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Process Series Post #5

How to Communicate with Clients During the Product Development Process: Tailoring Cadence and Content to Customer Needs and Preferences

Communicating with your clients during product development effort is a necessity but can often be difficult to navigate. Those designers, engineers and program managers who meet the challenge effectively and well stand to create ‘customers for life’.  Though most technical dev teams are not comprised of salespeople, refined communications enables you to exhibit concern for customer perceptions and addresses their need to upsell the progress of the engagement to their superiors.

Ask new clients how they want to be informed during the process.

As you’re getting to know a new customer, find out the type of cadence they would prefer for regular communications. If you’re engaged in an agile or agile/waterfall hybrid process, invite customers to attend scrums and design reviews on a regular basis.  Their attendance should be highly encouraged as a way to safeguard them from ‘surprises’ down the road.

Determine that fine line between informing the client and offering “too much information” or sharing more then they want or need to know.

Safe assumption here is to inform clients of occurrences that will most likely have an impact on. It’s safe to say that most customers will not welcome being swamped with all your daily travails or minute details, even if they say they need to know ‘everything’.

Let them know if something they’ve requested presents a challenge. 

Be sure to respond to requests for changes and pivots as positively as possible without promising the undeliverable schedule or creating unrealistic expectations for any related cost increases caused by the changes. “We can certainly do this, but here are a few considerations you should be aware of…”. Clearly, if a change request or schedule acceleration is impossible to meet at the current budget level or on the original due date, be honest and as accommodating as possible. Keep expectations real.

As a project is wrapping up, ask your contacts for a comms ‘report card’.

“How’d we do?” “Could we have done anything better?” Ask for a frank assessment of the client’s experience with you keeping them abreast of developments during the project. Receive comments graciously and if appropriate, propose solutions for improvements moving forward.

Seize the opportunity to tailor the development process to your clients’ needs, perspective and communications styles during development so they are consistently reassured and informed as it suits them. This is sure to keep customers ‘sold’ on you and process and more than likely encourage them to come back to you and your team with more projects.

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