Amazing what nature can do.
How to be a good customer or supplier in a transaction
This diary entry was prompted by someone who has a client where the course of work has become more onerous than originally expected so this is primarily directed at those of you that have or engage with small businesses, who are a sole traders or otherwise make contracts in the course of your business.
Let’s take an example of where agreements are clear, traditional, and normally adhered to. The purchasing of second-hand items, furniture, effects. Here, a deal is made when the buyer and the seller are in physical proximity, where the goods are sold as seen. The deal is regarded as closed on a handshake. Once you have shaken hands, you cannot renege. If you do so, the word will get around and people will not deal with you.
Another example is a market stall. You see the produce, you hand it to the seller for wrapping and to close the deal you hand over money or latterly flash your credit card at a little machine that goes bleep. No misunderstandings, clean as a whistle.
There was a time when ‘my word is my bond’ was more commonly used but seems to have been superseded by other types of agreement.
The same cannot be said of services provided over the internet. I use people per hour’ PPH’ and if you want work done you have to put some money in an escrow account to show you have the means to pay. When you are satisfied with the product, the service provider requests that the system deliver the agreed amount to them. There is some scope here for disagreement which may need mediation. For example the buyer may not be satisfied with the quality and the seller will say that they are delivering what has been expected.
With goods sold over the Internet, the Sale of Goods act favors the customer so you can get a return few questions asked. Amazon are very good at this. If the goods are below a certain level you don’t have to even return them. The refund is given at the moment the collecting officer scans your item. The physical object does not even have to be returned, or seen or checked by anybody. A return may sometimes be in the form of a gift voucher.
Let’s talk about building a house for somebody. Unbeknown to both the buyer and the seller of services a fault has been discovered which needs remedy. This requires that no work is done on the remedy until discussions have been had about a possible uplift to the price. If the matter is small, then it can be absorbed into the main price but in my view even that requires a statement that the extra cost has been absorbed. Unfortunately, customers have very little idea as to what is involved in a particular process and so for this reason, an agreement must happen on an ‘as you go’ basis. I believe in putting things in writing even half way through the contract.
Now let us consider the world of intangibles such as software development. Pretty much every website needs development then maintenance which includes being kept up to date, being modified as circumstances change and it is very obvious to the visitor when a website is not working as it should and they will have no faith in it. To ignore the problem is a bad investment because people will move on and will therefore not gain the benefit that they could do if they were to stay on the site and engage.
Every service should have a website. Social media is a bit too peripatetic. A website is more stable, can be found easier, and is not subject to restrictions and censoring as some social media directors dictate for whatever reason.
We all have to start somewhere and if I now speak as a service provider it is very helpful if the client spells out in words what they want and furthermore have discussed it with their colleagues. Sometimes you do not know what you want unless you tell someone AND listen to their response. Input is strictly 50/50 and work will go more smoothly if this principle is adhered to.
Client please think carefully about your needs
It would also help if the client has a look around at various websites to see which one they like the look of. Everyone needs a starting point and if you want to help your web developer you need to be clear with them. You should ask yourself who or what section of the population the site is aimed at. Someone said to me once that if you aim for everybody you get nobody. So in your experience what has been the client group that has been most attracted to your product or service? What have they said about your product and service that could give the developer a clue to what to emphasize?
If there is no meaningful correlation between what the public wants and what you supply you may make a very interesting website but it will be destined to be a niche site.
Financial realism should click in at a fairly early stage if not at the beginning. People’s time costs money. You can get developers from India or Pakistan to work for £10 an hour or even £10 a job but don’t forget the cultural difference if you need a theme that is culturally sensitive.
In India is is considered bad manners to say you cannot do something so everyone says they CAN do something when they mean that if they need help they will turn to friends. I ask people to show examples where they have used say WordPress. That tells me if they can do the job.
There is a big difference between being able to speak English, and being able to feel English with all its nuances with regard to the written word.
Do not expect to go from 0 to 100 miles an hour in one go. Sometimes you need to have a website created in order to figure out what type of website you really want. When it is your first website – let us call it the ‘work in progress’ website – then you should seek feedback from your clients, or anyone come to that, and have the humility to modify your approach accordingly. No living person can be right on everything.
With rare exceptions I would not expect your friends and family to be objective enough. They might say to you ‘ oh that’s a very good site’ if they don’t want to offend you. Also they may not be qualified to comment on your site because although it may look pretty you need a reasonable amount of experience to see whether it will actually do the job.
If it is a specialized site, get people to beta test it. You may understand what it is all about but the visitor may not. One missing stepping stone means that you are not going to cross the river.
If you want a response, you need to lead the visitor through a series of actions with a call to action at the end.
Clients who change their mind
What happens if people change their mind halfway through. It reminds me of in my gardening days I went along to mow a lawn after having given the price and the customer says, ‘ oh by the way while you’re here, can you do this and that’. I think most people are street smart enough to know that extra has to be paid but I would tend to give a quote before doing any extra work. It is polite and courteous. Also, if it we’ll take more time, customer should be told.
Do not make assumptions and if possible put things in writing so that everyone knows where they are. Nothing more unpleasant than coming to payment time and the customer questioning the bill. It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
There is also a problem of changing something when you go along. There is a difference between modifying and existing idea or bringing in a new one which in a way results in starting again. Software writers will understand what I am saying. In other words a job can gradually morph into another job. This is where the software developer has to be particularly vigilant and spot where this is likely to lead. The developer should not take up the slack – and then some – if the customer keeps changing their mind. This can lead to ill will and frustration and may well end up with a hybrid product that does not say anything. ‘A camel is a horse designed by a committee’
There is much more I could write about this but basically, to the provider, don’t assume anything, define exactly what you’re going to do and how much you’re going to charge. Include a margin for exigences in the case of a bigger job. With new clients I have to include asking people about how they intend to pay. It is quite acceptable to ask for a deposit.
With regard to on-site situations namely gardening I find that most people of senior age keep money in their homes but some of the younger people do not and therefore you should consider means of electronic payment.
New methods of payment
Most will pay by bank transfer which during recent years have been speeded up until they are instant. I can spend money via my card in a shop and seconds later if I turn to my band account, it is there.
The age of apps is with us and the last couple of cheques I’ve been given I photographed them on my app. thus paying them in. I put the originals away in some corner or another. The viability of pocket size credit card machines which work with your phone depends on the number of transactions you do per month. If it were less than half a dozen, I would not have thought it worthwhile. Do your sums. Each provider if different and competition is helping to keep prices down. (Stripe, SumUp, GoCardless, Square, PaymentSense. Takepayments, NerdWallet.
Watch out for fixed monthly costs plus % commission.