly tweaking design go into future relationships and they close it down. They say we are only going to have this number of iterations, you can’t have any more. And I think – I can understand that because they have been burnt in the past. But I think it sends the wrong relationship — the wrong tone in the relationship, it’s immediately we are going to limit you, we are going to close you down, we are going to – we are treating you like you need to be… It’s a bit like piracy. All the record industry presumes that you are a pirate and that you…

Marcus Lillington:
But you all are.

Paul Boag:
Whatever. But it’s this kind of assumption of guilt, isn’t it. And I think there is a lot of times that web designers – there is this assumption that clients can be a pain in the ass and I think that come across some things like limited design iterations and I think – in my opinion if the web design process is handled sensitively there is no need to kind of place those restrictions and we shouldn’t punish existing clients for what old ones have done.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, that’s right and you will always get projects which are difficult and you will need to do more iterations on but you will also get projects where you will nail it first time and it’s not a problem.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And going back to no client, no client. Very few clients are willing to pay for anything on the time and materials basis so therefore we have to kind of take an average view point on it.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Like this is what design kind of costs on – developing a visual design kind of costs on an average, we have covered this before but yeah, I think it’s the way that works for us.

Paul Boag:
I mean, it comes down to essentially trusting the client to be reasonable.

Pete Boston:
And getting the client to trust us as well that, that we are the experts and well, going through the whole design process that we…

Paul Boag:
Which we are going to cover – we will be covering in a couple of episodes time, I think.
I will tell you the other thing with this kind of whole trust aspect is being honest with the client especially when it comes to encountering problems, which inevitably happen in any project, web design…

Marcus Lillington:
We don’t have any problems in any of our projects. Ever.

Paul Boag:
No? Web design projects are complex. There are going to be things that come up or even stuff that is totally uncontrollable. I mean, recent one was with Lee, recently when Lee’s mum suddenly got ill and he had to go to the hospital and we had a really tight deadline and we had to work around that. I think often we kind of shy away from confronting those problems because it’s painful to do and to talk to the client about it. And there is a part of us that – it’s not that we are lying to the client but I think that can be this belief of we will sort it out before the client ever hears about it. And we have managed to – but I think the pressure you guys seem to take of you must let a client know before a problem even happens, this may happen, this is what we are going to try and do about that. We are talking really sensible.

Pete Boston:
Yeah. And a lot of it is by gaining trust or one of the ways of gaining trust is to be – from a fairly early stage be very prescriptive about what’s in scope and what’s out of scope and then that’s kind of set the precedent for what the client expects. So it’s much easy to be that way around and then further down the line have a little bit more flexibility and start off being very flexible with the client and the client thinks, wow, this guy is good, but then later on you think, oh blimey, I have gone way over budget and I need to stop running that.

Marcus Lillington:
I like that. So essentially what you do is lower expectations and then exceed them?

Pete Boston:
Yeah, exactly and then as long as the client knows that, you know, okay this – I’m a project manager. So they are expecting me to be in there, like we did it in the kick off the other day, when you guys were saying woo…

Paul Boag:
We’ll do everything for free, yeah.

Pete Boston:
And the client looked straight at me and I was looking at him shaking my head saying no, no, no, no, no, let’s talk about this later.

Paul Boag:
When Paul and Marcus are not in the room.

Pete Boston:
Exactly. So – and it’s about being honest and about the client seeing you as somebody who is like instead of middleman, yes, but sort of stable in managing things and making sure that things are delivered on time and to scope and the client wouldn’t expect any more or less than that.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I think that whole thing about expectations is true as well with problems. I always think it’s better to tell a client this might potentially be a problem and then be relieved when that doesn’t happen and we work around it rather than suddenly surprising them with, this big issue has come up and we haven’t been able to solve it. I think that honesty upfront is so much better and I think that applies on your side of the equation as well, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Sorry, I was miles away then.

Paul Boag:
I don’t know why I bother.

Marcus Lillington:
Sorry, what applies, Paul?

Paul Boag:
Well, this whole issue of being honest and upfront when it comes to budgeting and pricing stuff is well because we have had to learn to be more realistic with our pricing.

Marcus Lillington:
No, we just – whatever their budget is, we will agree to anything.

Paul Boag:
But you do have this desire to squeeze timescales and squeeze budgets to the point where you can become unrealistic and actually that makes you then partway through the project start to get really – we can’t give them anything extra because we are already over the budget or whatever.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, totally.

Paul Boag:
So avoid that as much as you possibly can.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, seven, eight years ago, yeah, we were doing a lot of work for budgets that didn’t really match the scope of the work we were doing.

Pete Boston:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. We are still not perfect, are we?

Marcus Lillington:
Oh no.

Paul Boag:
We’re better than we were.

Pete Boston:
Sometimes you work – especially with an existing client that you really like comes in and says we have got this much money to do this and we can say well we certainly can’t do say it was X, we cannot do X. We could probably do 75% of X and you end up giving them 80% of X because you like them. To some extent that’s just good customer service.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. It’s a fine line.

Pete Boston:
It’s a balance, it’s a balance.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. I’m just looking at my notes here. I think really the point I wanted to make when it comes to the point of honesty and trust is that if you build a relationship on anything other than that it’s inevitably going to end up with finger pointing and you want to create an environment instead where you can discuss where things go – went wrong on a project which they do go wrong on a project, in a safe environment where it isn’t about threats or blame or that kind of stuff but simply how can we improve it for the next project. And I think that’s a big part of our attitude with clients is always thinking about the next project and the next step, which is a big part of that. What about disagreements, mind?

Marcus Lillington:
But first can I just add one thing on to that?

Paul Boag:
Sure.

Marcus Lillington:
We do work with the Blue Cross and we have recently – we’ve been doing work for the Blue Cross for years.

Pete Boston:
Five years now? Six.

Paul Boag:
No, four or five.

Marcus Lillington:
Four or five. Yeah, and we are doing lots and lots of projects, project after project after project and we have recently been through – we had a couple of communication issues with them which was kind of a bit us a bit them. And we have been through a whole process recently of agreeing how we are going to communicate better and it’s working really well. So…

Pete Boston:
That has worked very well.

Marcus Lillington:
Just what I’m saying is that you are always do those kind of communication relationships, the way you communicate, you need to review it sometimes and work out what works best for you.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. And being upfront and saying that there has been a problem and addressing that problem directly. I can think of several clients who have done that. Wiltshire Farm Foods is another one that we – we had such a long term relationship and every now and again things do get rocky. You have to pull up again and kind of redefine the relationship.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, and the longer you have a relationship with a client, the easier it is to maybe become a little bit complacent with things like releases. Do what appears to be a small release and something else is affected which really should have been tested. But anyway this has worked very well, hasn’t it with the Blue Cross.

Paul Boag:
So what have you kind of – you say you are starting this new ways of communicating, is any of that generic?

Marcus Lillington:
It’s more of a process. I think it’s agreeing a way of testing.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Pete Boston:
Yeah. So I mean it’s the same with other solutions we do but when you do a largish release clearly you can’t test absolutely every single page and functionality of the site and the content management system but what you can do is identify key critical elements which are public facing, which need to be – you need to make that it has to be working properly.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Pete Boston:
So we go through a test process where I do testing this end, the guys at Blue Cross do testing at their end on the staging server and then we do the same on live. So it’s essentially it’s like there are four to six stages of testing. But then that means that everything is smoothly running and hopefully…

Paul Boag:
Testing is another one of those things that tends to get pushed out, doesn’t it? Budgets and timescales and stuff like that, but that’s a whole another conversation.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. Less so these days, I keep saying that don’t I.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. But you – but yes, you keep saying that but that’s the nature of being in business. The longer you do this, the better you get hopefully. The more you grow.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. The more you understand how long things actually take and hopefully your reputation grows the longer you are around, therefore you get clients, you are able to work with clients that you prefer to rather than not prefer to.

Paul Boag:
Yes. That’s another thing.

Marcus Lillington:
You can price more sensibly.

Paul Boag:
Well, the other thing that I was going to – wanted to touch on was this kind of handling disagreements or different perspectives on things and that kind of stuff. Scope creep is always the big one. Clients – because – it’s a fine line isn’t it because on one hand we really want to include the client in the process, we want them to be enthusiastic, we want them to be suggesting ideas, we don’t want to kind of make them feel crap, we don’t want to be the meany misery guts. So how do you kind of encourage the client and at the same time say, no, we are not going to do that, it’s out of scope?

Pete Boston:
Well, clearly, there is flexibility and if it’s going to take a designer an extra 20 minutes to do something to make a big difference, that’s fine. Again, it’s about establishing trust and establishing – setting a precedent in the beginning as to what’s in scope, what’s not in scope and if a client does get something or you get to an issue which you think actually that would be really nice to do. It wouldn’t take that long. There is no reason why you shouldn’t do it but the clients need to know that you are doing it, and they need to know you are doing it for free. So they don’t, further down the line sort of think, well you did that so why shouldn’t you do this?

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Pete Boston:
It’s still the groundwork at the beginning to set the standard for the client and not to be disappointed further down the line is kind of the key.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. It’s getting that relationship off on the right foot.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, that’s right. But always doing with a friendly face, never lose your temper or always staying calm.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Pete and I work on lots of projects together.

Pete Boston:
Right.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Because you’re on the same team.

Marcus Lillington:
That tends to be our rule, really. We’ll let – we’ll – yeah, okay you can have this, it’s not in scope but we will do it for free, don’t expect anything else, that kind of attitude. I think it works really well.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, if it’s going to take an extra week, well clearly that’s not going to happen. But if it’s going to take an hour here or an hour there, in the bigger scheme of things it doesn’t really matter and if they are going to have a much nicer solution, that’s great. But the client must know that isn’t in the scope and they are getting it as an extra.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. I’d say, the other thing – if I do say so myself, which is a genius idea of mine.

Marcus Lillington:
Here we go.

Paul Boag:
But the wish list thing, I did in that last kick-off meeting, where with…

Pete Boston:
Oh, yes.

Paul Boag:
I like that idea. Why are you grinning like that?

Marcus Lillington:
I was grinning because it’s probably one of his ideas.

Paul Boag:
Probably, I’ll just take the credit for it. Or you’ve been doing it for years?

Marcus Lillington:
He has been doing it for years!

Paul Boag:
But I think…

Marcus Lillington:
Phase 2, yeah.

Paul Boag:
To talk about – to have that wish list of, let’s put all the crazy ideas down and talk about them for the future I think is just a really healthy way of going.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, but without wanting to steal your glory, that is something I probably do with pretty much every project. I have a long running list of things which they’d like to do at some point.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I think I would just – I mean yes, I’ve see that.

Pete Boston:
But it was at kick-off. It was quite funny how pretty much the entire first page of my notes was, Phase 2: Wish List.

Paul Boag:
But that’s why I like to – I think, you know, I’ve seen it before, but I think that’s what worked so well in that meeting that the client did get really enthusiastic about the future of their project, their website. And they got into that mentality which I think is so important with clients of seeing their website as an ongoing investment and not just this is a project, then we’re done. And I think that does make scope creep a lot easier once we start thinking in that terms of that longer relationship.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, it does.

Paul Boag:
So there are other aspects of kind of healthy disagreement, which I suspect different people deal with in different ways. In terms of, what is one thing, scope creep is one thing, but what about if you think it should be done one way and the client thinks it should be done another and how to deal with that? From my perspective, the client has hired us for our expertise and so it is our job to push back at them when they suggest something that you don’t feel is sensible, but how you do that I think is really crucial. And it needs to avoid being a confrontation and that’s quite tricky, isn’t it, as to how you deal with that and where the line is drawn. Again, I’m thinking about that same meeting where I pushed the client – back on the client really quite hard and you in the end stepped in to…

Marcus Lillington:
Just to shut you up, yeah.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, I was about to do the same.

Paul Boag:
And I knew what I was doing and I knew that there was the point where you have to stop. And I will be honest, I find that quite hard. And the way I deal with it, which I hadn’t done with them and I should have done, that my natural way of being with it is to go – you have a “I am the client” card and you can overrule me at any point. And that actually works quite well with a lot of clients. You just, Michael from RAF…

Marcus Lillington:
I was going to mention that one.

Paul Boag:
He did exactly that, he said, I am the client, I want it this way and he was right.

Pete Boston:
He was right, yeah.

Paul Boag:
We were talking about it in last week’s show, weren’t we?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah we were, yeah.

Paul Boag:
That example. But I find it quite hard to judge when I’ve pushed hard enough and I’m interested to know how you deal with that.

Pete Boston:
I think what you said or what we perhaps should have said in last week’s meeting was about the whole client card thing.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Pete Boston:
Because I think she probably would have laid her client card on the table, and say right…

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, she did, a lot earlier on.

Pete Boston:
She did – pretty actually.

Marcus Lillington:
She had to do it about five times.

Pete Boston:
Paul was like a dog with a bone in that meeting.

Paul Boag:
The interesting thing with that meeting, the reason that I was a bit of a dog with a bone, is because not everybody in that meeting was agreeing with her. So that is quite different than you want, you have different people that have different perspectives.

Marcus Lillington:
Only the new guy, he was agreeing with you, everyone else was like, well…

Paul Boag:
What if he is just right and everybody else is wrong?

Marcus Lillington:
Maybe.

Paul Boag:
In actual fact I completely understood her position and it was fine, but it is quite – yeah, I obviously took it too far at that meeting. But it is an interesting thing of how far you do take it because they are hiring you for your expertise.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So how do you know?

Marcus Lillington:
Gut feel.

Paul Boag:
Right, which I obviously don’t have.

Pete Boston:
Yeah. And I think there are times when clearly the client isn’t going to budge on that because they can’t change the way…

Paul Boag:
Yeah, I think what I find…

Marcus Lillington:
I mean this is kind of boring for people listening because I don’t want to go into the detail of what the issue was, but just to quickly comment, I didn’t feel as strongly as you did over what you thought could cause confusion for the user.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
So therefore I’m thinking leave it.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not ideal, but it’s okay…

Pete Boston:
It didn’t need to be quite so black and white.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, to me it felt like a big issue. It still does feel like a big issue.

Marcus Lillington:
Doesn’t to me.

Paul Boag:
I mean, what I should have done in that situation was I mean, whether this even makes any sense, I should have probably fallen back on testing as the answer to it quicker and I would still like to see and that is my default, it’s always my default position when it comes to disagreement is, well let’s test it, let’s see what happens in reality. But I’ll be honest, I do find it a hard thing to judge. As I said, I think what I really struggle with is where the client wants me to agree with them before we will proceed, right? And I’m happy for a client to turn around to me and say you are overruled, I want it to be this way.

Marcus Lillington:
No matter what.

Paul Boag:
You know and I don’t care what you think. You’ve given me your opinion and that’s great. I’m taking that on board, but I’m going to choose to ignore it. I am actually fine. It’s when the client wants to convince me they are right, it’s not where I’m not going to back down on something I don’t think is right. You are both looking at me in a slightly pitiful look.

Pete Boston:
I think in the RAF example, you did accept the fact that the client was right.

Marcus Lillington:
Eventually.

Paul Boag:
I did eventually, yes, but I needed to see it. But my point is, yeah, from my perspective I wish clients would just overrule me.

Marcus Lillington:
But nobody will, because it’s not human nature.

Paul Boag:
That’s the trouble. They want you as the expert to agree with them, they’ve kind of got it in their heads that you are the expert.

Marcus Lillington:
They want you to find an area of middle ground which was what we did in the previous meeting.

Pete Boston:
But even though at times…

Marcus Lillington:
Well, no, because I think you were wrong. You’re too strong. I don’t think you were wrong, I just don’t think you were – it’s not black and white. Therefore, we needed to find somewhere in the middle which we did.

Pete Boston:
We went round in circles…

Paul Boag:
I am quite happy to admit I was wrong in that meeting. That’s fine.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s recording, great?

Paul Boag:
You’re just going to loop that. I’m quite happy to admit I was wrong in that meeting.

Marcus Lillington:
You weren’t happy in that meeting.

Paul Boag:
I’m happy to admit I was wrong. That’s fair enough. Someone’s going to make that into a ring tone now.

Marcus Lillington:
Maybe.

Paul Boag:
And on that kind of – have we got any more advice about dealing with disagreements with clients, I feel like we’ve been a bit wooly there and we ought to give something a bit more tangible.

Marcus Lillington:
I think, yeah, all I would say is try to find an area or a point where everyone can agree on something which means giving in. And as we were saying last week…

Pete Boston:
Compromising, yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, we probably have to compromise more than they do. Generally, and we have to do more than they do, we are the suppliers.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, we do have to. Where I kind of – I have problems, I have problems in two areas. So, I have problems in lots of areas one could argue, but on this particular issue, I have a problem in terms of knowing when to back down and I have a problem in that thing that I have been, I – I am not explaining this very well. I have been taken on board to give my expert advice.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
Right? And it’s knowing how far to push my expert advice is one part of it. And then the other part it is oftentimes we’re, we like our sites to be measurable in terms of success criteria, and if I believe we’re going to be doing something on the website that is going to undermine the measurability of what we’re doing and it’s going to be less successful, then that makes me feel uncomfortable that it might come back and bite us later, that’s what I’m afraid of. So it’s not that I go into those meetings going, I am the expert, listen to me, this is my opinion, it’s more of a fear that the website isn’t going to be all it could be and that’s going to make the client unhappy later.

Marcus Lillington:
So therefore there is a point, so there is a middle ground somewhere there where your ideal is here, they are saying we’ve got to incorporate this which is going to stop you getting up there, so there is a gap somewhere – I’m using hand…

Paul Boag:
Hand gestures, which always works really well in an audio podcast. Well done, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
And there is a middle ground where we can still take on your ideas, but still within the realms of the constraints that they have got, and it’s just kind of making the best out of that. Sometimes it will just be a case of we are stuck with it and other times it’ll be well, we could do this to make it better.

Paul Boag:
And to be honest, what I was expecting from them in hindsight looking back at that particular instance, I was expecting them to make fundamental business changes that they just weren’t able to make whether – it was almost irrelevant as to whether I was right or they were right. What I was asking was fundamentally impossible for them.

Pete Boston:
It wasn’t going to happen.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, so what was the point? I don’t know. To be fair, I was feeling ill and I didn’t want to go to that meeting. You forced me into that meeting, but I probably just punished you subconsciously.

Anyway. Right! So that wraps up this week’s show on that. I just want to leave this. Let’s wind it up into something a bit more useful than the blithering waffle. Although there are people who find this kind of rubbish quite interesting because it’s the same – I think shows like this leave people feeling like they are experiencing the same kind of problems that we are. Just because you are a well-known agency, it doesn’t mean you don’t worry about these kinds of issues as well. But, no, let’s wind it up. In some ways, I’ve been a bit flippant about this whole thing of romantic comedies and the designer-client relationship being like a marriage and all that. But, in some ways I think a good client relationship should feel a bit like a good marriage that’s moved beyond that first flush of being “oh, we’ve just hired them and it’s all very exciting”, to that point where it’s about good communication and trust and that kind of stuff. So, with that in mind, I would encourage you to – as you think about your relationship and your clients, to get into that mentality of communicating regularly. Embrace that working with clients involves working with them, rather than working around of them. There is this….

Marcus Lillington:
Even when it’s difficult.

Paul Boag:
…attitude that you do need to work with them and this means recognizing that regular communication is as important as designing and coding and that kind of stuff. And, the other thing that I want to leave people with is that need to be open and honest and keep the client informed about potential problems as they arise, openly discuss differences in opinions about the right approach, find – as you say, find middle ground, find that comprise in it. And, finally – the final part of any good relationship is getting to know the client and that means getting to know them as individuals, building a relationship with them, but it also means understanding that client’s business and that’s what we’re going to talk about in next week’s show.

Marcus Lillington:
Very important.

Paul Boag:
Getting – digging under the surface of the business to really understand. And that actually – that example of that meeting, what I just said about that meeting is a classic example. If I’d got in my head, in my cold-addled dozy-head that day that I was asking them to make a fundamental business change, I would’ve backed off much quicker. And, the client was fine with it. It was actually quite funny and we have a great relationship and all the rest of it. But, I would’ve got that much quicker if I had understood the business better at that stage. And so, actually that’s how important it is to really understand the business and that’s what we’re going to look at next week. Before we have Marcus’s joke, I just want to remind people that I go into all of this in a lot more detail and a lot more coherently in the book associated with this show which you can get at boagworld.com/seasons/3.

Pete Boston:
Paul, just before we go….

Paul Boag:
Actually, I think it’s /season now, I don’t know, anyway. They’ll find it, of course they will. They’re intelligent people.

Marcus Lillington:
Have you said everything you want to say about communication? You’ve written lots of notes.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, we probably….

Pete Boston:
I think we have covered most things.

Paul Boag:
I did notice him weaving it in. What I didn’t ask him, which I’m supposed to be asking all people that come on the show, is what you love about client work. Now, what do you love about client work?

Pete Boston:
What do I love about client work?

Paul Boag:
Why would you do that rather than go and work for – well, you used to work for a company that delivered products, didn’t you? And you did, you delivered a product.

Pete Boston:
Yeah, we did, although there we had client work as well

Paul Boag:
Right.

Pete Boston:
But, what I did – what I like about client work – not just client work, working in this industry is the fact we work in a whole multitude of industries. So, anything from pet charities to Oxford University colleges to National Air Traffic Services to law firms, whether they’d be in the U.K., in Europe or the U.S. and it’s really nice to have that variety and that’s what keeps me going. And, what you touched on at the end is getting my head around or really getting into a client – how a client ticks and what makes them work.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Pete Boston:
I really enjoy that and that’s – as you said, it’s really critical to start doing that as early as you possibly can in a project to establish the communications.

Paul Boag:
It’s really – absolutely everybody’s saying the same thing.

Marcus Lillington:
You haven’t asked me.

Paul Boag:
Go on. What is it for you? Why do you do client work, then?

Marcus Lillington:
I like it when a client’s – what I – the best thing about doing client work is when you exceed their expectations. That’s the best thing.

Paul Boag:
When the client goes away really excited about what they got is that – it is absolutely awesome and they can’t shut up about it. And, then they send you stuff back afterwards. I love it when you get those emails saying – we got one recently from – that was RFBF again which was that we’ve been rated really highly on something or other or someone writes back and say, we had 30% conversion rate increase and that’s brilliant, isn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. I love that feeling.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely. Totally agree with that. Right, so there we go. So, check out the show notes for this at boagworld.com/season/3. And, I suppose you have to enjoy Marcus’s joke as tradition dictates.

Marcus Lillington:
This is a similar level as yesterday’s.

Pete Boston:
He has got it written down.

Paul Boag:
Yesterday’s?

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, similar.

Pete Boston:
Two weeks ago.

Marcus Lillington:
I’m never sure, so confusing.

Pete Boston:
He has got it written down as well.

Paul Boag:
He has to write them down. He never remembers them. He’s getting old.

Marcus Lillington:
A mate of mine recently admitted to being addicted to brake fluid. When I quizzed him on it, he said he could stop anytime.

Paul Boag:
That is terrible. They’ve really gotten quite bad.

Pete Boston:
Where do you get these from?

Paul Boag:
He gets these from places…

Marcus Lillington:
I couldn’t possibly admit.

Paul Boag:
Are you getting them from like some primary school joke book or something; they are that kind of level.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s Tommy Cooper style. You’re supposed to keep banging them out.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, you can’t just do one of those. Got to build up the momentum.

Marcus Lillington:
Anyway, I haven’t…

Paul Boag:
There we go.

Marcus Lillington:
There we go.

Paul Boag:
Alright, thank you very much, guys. It was quite good. It’s a bit more wandering, but I think those discussions are I think quite interesting. So – and then guys, check out the blog post because you could put your experiences in the comments and join in with the discussion. I haven’t asked people to do that yet in the series, but it is really interesting to hear – to discover that it’s not just us. It could be we are the only people in the world that have these problems and I want to know that it’s not. So, do comment. Talk to you again in two weeks’ time.

Marcus Lillington:
Bye.

Paul Boag:
Bye.

Pete Boston:
Bye.

This podcast was transcribed by the lovely people at Pods In Print

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