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Client Education and Post-Launch Success

What our clients do with their websites is just as important as the websites themselves. We may pride ourselves on building a great product, but it’s ultimately up to the client to see it succeed or fail. Even the best website can become neglected, underused, or messy without a little education and training.

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Too often, my company used to create amazing tools for clients and then send them out into the world without enough guidance. We’d watch our sites slowly become stale, and we’d see our strategic content overwritten with fluffy filler.

It was no one’s fault but our own.

As passionate and knowledgeable web enthusiasts, it’s literally our job to help our clients succeed in any way we can, even after launch. Every project is an opportunity to educate clients and build a mutually beneficial learning experience.

Meeting in the middle#section1

If we want our clients to use our products to their full potential, we have to meet them in the middle. We have to balance our technical expertise with their existing processes and skills.

At my company, Brolik, we learned this the hard way.

We had a financial client whose main revenue came from selling in-depth PDF reports. Customers would select a report, generating an email to an employee who would manually create and email an unprotected PDF to the customer. The whole process would take about two days.

To make the process faster and more secure, we built an advanced, password-protected portal where their customers could purchase and access only the reports they’d paid for. The PDFs themselves were generated on the fly from the content management system. They were protected even after they were downloaded and only viewable with a unique username and password generated with the PDF.

The system itself was technically advanced and thoroughly solved our client’s needs. When the job was done, we patted ourselves on the back, added the project to our portfolio, and moved on to the next thing.

The client, however, was generally confused by the system we’d built. They didn’t quite know how to explain it to their customers. Processes had been automated to the point where they seemed untrustworthy. After about a month, they asked us if we’d revert back to their previous system.

We had created too large of a process change for our client. We upended a large part of their business model without really considering whether they were ready for a new approach.

From that experience, we learned not only to create online tools that complement our clients’ existing business processes, but also that we can be instrumental in helping clients embrace new processes. We now see it as part of our job to educate our clients and explain the technical and strategic thought behind all of our decisions.

Leading by example#section2

We put this lesson to work on a more recent project, developing a site-wide content tagging system where images, video, and other media could be displayed in different ways based on how they were tagged.

We could have left our clients to figure out this new system on their own, but we wanted to help them adopt it. So we pre-populated content and tags to demonstrate functionality. We walked through the tagging process with as many stakeholders as we could. We even created a PDF guide to explain the how and why behind the new system.

In this case, our approach worked, and the client’s cumbersome media management time was significantly reduced. The difference between the outcome of the two projects was simply education and support.

Education and support can, and usually does, take the form of setting an example. Some clients may not fully understand the benefits of a content strategy, for instance, so you have to show them results. Create relevant and well-written sample blog posts for them, and show how they can drive website traffic. Share articles and case studies that relate to the new tools you’re building for them. Show them that you’re excited, because excitement is contagious. If you’re lucky and smart enough to follow Geoff Dimasi’s advice and work with clients who align with your values, this process will be automatic, because you’ll already be invested in their success.

We should be teaching our clients to use their website, app, content management system, or social media correctly and wisely. The more adept they are at putting our products to use, the better our products perform.

Dealing with budgets#section3

Client education means new deliverables, which have to be prepared by those directly involved in the project. Developers, designers, project managers, and other team members are responsible for creating the PDFs, training workshops, interactive guides, and other educational material.

That means more organizing, writing, designing, planning, and coding—all things we normally bill for, but now we have to bill in the name of client education.

Take this into account at the beginning of a project. The amount of education a client needs can be a consideration for taking a job at all, but it should at least factor into pricing. Hours spent helping your client use your product is billable time that you shouldn’t give away for free.

At Brolik, we’ve helped a range of clients—from those who have “just accepted that the Web isn’t a fad” (that’s an actual quote from 2013), to businesses that have a team of in-house developers. We consider this information and price accordingly, because it directly affects the success of the entire product and partnership. If they need a lot of education but they’re not willing to pay for it, it may be smart to pass on the job.

Most clients actually understand this. Those who are interested in improving their business are interested in improving themselves as well. This is the foundation for a truly fulfilling and mutually beneficial client relationship. Seek out these relationships.

It’s sometimes challenging to justify a “client education” line item in your proposals, however. If you can’t, try to at least work some wiggle room into your price. More specifically, try adding a 10 percent contingency for “Support and Training” or “Onboarding.”

If you can’t justify a price increase at all, but you still want the job, consider factoring in a few client education hours and their opportunity cost as part of your company’s overall marketing budget. Teaching your client to use your product is your responsibility as a digital business.

This never ends (hopefully)#section4

What’s better than arming your clients with knowledge and tools, pumping them up, and then sending them out into the world to succeed? Venturing out with them!

At Brolik, we’ve started signing clients onto digital strategy retainers once their websites are completed. Digital strategy is an overarching term that covers anything and everything to grow a business online. Specifically for us, it includes audience research, content creation, SEO, search and display advertising, website maintenance, social media, and all kinds of analysis and reporting.

This allows us to continue to educate (and learn) on an ongoing basis. It keeps things interesting—and as a bonus, we usually upsell more work.

We’ve found that by fostering collaboration post-launch, we not only help our clients use our product more effectively and grow their business, but we also alleviate a lot of the panic that kicks in right before a site goes live. They know we’ll still be there to fix, tweak, analyze, and even experiment.

This ongoing digital strategy concept was so natural for our business that it’s surprising it took us so long to implement it. After 10 years making websites, we’ve only offered digital strategy for the last two, and it’s already driving 50 percent of our revenue.

It pays to be along for the ride#section5

The extra effort required for client education is worth it. By giving our clients the tools, knowledge, and passion they need to be successful with what we’ve built for them, we help them improve their business.

Anything that drives their success ultimately drives ours. When the tools we build work well for our clients, they return to us for more work. When their websites perform well, our portfolios look better and live longer. Overall, when their business improves, it reflects well on us.

A fulfilling and mutually beneficial client relationship is good for the client and good for future business. It’s an area where we can follow our passion and do what’s right, because we get back as much as we put in.

About the Author

Drew Thomas

Drew Thomas is the chief creative officer and a founder of Brolik, a Philadelphia-based digital agency. While Brolik has been his focus for the last ten years, he also considers himself a “maker” and tinkers with all kinds of side projects, both digital and physical.

16 Reader Comments

  1. “The client, however, was generally confused by the system we’d built. They didn’t quite know how to explain it to their customers.”

    Sort of have to wonder what’s missing from this story. The system you describe doesn’t sound very complicated. Were the clients and their customers really just very stupid, or was the system you created really much more complicated than simply buying pdfs online? What, exactly, confused them, and why was it necessary to have that thing? I mean, this couldn’t have been a system/UI design fail, could it?

  2. I don’t think the client was stupid or the system was too complex, actually. The UI was good.

    I think the issue was that the client didn’t exactly understand or trust what was going on. They had no reason to believe that the system worked or they wouldn’t lose or confuse people, since it was a totally new, totally digital version of what they’d previously always done.

    It was slightly more complex than just buying pdfs, because the pdfs were generated on the fly with encryption and password protection, and the content was the heart of the client’s entire business. So, they were worried that people would be able to somehow steal or share the content with the new system.

    I fully believe the problem was that we didn’t teach them or instill any confidence in the tool, though, and I don’t blame them at all for not trusting it. It’s a shame, but now we’ll never let that happen again.

  3. Hi Drew,

    Thank you for your post. As an aspiring copywriter for a digital advertising agency, your post definitely resonated with me on a professional level. Honestly, I think it is crazy that so many firms such as yours did not offer post-contract support for their clients until recently. Although we are in the digital business, customer service is just as important in our field as it is in any for company growth and success. Likewise, I agree with your point that by providing technical and educational support for clients, the firm’s employees get more out of their jobs. I am sure that even website developers like to leave their computer desks from time to time to see that their product is actually making a difference out in the physical world. From the client side of things, I can only imagine how helpful training and educational material of a new product can be and how this service stands out amongst competitors in the marketplace. Furthermore, services like these from digital agencies will keep clients coming back, which will not only increase profits but raise positive WOM among the digital community. My favorite part about your article was the statement that, “Teaching your client to use your product is your responsibility as a digital business.” I could not agree more, and I have to believe that firms in the virtual space will not be able to compete for long if they do not incorporate this mindset into their business model.

  4. “So, they were worried that people would be able to somehow steal or share the content with the new system.”

    Well, that’s basically true, isn’t it? Or have you got magical perfect security?

    On the other side, we recently received a proposal from a developer that assured us that disabling right-click would prevent stealing data. So there’s that.

  5. Richelle, thanks so much! Glad it resonated with you!

    Abiatha, I’m sure that somehow the content could be stolen or shared, but the PDFs themselves had password protection (to open them) and a watermark with the buyer’s email and a message about the content being confidential.

    At the very least, they were more secure than the PDFs that the company manually emailed to their clients.

  6. Great article, Drew. Thanks!

    One small comment. The word “hopefully” used in the #section4 heading “This never ends (hopefully)” is incorrect. It could be “one hopes,” or “we hope.”

    Sorry to nitpick.

  7. Completely agree with Drew. It happened to me a lots of time. Now I have to remove some of my portfolio as they are not working as expected or client just destroyed them. 🙁

  8. The fact is that the client hires us for a reason—to fill some kind of digital need that they do not have the expertise or the resources to do themselves. The point that you make is a beautiful one. The relationship should extend beyond just shipping a project.

  9. This article touches on a little addressed area of creative projects that actually can have a huge impact on both parties.

    I really like this chunk:

    “The extra effort required for client education is worth it. By giving our clients the tools, knowledge, and passion they need to be successful with what we’ve built for them, we help them improve their business.

    Anything that drives their success ultimately drives ours. ”

    I think that drives it home. If you’re making an app, website, or other type of software for a client and then just release them into it they’re going to either be confused bumbling bears or excited, clawing and clumsy kittens. There needs to be an education process, whether just on-boarding or slightly continuous, to help bring our clients along for the journey. It not only helps them understand the product you’ve created for them, but also helps reinforce the value we bring to the table, which they will hopefully remember next time.

  10. Of course Drew, I am agree with you. Many clients are not familiar with usability of the developed product. Being in a software niche, it’s my personal experience that when you deliver a great resource, clients keep them go unusual and they do nothing innovative and monetize for the money invested. I am John Pereless and I own a software company http://www.Pereless.net Thanks

  11. Wow Drew. Your candor is helpful and refreshing. Kudos.

    That said, and pardon my directness, the transition from a design + dev agency to “we do strategy” in the context of the friction and bumps mentioned feels – again pardon me – forced and awkward. My gut reaction is, “Train clients? What about plenty of in-house training and/or hiring?” and “How come this didn’t happen sooner?”

    Perhaps Part 2 (of this article) can discuss that, as well as other changes in your “the process is the product” and/or “the team is the product”?

    Again, thanks. Open discussion such as this makes us all better, stronger and more aware.

  12. Lots of great points here. A read just as important for clients. Ultimately up to us to up sale that service but you won’t win them all. But I firmly believe when you gain the trust of a client to continue paying for education and web development in it’s many forms you’ll have a successful site no matter the industry.
    Enjoyed this thank you.

  13. I think it’s worth considering that the original problem wasn’t just training, but was overall a lack of customer engagement. From your description, they clearly weren’t comfortable that the application functioned properly or how it benefited them. I wonder if simply engaging the customer in testing would have had the same positive results you’re seeing from training? I agree with you that training is important and a support model is essential, but engagement could be built before you even get to those points. Including the client in UAT or even development sprint demos (if you’re doing agile), really helps a customer engage in a product and understand how/why it works.

  14. Thank you for the great article Drew. Like Richelle, I also think it is unreasonable that a lot of companies did not provide clients the post-contract support. As we all know, we normally have warranties on the products we purchased such as TVs and cars. From a customer’s point of view, I am expecting to have the post-contract support or the option to purchase the support service in the digital business. However, I am surprised that in reality only a few reputable firms such as yours in the industry that offer and realize the importance of the post-contract support.

    From reading your post, I think you should probably call your clients partners. The business and model you described above is actually an excellent way to turn the pure business relationship into partnership. Partnership is very different from business relationship. Business relationship can be solely based on money, where customers pay for our products or services and we deliver them. In contrast, partnership moves one step further. Partnership creates a win-win solution by turning clients into partners. In your case, for example, I totally agree that the extra effort your team invested in educating your business partners is definitely worth it. You actually explained this very well in your conclusion that “anything that drives their success ultimately drives ours. When the tools we build work well for our clients, they return to us for more work.” I also suspect that companies in any business or industry can be successful without incorporating this mindset into their business concept and model.

  15. @MF, I should clarify that the switch from design/dev to strategy wasn’t 100% in the name of client education. There were other reasons, but I would never have expected how much the education part of it has helped our overall product and relationships. Part 2 sounds like a good idea, though.

    @Tim, you’re right. More client involvement in the whole process goes a long way, and I can see that as a part of client education for sure.

    @Chen, I agree! Clients should be partners!

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