Delay Converts The Good Into The Bad
"Well, the reason why we're contacting you is because we are looking for a new web developer. We haven't heard from our current developer in several weeks. They're not returning emails. We've left voicemails. We thought everything was going fine. We launched the site, then a month or so later we sent over a couple of bugs. We've heard nothing back. Honestly, now that we look back on it, there were a lot of problems with the website. And when they say they’ve fixed something, it seems to never be totally fixed. I think we might need to fire them. We just haven't heard from them in so long!"
You know how when you have to wait in line, and you have very little to do but play Candy Crush? You stand there and think about stuff. When clients have to stand around and wait, it provides them with an opportunity to become annoyed. Once annoyed, they see the world differently. Through the lens of annoyance, they start viewing all of the your past work differently. In that harsh light, good work begins to change color and look bad.
Delay in our business is inevitable. Much of a web developer's work is project based. In order to meet expenses, projects are worked back to back. Web development is complex, which means that bugs can turn up in code long after Quality Assurance work has been completed and launch has occurred. When bugs do pop up, they become an instant priority for the client. At that moment of bug discovery, the development team has likely moved on to working flat out to meet another project’s deadlines. When we can take a moment to stop one job and restart another, we certainly do! Normally, however, we cannot stop immediately. That means the client with the bug must wait.
Something I have noticed over the years is that the longer clients are made to wait, the more dire their situations seem. Like a pebble in a shoe, left long enough it seems a boulder. Left waiting long enough, your client’s satisfaction with your good work will erode. Clients will rethink, reconsider and reformulate their recollection increasingly tarnishing it with current annoyance. This is normal. If I were a social scientist, I would measure this natural phenomenon somehow.
Of course, under just the right circumstances all delays can be avoided. But on a year in, year out basis, that is just not realistic. What's real is that these scenarios occur. To be sure, at Solspace we employ proactive project management to minimize the frequency. We encourage clients to set aside budget and time after a launch to work with us in order to stress test their new development and perform rigorous Quality Assurance. Post launch, the Solspace team remains on standby until the new site or web application stabilizes. We offer and encourage retainer agreements. Complex, customized web sites and applications, like car engines, require regular maintenance. A retainer relationship guarantees a client access to developers and fast response times. Finally, we build some flex into all project budgets and timelines to allow us to pause a current project in order to address a bug or an issue that has cropped up in previous work.
These are swell preventatives, but in the real world, things can fall apart. Equally important to the project management strategies outlined above, or perhaps more, is communication. We endeavor to be 'High Touch'. The truth is that sometimes we just can't help a client immediately, but we can always remain in communication. A disappearing act is death to a client / vendor relationship. I’ve had situations where a client with an issue was reassured by our remaining in touch each day until we could make time to address the problem. Of course it's not ideal, but within the reality of being a service company, a project company - occasionally, constant reassurance that we are listening and will help as soon as we are able is the best we can do.
I learned this lesson first as a bank teller. While I understood that explaining that we would be right with a customer didn’t lift the annoyance of the people waiting in line, it did acknowledge and reassure them. Being authentic works. The next time you find yourself ignored completely as you stand in line, play social scientist. Watch the faces of the people around you. As their legs tire, and their minds grow restless, there will be a slow, insidious change in facial expressions. As you watch, some of them will leave, never to return.