Web developers (freelancers or even agencies) tend to send a questionnaire to their clients right after being hired. A way to define project parts with questions like “Specify 3 websites that you like for design inspiration” or “What’s your Unique Selling Proposition?”
I see this as a trick implemented to save time. After all, if you could ask in a 3-page form the same questions that you would ask during a call, what’s the difference?
I never send questionnaires to clients. They may be necessary for other professionals, but here I refer specifically to my field of expertise: web design and web development.
Here’s why, in my opinion, a questionnaire does more harm than good:
- You just got hired, and you’re giving homework to your client.
- Questions like: “What websites do you like?” are already a problem per se, and in a questionnaire, they’re even worse. These questions are too generic and broad (even useless without the right context), subject to interpretation for clients and professionals. A recipe to set wrong expectations. Since these questions aren’t contextualized, you may receive inaccurate or wrong answers.
- There’s a lack of flexibility with questions written on a page. That’s why on these forms you see notes like “if applicable” attached to questions. It feels like I’m filling out a tax form here!
- Often clients may not fill out the questionnaire properly. Can you blame them? Filling out forms is annoying, especially if they’re long and they’re even paying for it. This can translate into extra messages or calls, making the questionnaire a useless step in the process.
A non-scripted conversation is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary at the start of any web project and a better solution for both sides.
Here are just some of the benefits:
- We have the chance of listening to the client’s needs and worries during a call because we don’t ask only scripted questions. It gives us more chances to get all the information we need, and some more information that we didn’t know we needed. Not only that, clients will feel that we care about them, simply because we’re there for them and listen to all their worries about the project.
- A famous book states: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” If you really listen to clients, they will feel heard. This is essential. If they feel they’re in control, it will be easier to give the right advice when the time comes and be understood. And this is harder to do in a questionnaire if, for example, they write apparently “wrong” answers. This brings us to another point…
- … clients will probably not have the same experience as us if they’re hiring us. So it’s natural for them to propose the wrong solution or direction from time to time. A conversation gives us the chance to ask more tailored questions about their ideas and to truly understand if they have a point or not. If we don’t assume too much, which is another essential ingredient, of course!
- It helps to check the client’s red flags: if we do our job properly with the points above, in some situations, this will still not be enough to either understand the client’s requirements or get our advice taken into consideration. Some clients will impose their ideas, or try to find someone that validates their assumptions. In this scenario, during a conversation, it will be easier for us to spot the client’s red flags. If your client is problematic, wouldn’t you want to know it right away, at the start of the project?
- A good conversation will contribute to an alignment of expectations. Since we’re having a non-scripted conversation, we can ask questions about their pain points, and we’ll discover some of them during this conversation. We have a better chance of aligning clients’ expectations with ours. This is a first step that, together with a good discovery phase, will limit revisions and bad surprises during the project.
- This kind of approach, if mixed with an overall tailored approach, is another good reason to charge a higher price. We give our client a specific consultation, based exclusively on their precise needs. We don’t assign them homework and this will leave them more time to focus on their business. We’re doing our best to require from them the least amount of effort possible: they just need to have a conversation with us, we’ll take care of the rest.
This is why I never send questionnaires. At the start of every project, unless it’s a quick and 100% clear task, I schedule a call, and in roughly 30 minutes / 1 hour it’s possible to define all the essential pain points and to establish a clear direction for the project.