Ask anyone for the golden rule of business and their first guess at an answer might be: “make money.”

Yet, really, the golden rule should be the same one we all have heard time and again – treat others as you wish to be treated. This foundational tenet of good customer experience (CX) is just one of the five ways CX can make your freelance web design business stand out.

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Why Customer Experience is Essential

Eighty percent of companies believe they have a solid handle on customer experience. Yet, there is a discrepancy in company and customer perceptions – only 8% of customers agree.

Perhaps part of the problem is that there are myriad of definitions of customer experience itself. Forrester’s definition is: “How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

This is rooted, the consultant firm says, in three customer expectations:

  1. Working with your company is useful.
  2. Your company delivers recognizable value.
  3. The experience is enjoyable in that expectations are met and the people are pleasurable to work with.

When a customer has a better experience, satisfaction soars, repeat sales are more likely, and your business enjoys more referrals. Plus, when the customer is happy, you and any employees are more likely to feel positively engaged.

That engagement can drive better productivity and greater innovation, which in turn leads back to greater customer satisfaction, repeat sales, referrals and…it’s just one big, happy circle!

In fact, customer experience is predicted to overtake price and product as a key brand differentiator by 2020. So, what can a freelance web design business do to foster positive customer experiences?

1. Establish Expectations

Think customers expected a lot yesterday? Tomorrow they will expect even more. With such smart, speedy technology always at our fingertips, we can’t help ourselves – we want more.

That’s why it’s important to have a clear process for setting expectations from the outset. You might even have a checklist to start each project addressing questions such as:

  • What is the deliverable?
  • What is the deadline?
  • What is the client’s preferred means of communication?
  • What is the client’s top priority?
  • What is the budget?
  • What is the process for the client if they have questions or concerns?

In establishing expectations and project parameters in a kickoff call or meeting, be sure to avoid overpromising. If you’re a sole proprietor and this is your largest client project to date, and you still have ongoing responsibilities to other ongoing clients, don’t suggest you’ll have their website 2.0 launched by week’s end (especially not at a Thursday meeting!).

Your client will value your honesty, and you will better build trust if you can manage expectations well.

2. Meet Expectations

Setting expectations was only step one. You need to make sure you do what it takes to meet those expectations. Perhaps this means using project management software (such as Teamwork or Basecamp) to set a timeline, manage milestones, and establish clear communication channels throughout the process.

This could require regular meetings, either internally with people at your business working on the project or involving both internal people and the client keeping each other up-to-date on shifting project parameters and progress.

It definitely means setting deadlines in advance and meeting them (or communicating clearly, in advance, when there might be a delay).

Meeting expectations will drive not only customer satisfaction but also the retention, referrals, and opportunities to cross- or up-sell.

3. Treat the Client Well

This doesn’t mean buying them bottle service or sending them baskets of Kobe beef – although they might welcome that. Instead, it’s about building a positive relationship with the client.

“Treat customer interaction as a precious resource,” business leaders are told in a Harvard Management Update.

There are several ways to apply this nugget of advice:

  • Be conscientious of customer time and responsibilities. Limit the number of people who can reach out, and the number of times your business contacts the client. Having one individual in charge of client-facing communications, fielding questions (and trying to answer them without the client), and filtering client feedback to the team can be more efficient and earn you greater client respect.
  • Seek feedback. At the end of a project, you might have a quick survey you could email to the client representative to gain insight into what they felt worked and what didn’t. Further, seek metrics from the client after the project is up and running. Yes, this means holding your firm accountable for client success after the launch date.

Pullout: 67% of customers mention bad experiences as a reason for churn, but only 1 out of 26 unhappy customers complain.

  • Listen to feedback. Actually read survey responses. Have a plan to assess internally what you or your team thought could have worked better. Now incorporate those observations, and the input offered by the client, to always be improving.

4. Be Direct About Problems

Things may go wrong, but that doesn’t have to torpedo customer experience if you handle the issue well. Website development involves so many elements that might go awry – perhaps the interactive pop-up is taking longer to code than anticipated or the migration from the web host is a bigger headache than expected.

Focusing on customer experience, though, demands that you communicate with the client. Offer regular updates of progress, outline the cause for a delay (ideally, without throwing someone under the bus), and continually thank clients for their patience.

Taking the extra time to employ positive language can help too. For instance, avoid saying: “I’m not going to be able to add that feature; it just won’t work on your site.” Instead, you might phrase the same idea more positively: “I know you wanted this feature, but developing that will add to your timeline and budget.

An alternative, similar option would be to implement this or that.” By offering a resolution, instead of simply saying “no,” you are more likely to persuade clients.

Trying to ignore a problem or hoping the client won’t notice erodes trust. Be direct and you’re more likely to be rewarded with customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.

5. Expect Surprises

When is the last time a web design project went exactly as planned?

Have a plan in place for such surprises. Do you have people you can consult with or bring in on contract to tackle new challenges or take on suddenly streamlined deadlines?

Work also on your persuasive skills to address the unexpected effectively. Perhaps you’ll be able to help the client see that the “great new feature” they just saw on a competitor’s site is a flashy gadget but doesn’t add any true value to the site design or redesign.

At the same time, being willing to learn. The client could come at you with a new challenge that, if you’re open-minded, might lead you in a direction that improves upon the original ideas and even garners you to a new valuable skill to offer future clients too.

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