Foundations of Customer Service for Freelance Designers

There are a lot of factors that play a role in determining the success of a freelance web designer. Obviously, design ability and technical skills are needed, but other factors like customer service, marketing, networking, and work ethic will have a significant influence. In this article we’ll take a look at customer service as it applies to freelance designers.

Providing high-quality customer service can at times be frustrating for freelancers, but taking good care of your clients is critical for client retention and for encouraging word-of-mouth referrals. Here we will look at 10 aspects that should be considered by freelancers who aspire to provide a high level of customer service.

1. Being Reachable

When clients have a question or a problem, they want to know that there is someone they can contact to get help. Of course, freelancers don’t have a team of customer service people ready to handle calls and emails around the clock, but in general it’s necessary to be accessible to clients. Clients should know the best ways to contact you (office phone, cell phone, email, through a customer service portal, IM, Twitter, etc.) and when they can expect to get a response if they are not able to speak with you immediately. Most clients understand that freelancers will not be available 24 hours a day, but they should know that you are interested in helping them and the best way to go about it.

2. Timely Response

Since it’s very common to deal with customer service via email and voice mail, the client should be able to know that you will get back to them as quickly as possible. The amount of time will vary, but clients should not feel like their messages are falling through the cracks and only answered whenever you have the spare time. Clients will appreciate customer service that involves a prompt response, which shows that service is a priority to you.

3. Organization

Organization is important in order to be able to provide quality customer service with timely responses. Working on multiple projects at any given time, plus some questions/issues from other clients needing maintenance, means that without organization it will be difficult to stay on top of things. Some freelancers use a CRM (see 12 CRM Options for Freelancers), while others institute their own system for organization. Organization also has a major impact on the ability to meet deadlines, which is a critical aspect of keeping your clients satisfied with your work.

4. Patience with Explanations

Clients like to work with designers who are willing and able to meet them at their level, where the designer will explain things in a way that makes sense to the client. There will be plenty of situations where you will need to explain your reasoning to the client, whether it be in response to a question or suggestion from them, or whether it is something that you feel needs to be pointed out. Taking the time to explain things without technical jargon will help to educate your clients and should help to make your job easier going forward.

5. A System for Quotes/Estimates

Some designers use packages with set prices for specific types of projects, but many designers will provide a quote specifically based on the needs of each client. Even for those designers that offer prices by packages, there will be situations where a client’s needs do not quite fit into one of the existing packages and a quote will be needed anyway. Pricing design services is a hot topic that gets a lot of attention, but the quote/estimate process doesn’t get as much attention.

The quote involves more than just being able to price your services. It should also help you to evaluate exactly what the clients needs and what you can offer, the specific details of what is included in the price and what is not, any deadlines and/or project milestones that are involved, and any other relevant details. Having a system will help you to get information from the client that will help you to make better estimates, provide a timely response, and to cover all bases so that both the designer and client understand the specifics of what is being offered.

6. Effective In-Take Process

One of the most critical aspects to a successful design project is getting to know and understand the client’s specific needs, their business, their customers, and what is needed from the website. In order to get this right, it is necessary to dedicate the needed time upfront before the design work begins. Many designers have standard approach to client in-take that helps them to make sure all the right questions are asked.

Putting more effort in to the early stages of the designer/client relationship will help to improve the customer service down the road. A project that involves a solid in-take process will result in a more effective and efficient use of your time, and fewer issues that will need to be resolved at later stages of the process, which will make your customer service much easier.

7. Clear Contracts and Terms

Contracts not only serve to protect everyone involved from a legal perspective, but having contracts and clear terms with clients will help to reduce the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding about pricing, payment terms, what is included in the price, and the responsibilities of the designer and the client. A lack of clarity in any of these areas can lead to problems and lots of customer service work.

8. A System for Working with Feedback

Every client project will involve some sort of feedback, and many will require revisions from the designer. In some cases, the feedback may be coming from a few different sources, and it could involve a number of different people. This contributes to making it even more important to have a system to deal with feedback and to incorporate it into the project.

There are a number of different resources out there, such as Proof HQ, that are available to make the process more streamlined and effective.

9. Concern for the Client’s Best Interest

In order to provide the highest level of customer service possible, it is necessary to have the client’s best interest in mind. There will be situations where you could recommend something to a client that would involve more money for you, but it may not be in the best interest of the client. While putting the client’s interests in priority may cause you to miss out on some income opportunities in the short-term, it’s a necessary part of providing good customer service. Clients will recognize when you are truly looking out for them and it will lead to increased trust in you, a greater chance of getting repeat business, and more referrals from current and former clients.

10. Respect for Your Time

Just like you need to respect your clients, you also need to respect your own work and time. Simply catering to unreasonable requests or doing endless revisions for clients that keep changing their mind is not required to provide good customer service. The ideal designer/client relationship involves mutual respect and a concern for being fair on both sides. There will be times when providing some type of service to your customer is outside the scope of the contract. In these situations the best customer service will involve a willingness to help the client get the service that they want, but at an additional fee.

Provide the best customer service that you can, but also have a respect for your time that prevents you from getting walked on. A healthy designer/client relationship will produce the best results for the client, improve the chances of a long-term working relationship, and promote a genuine interest in working together for success.

What’s Your Experience?

From your experience, what do you feel are the most essential aspects to customer service for freelancers?

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Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. January 7, 2010

    This article makes some excellent points. Humans don’t always make decisions based on facts and sometimes how a client feels about a designer is strongly influenced by whether they feel they can work with the person.

  2. January 7, 2010

    I worked doing tech support in a call center for a couple years before I became a freelancer and it did wonders in how I handle clients. Though easier said than done, if you have a “take charge” attitude when dealing with clients, plus a little diplomacy, you can work with just about everyone.

  3. January 7, 2010

    I’m sure that was some excellent experience for you. I wish I had prior customer service experience!

  4. January 8, 2010

    these are some really good tips you have here. I think another one you can add is education. By continually educating yourself with trends and industries you’re always more valuable to your clients, which is really what they are going for – the value. With education comes confidence and showing confidence in what you’re doing, the decisions your making and educating your clients in the process will increase customer service tenfold.

  5. Badger
    January 8, 2010

    Hi Steven, good article. I like point 10. Ive been trampled on a few times. Must remember to respect my time more often !!

    My first job was working in a library which went on for 4 years. That customer service experience was invaluable in building my general ability to deal with clients. However I would say that the experience is not a deal breaker. Anyone with the right attitude and a few brain cells could certainly get by without that initial experience before moving into freelancing. Some people just have it. Hate them 😉

  6. January 8, 2010

    Awesome, awesome article! Thank you for sharing this. Bookmarked!

  7. January 8, 2010

    After running a small firm/freelance agency for 15 years I can affirm these are so true. Especially number one. The top complaint I would get about other providers from clients was lack of callbacks. And even though I try, I have had complaints from clients about lack of accessibility. It is a razor’s edge to walk.

    This is a solid list. Thanks so much for sharing.


  8. January 8, 2010

    I definitely agree with everything you said the in the article. Great tips! Especially the one about a timely support response. I cannot stress how important that is to helping close a deal or make your customers happy!

  9. January 8, 2010

    awesome article, great tips, bookmarked

  10. January 9, 2010

    Very useful article THANKS

  11. January 9, 2010

    Good point. Thanks!

    Yeah, I would agree with you that prior customer service is not necessary and can be learned. As someone who never worked in customer service though I could see where it would be helpful. Generally it’s just treating clients the way you would like to be treated in their shoes, while of course still respecting yourself and your own time.

    Thanks for your feedback. The article was written based on my own experience, so it’s always good to hear that someone else agrees with me based on their experience.

  12. January 10, 2010

    Good list Steven.

    By my 2nd freelance job, I learned how important #1 and #2 are, and they were raving about me by the time the site went live.

  13. August 4, 2010

    good job

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