Client Handling:Finding your Client’s Pain Points


In my years of dealing with a variety of different clients, I have noticed one curious trend. It is amazing how many other Web designers have left a bad taste in people’s mouths from previous experiences they’ve had. I think this boils down to two things: lack of experience and lack of awareness.

I want to cover the second point today. As a Web designer/developer, you have an amazing opportunity to shape your clients’ perceptions of what the Internet and online technology can do for them and their business. Your actions will largely determine how successful your existing clients are and who your next client will be. How you go about this can take a variety of forms, but as many a marketing expert will tell you, one very effective way of growing your business is identify your customers’ pain points.

Recognizing pain

Photo by Tomasz Kobosz

Every customer is going to have one or more frustrations related to their business or their Web site. You need to learn how to read between the lines and listen past the immediate requests of your client. The goal is to keep reinforcing the idea that you understand what they really need and can articulate it better than they can.

Many business owners are intimidated by technology. There’s an obvious pain point: “Help, I don’t understand how this stuff works!” Therefore, the more you can educate your client, translate computer/Internet jargon into plain everyday speech, and empower your client to learn more about good Web practices and the benefits of regular updates (news, product updates, blogging, social media, etc.), the more you will be seen as a vital business partner.

Learn to recognize pain points by asking the right questions and listening to the answers. You can ask about your client’s goals and vision. You can ask about who they want to target to grow their business. You can ask what motivates them and what doesn’t. For those with existing Web sites, you can ask what features they get requests for often, or which off-the-wall things they might wish they could do. The goal isn’t necessarily to implement their requests verbatim, but to get an idea of where to focus your invention and ingenuity.

Eliminating pain

Photo by Ali Farid

For example, suppose you’re working on a niche community site for a client, and they ask how you can allow members to embed videos on their profile page. You know the client doesn’t have the funds to pay for a video streaming solution like Brightcove, so you suggest simply allowing users to post videos from YouTube. They say “great, make it so” and agree to a bit more cash to pay for your implementation. Now you have three options at this point:

  1. Create a free-form HTML box and allow people to paste in YouTube’s code for embedding videos. Simple for you to implement but rather confusing for many users. Hardly a great experience and it only creates another pain point.
  2. Find a prefab JavaScript widget that can automatically suck in videos from a user’s YouTube account. A little bit better, but remember, your client wants community members to embed videos that are relevant to the topic of the site. Besides, you don’t want to blindly copy someone else’s UI. This is an experience that YOU are creating for your client and their audience.
  3. Develop a solution where a user can copy a YouTube video URL into a field and you’ll generate the embed code automatically. Make it better by allowing users to add and delete specific videos from their profile. And, while you’re at it, let users provide a username, then show a list of recent videos from their account and allow them to choose a video to embed. Top it off by adding support for the popular alternative video service Vimeo as well. You or a developer can program this by using the publicly available APIs that YouTube and Vimeo provide.

I chose the third option for a real project I worked on last year, and my client was thrilled with the outcome. Remember, their pain point was “how do I support videos on my site? I don’t want it to cost lots of money!” By creating a transparent, straightforward process whereby social media videos could be added and displayed in the context of the site’s personalized UI, I reinforced the idea that I understand needs, know how to solve problems, and make cool things that work right.

Don’t be afraid of pain

Photo by Jamie Brelsford

It’s easy to find articles circulating like “How to avoid bad clients” or “Freelance clients that suck”. While it’s true that some clients are more trouble than they’re worth, and it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for potential money/time drains, I think it’s wrong to have the attitude that clients are generally a bother who need to be contained.

Don’t be afraid of your clients’ pain. When they seem to be making unreasonable requests or are exasperating you with their endless questions or concerns, remember, YOU are the professional. You weren’t hired to be a hot-shot, you were hired to solve problems.

Find out what the client really needs. Dig a little deeper. Perhaps those endless requests to tweak a certain HTML form is stemming from them not really knowing what info is most important to capture. Take a step back and help them determine what the particular business need really requires, then implement the form accordingly.

Or maybe you find yourself going back and forth on the colors of the header for a site. Stop and think: did you talk to the client originally about what colors they like or don’t like? If your client hates sky blue, no amount of convincing on your part will make them love your sky blue background image. After all, if you think you should have the ultimate say on what looks good, then go join an art gallery. Fact is, you’re a designer for hire. Your client’s happiness is ultimately all that matters.

Become the Expert that Everyone Wants

Photo by Asif Akbar

Imagine a business owner you’ve worked with telling their friends: “you’ve got to talk to my Web designer — s/he is so easy to work with and always knows how to make things work better and fix problems that come up. I used to be confused by all this Web stuff, but s/he made it simple for me!”

A client will of course be happy with the good-looking design you create or the nifty feature you implement, but the truth is they’ll be most happy with your professionalism. Stay on track, ask lots of questions, go the extra mile, and eliminate their pain points. It may seem like a lot of effort to jump through every hoop that arises, but when you go above and beyond the call of duty, you cement your reputation as a can-do key player in the Web design business. In the end, it will definitely pay off!

What do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback below.

Thumbnail photo by Derek Kimball



  1. gbl3

    great advice! what questions can i ask a web site developer before i hire him/her to know if they subscribe to the same point of view on the role they should play in the site development process?

  2. A Week In The Life of A Redhead

    Great thoughts, although sometimes we have to send clients where they belong, rather trying to be all things to all people. Where are you in Santa Rosa?

  3. Hi Jared,

    Congratulations on this well written, insightful article. Definitely a lot of things to learn from your experience! I will be following your advice. Thanks!