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ETpro's avatar

How do you tell clients there are rules they must accept to work with you? [See details].

Asked by ETpro (34600points) July 16th, 2012

I’m an ecommerce developer. I happen to work almost exclusively on the Yahoo! Merchant Solutions Store platform. As a “Yahoo! Small Business partner”;, I have access to only certain areas of the Cloud that the Yahoo! Stores reside in. I can fiddle with the database of product information, customer service pages and images that make up a typical Web store, for instance. I can revise the query language (proprietary RTML, but similar to PHP or ASP) that converts database information into HTML pages. I can make changes to the CSS for the checkout and customer registration pages. I can even use the available Checkout System API to make a few more fundamental changes to how the cart works. But neither I, nor any store owner can access the underlying CGI scripts that give life to the shopping cart, or that operate the site search function and customer registration. For obvious security reasons, only Yahoo top-level Engineering has access to that scripting.

Right in every proposal I send out, I define how the database of products must be structured in order to be recognizable by the Yahoo! back end. I define how images have to be named, as well. I note that it is possible to avoid these constraints by entering every single product in the form-based CMS that is the Store Editor. But I warn them this approach is time consuming, and for stores that will have large numbers of products for sale, it’s much faster to assemble a database in Excel, gather images named to match the ID of the product they represent, and upload the whole thing in batch mode. I also stipulate that our firm will quote doing that should they so desire, but tell them it is probably better that they do it, since they are already familiar with their product line and with what drives their customers to purchase items in it. I tell them that the proposal, as sent, does NOT include pricing for uploading, database creation or editing, and image processing services.

I guess it’s the Americans don’t, or can’t, read problem—but despite all my best efforts to disclose up front how building a store works, all too often customers sign up, then get livid because I can’t make the Yahoo back end work they way they want it to and not the way it actually does work—the way I defined it as working in the proposal. How brutal must I get to avoid this bozo factor. Can I even afford to try, or would the level of preachiness required lose me so much business I’m better off just listening to their whines when they come?

I’m sure I’m not the only person delivering professional services to have encountered this problem. Whether you work in a similar industry or a very different one, how do you avoid getting the client from Hell, or if that can’t be avoided, at least surviving the onslaught of insults they hurl with some semblance of your dignity still intact?

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12 Answers

LittleLemon's avatar

I can only hope that the insults you endure take place online as opposed to on the phone or in person, but abuse in any avenue is taxing after a while. When I click through 2 or 3 “codes, policies and procedures” dialogue boxes, I do have the occasional, ”Yeah, okay, I get it,” thought cross my mind, but I’m well aware that these things exist for a reason and no one in their right mind would draw up such a tedious contract unless they had to (which we do, in stupid times such as these).

Basically, I would hammer it into their tiny brains until they got it. I can’t think of a single time that any fine print has kept me from buying something legitimate that I needed. Keep an eye on your enrollment numbers before and after the inclusion of this “extra step”, and see if they vary substantially or not.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I can only speak from someone on the other side of the fence. Having worked with several companies on IT projects that needed to be outsourced, what I found was this:
* If we are outsourcing it, then we have no real clue on the process, time involved or potential cost.
* We may be directed to do so by someone who is even more clueless than we are. They just want it done now, cheaply and with a quality end result. We become a puppet on a string that the vendor has to deal with.

From my experience, the most successful projects have been with partners who outline the expectations in detail verbally and even more detailed on paper. Our company’s legal dept. required that they review the contract before we were allowed to sign it. This was the first and most important part of the process.

Building in time for an outside resource to get up-to-speed on the company’s culture is another step. From my experience, it doesn’t take that long if the right resources are provided in a timely manner, but it can be costly on the front end. If I have to pay them to travel for X amount of time to immerse them in whatever to design and develop this project, then I need to be able to justify it to the person paying the bill. It’s all about ROI.

Alpha and beta testing is also extremely important. Not only for the success of the company, but for their own reputation. People like us can be clueless until we can actually get our hands on the rough draft of a project and play around with it. By this time, they have already designed and basically developed what was wanted. The initial stages of deployment allow for tweaking at my expense and their time.

The final step seems to be whether the company chooses to continue to retain them for updates or take it on themselves. Either way, it should be built into the contract.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s very fine to “define how the database of products must be structured in order to be recognizable by the Yahoo! back end”, but what kind of template do you provide?

I would think that if you provide an Excel spreadsheet in the format that you suggest, with appropriate notes to suggest image file naming conventions and other inputs, then that will go a lot farther than a detailed pure-text explanation which an engineer might understand, but the clerks making up the inputs do not.

Aside from that, why not provide an indication of the hourly rates you would have to charge for items not covered in the firm price contract? That way the buyer can estimate in advance how much it’s going to cost him if he tells you “Oh, just go ahead and fix that for us the way it should be, please.” (In this case it would also be helpful to customers to have guidance on how many hours such tasks normally entail. They can do the math and figure out which way is best for them, and you can work up a relatively quick Extra Work Order for them that they can sign to get on with the project, since they have had the information.)

woodcutter's avatar

Sure: I don’t baby -sit their kids, or pets.
I don’t touch electronics of any kind.
I don’t go in a house with no adults in charge
If they expect me to stand behind my work I do it my way.
They have to agree to my easy payment plan: When I present them with the bill they write me a check….easy. That’s about it.

I am a profiler. I can tell within a couple minutes if I want to do business with someone. This goes a long way towards staying sucker free with assholes for customers because contrary to conventional wisdom, the customer is not always right. Even if the job looks like a lucrative one, and tempting to accept, if I’m going to have my hands full of crazy I will decline, and it can be hard to do that but I just can’t do crazy anymore. I learned.
I know most people in a service occupation won’t have the options I give myself so, tip o’ the hat to all the folks who have to eat shit. I don’t envy you.

funkdaddy's avatar

I’ve run into this a couple of times, it’s tough because I never want people to feel like I’ve deceived them and I spend a lot of time going through next steps whenever I’m working with someone.

I’ve started putting a small section in proposals (even informal emailed ones) that includes “additional things you might need” and a ballpark price for each. This would include things like hosting, SSL certs, merchant accounts, image/font/software licensing, copy writing, and content entry. I don’t try to make it exhaustive, but just the things that come to mind and apply to that project.

There’s no reason for most business owners to understand how any of those things work in their day to day business. So most appreciate the time and I don’t believe they feel I’m just trying to upsell them.

I try to word it so it’s me looking out for them early in a project, so they can budget and understand what’s involved. It’s a great place to start that conversation and gets the “you mean everything isn’t included?” possibility knocked out very early when it’s hard to gauge how often someone does projects like this.

I don’t know if it would work as well just because of everything that’s included with your Yahoo packages, but maybe it will spark an idea more suited to your situation?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Do any of you follow up with clients once the product is delivered? If so, how often and for how long? I would think it could provide valuable feedback. It might even change the way of doing business with future clients.

ETpro's avatar

@LittleLemon Almost always the complaints are by phone. I think even the complainer realizes in their heart-of-hearts that they are really upset with reality and not with me. They don’t want to put their whining about reality into writing. That’s a great point on the T&C statement. There is probably nothing to lose in making sure I cover all my bases in triplicate there, and yes, they do have to click the “I agree” button.

@Pied_Pfeffer Your company’s policies are far more rigorous than those of the vast majority of customers I must deal with. Most are tiny businesses, often one-man-bands. They generally have no formal process for selecting a vendor and often have never done so before. So it’s understandable that many of them have no idea what to expect or what questions to ask.

@CWOTUS I give them an Excel template and a Definitions file in Excel telling them exactly what needs to go in each column of the template. Clearly, most don’t bother to read what I have taken time to write. They just enter whatever comes into their head, and when it doesn’t work because they failed to follow the explicit instructions provided, they do their level best to indict me for life being a bitch.

@woodcutter Right now, I can’t starve long enough to enforce those excellent rules. But that’s a target. And as the saying goes, “Failure to hit the bull’s-eye is never the fault of the target.”

@funkdaddy That’s a great idea. For the longest time, I included pricing for copy writing, database construction and product photography, but nobody ever bought those add-ons. I eventually dropped them. But stating what extra work costs might go a long way to discouraging the cheapskates from the “you mean everything isn’t included?” exploit.

@Pied_Pfeffer I definitely do, but haven’t developed a rigorous routine for doing so. I just signed up for some CRM software that should make doing so a more predictable, manageable task not subject to the vagaries of my memory.

funkdaddy's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer – I tend to keep my clients and do work for them in the future. A few have other folks they work with now, and I’ve let go of a couple, but I’d say 70% of people I’ve worked with continue to get in touch whenever they need something web related.

I’ve shot a couple a quick questionnaire asking for feedback, but generally they word things like I was looking for recommendations or quotes, so I don’t know if there’s a lot of value there when it comes to improvement. There just isn’t the volume needed to extract patterns like there would be for most places that survey.

I don’t have a formal follow up plan because it feels more like scripted fishing for business than true follow up. Also part of it is self-preservation. I have a tendency to fix “nits” for free even after a project is completed if I get in touch. When they initiate the contact it feels more like they’re requesting the work on both sides.

That said I offer maintenance and content entry for folks who know they’ll need those services on a continuous basis and don’t have any desire to do it themselves.

ETpro's avatar

@funkdaddy That jibes with my experience as well.

Gabby101's avatar

I think @funkdaddy is hitting it right on the nose. It sounds like you are working with a lot of beginners who would appreciate the extra information about what they’ll need to have a complete website or what most people get. When my husband and I were creating a website, we went with ______ because they walked us through what we were sigining up for, what other people got and explained what we could add on later and what we really couldn’t. They are definitely not the cheapest out there, but we realized having someone who could explain at a high level what we needed to get started was more important than saving a couple hundered of dollars. Our biggest fear was creating a website that was incomplete and that we would have to invest more money in or we would have to abandon and start over. We wanted to know the total price before begining becuase our budget was limited.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@ETpro A CRM software program can be a lifesaver for a business person, particularly if they are juggling multiple projects. It’s good to hear that you will be using one.

ETpro's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer I really need to get myself up to speed on it’s features.

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