People like to complain. And since I talk to people about web projects, I hear a lot of complaints about other web design companies. I regularly hear horror stories about long delays and failed projects. So in 2011, I started keeping a notebook next to my phone. And when I remembered it was there, I would take a few notes.
So far, I’ve collected 27 complaints about web companies (to see the full list, scroll down). Although not exactly a PhD thesis, there is enough data to draw a few conclusions. I’ve put the complaints into three groups:
- Planning and Service: includes all complaints about communication issues, such as listening, managing expectations and meeting deadlines.
- Technical and Programming: includes capabilities complaints, technical limitations and hosting issues.
- Design: includes alignment with brand, lookin’ good.
Here are some of the main reasons:
- Web design firms are project-based, not account-based like traditional ad agencies or IT support companies. They may not have the people and process in place to provide the kinds of ongoing enhancements and support that clients inevitably need like a support team or account managers.
- This is an industry where almost anything is possible, so clear communication is desperately important. Dozens of options may be discussed, each with pro and cons. This means misunderstandings are common…and sometimes disastrous.
- Web designers are busy. Clients often need months to get comfortable enough to sign a proposal. That makes it very hard to manage capacity. And it’s a growing industry. A lot of web companies, especially the very cheap and very good ones, are slammed.
So what should clients do?
First, keep this in mind: when choosing a “web design team,” you’re choosing a project management approach, a process, a help desk and ideally, a long-term web partner. If something goes wrong, it won’t likely be a design or programming problem. It’s all about service and communication.
I once wrote a post called 5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Web Design Company, but I’ll save you the click and summarize it here.
- Check References. Just pick up the phone and call some people! As with job candidates, the best indication of future performance is past performance. Have a genuine conversation with companies the vendor has worked with. Or at the very least…
- Read Reviews, but don’t stop there. Search around for a few minutes. Go to the Better Business Bureau website and see if there are any complaints.
- Get a Demo. Of course, you’ll want a demo of the content management system, but also get a demo of the project management tools. Wait, they don’t use project management tools? Bad sign…
- Are they taking notes? There may be indications of vendor chaos in the first meeting. They should be capturing goals and requirements in an organized way.
- Meet the Team. Again, just like a job interview, nothing replaces the face-to-face meeting.
The 27 web design complaints
- Inept, Old Technology, Slow, Non-Responsive
- Non-Responsive, Disappears
- Too Slow
- Doesn’t Listen, Incompetent
- Misled, Poor Communication
- Technical Limitations
- Never Delivered, Overpromised, Missed Deadlines, Offshoring
- Non-Responsive, Offshoring
- Rude, Short, Doesn’t Exist Anymore
- Design Problems, Relaunched Site without Approval
- Database Crashed
- Company is gone, can’t access the site
- Vendor was always slow, one-person shop, now retiring
- Slow to respond, Poor Service
- Overpromised, Over their heads, Going Out of Business
- Out of their Capabilities
- Couldn’t execute, Overpromised, Lack of Capabilities
- Non-responsive, not committed
- Didn’t explain Flash, SEO problems
- No control, Developers won’t give access
- In over their heads, CMS constraints
- Can’t find developer
- Had amnesia, Missed Deadlines
- Hates their vendor, $20k to add a Flash piece, Bad project management
- Delays, Lack of capacity, Over-promised
- Communication problems, Designer fell off the earth.
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