How do you help clients with a problem?

No matter how good your work is, unforeseen problems can arise and your clients will reach out to you for help. So, how can you get them to explain their issue in a way that will make it easier to troubleshoot?

Let’s use the following analogy to make things simpler: your digital product is a car, you are the mechanic and your client is the owner of the car. They have a problem with their car.

Set some ground rules

Before you do anything let your client know how they should report problems to you. In your garage, you don’t want clients to call the personal mobile of one of your mechanics to ask them about their car. They should call the front desk first, right? The same applies to IT requests: no direct emails! Instead, you should use a ticketing system and instruct your clients to send their requests directly to it. (You should read more about why use a ticketing system, but it is not the topic of this post!)

Gather the details

It is not rare to receive a one-liner asking to fix the something without any further details (we’ve even gotten empty emails with the question/request in the subject line!). This isn’t helpful. You cannot simply tell your mechanic “my car makes a weird sound, please fix it” and assume it would be enough for them to know where the sound comes from, what causes the sound, when you can hear it… The same goes for digital issues. The more information you can get, the better. You can usually get what you need by getting your client to answer these three questions:

  • What – what is the problem? Something not showing? Displaying when it should not?
  • Where – which page has the problem? Where on the page is there a problem?
  • When – when is the problem happening? As soon as the page loads? After clicking on something?

Bonus points:

Screenshot – Yes it’s true, an image can say a thousand words! Tell them to screenshot what is wrong on their screen or a screenshot of the error message - it might mean much to them but it could save a lot of time to trained eyes!

Tech details – Yes again, information about what type of device they use (mobile/desktop) and some basic browser details can help a lot! Some website like, make it really easy for everyone to provide relevant information to their tech support for FREE!

Give them a call

Sometimes, things are hard to explain with words. Nothing good would come out of an email sent to the garage that says: “When I start the engine I can hear a sharp tic-tic-tic-toc and then a soft boom”. Although no one doubts the accuracy of this description, it will not make the mechanic’s job any easier. When written conversations are just not enough, it is time to give your client a call to clarify the situation.

After you’ve spoken to them, make sure you keep a written trail of your conversations by adding a brief summary of the phone call to the ticket, either as a note or a quick reply to the client. Something like the following will ensure all parties are on the same page and that any other person working on the problem knows what it is all about: “As agreed during our phone conversation, clicking on the button should not […] but instead should […]

Don’t jump straight into code-debugging

It is important to look at things from the client’s perspective and step-back from a pure developer approach to the problem. More often than you think, technical issues can be solved without even touching the code.

Let’s go back to our garage analogy and see how to solve the following problem: “The controller for the gearbox of my partner’s car won’t engage reverse”. You could go down a rabbit hole and take the whole gearbox apart, but you should take a step back first. The solution could be a lot simpler. It might seem obvious, but perhaps the client is unfamiliar with this particular gearbox and just needs instruction to find the right gear. Issues like this are surprisingly common, so it makes sense to rule them out early.

The same goes for digital products. Clients will assume there’s something wrong if it doesn’t work the way they expect. Get them to explain what’s not working for them and compare it with how it has been designed. If it works a different way, explain that to the client - they might be happy to use it the way it was designed.  

Try to reproduce their problem

Once you’ve ruled out misunderstandings, the next step is to try to reproduce it. This step is important. If you are able to reproduce it with the same conditions as the client, you definitely have a situation. If you cannot reproduce it there might be something else going on.

Being able to reproduce the problem means that you can run the same scenario over and over again in a controlled environment and by process of elimination, you can remove or change variables until you find the culprit.

In closing, providing technical assistance post-launch separates a good developer from a great one. We hope the above tips will help you help your clients. Do you have any other tips? Share them with us on Twitter or Facebook, we’d love to know!

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