The best fish and chips in the world are found in Batemans Bay, a modest beach town about three hours south of Sydney.
You wind down the coast, through some of the nicest coastal villages and beaches you'll find anywhere. After crossing the Clyde River you hang a left along the waterfront, and there you're greeted by the welcoming sight of the Innes' Boatshed.
The Innes family have been running the Boatshed for three generations. Each morning they pluck the daily catch from the ocean on their very own fishing boat and deliver it straight to the dock behind the boatshed, where it's prepped and made ready for your arrival.
When you order, you get to choose the exact fillet you want from the three different types fish on offer. The friendly staff fry it to order, wrap it up, and hand it to you, still piping hot.
You take it outside and sit on the deck overlooking the waterfront. If you're lucky and the water's clear, you watch the kitchen hands feed the same fish to the resident stingrays - Stumpy, Moby, and Andre the Giant.
The Innes family haven't been in business for over 50 years because they're the best at operating a fryer or attracting stingrays. Their sign above the front door reads "Famous for Hospitality" for a reason. They know it's the experience that keeps their customers coming back again and again, and they know that nailing the experience goes way beyond the crispiness of their batter.
Your clients' experience of your service goes way beyond the work you're delivering.
Great code or pixel-perfect design by itself is not enough. No clients will hire you a second time or recommend you to others if they'd rather gnaw off their big toe than jump on the phone with you.
The truth is, the experience you provide your clients is just as important as the final deliverable. It's the best way to differentiate yourself from your competition, gain repeat business, and grow your audience.
So, what makes for a great client experience? How do you make your clients happy (and keep their big toes intact)?
Make yourself conspicuous
The first thing you see driving into Batemans Bay is Innes' sizable blue sign proclaiming their famous seafood. You can't miss it, and there's no confusion about what they're offering.
Unlike Innes, though, clients can't just drive past your website. For the majority of freelancers, the first touch point a new client will have with you is through your social media posts. Try to make them enticing, and try to be crystal clear about what people will find when they click on the post. Now's not the time to get fancy with the seasoning - clients don't like surprises.
Make yourself memorable
Don't be afraid to inject a little personality into your website and your content. Regardless of what you do or the audience you serve, 99% of what you do is the same as your competition. The 1% that remains is what sticks in a client's mind - it's your personal brand that lets you stand above the crowd and become known.
There are hundreds of fish and chip shops in Australia, but Innes takes advantage of personal touches, like their stingray feeding, to give their customers a memorable experience, and keep them coming back over and over again.
Make it easy for clients to work with you
Everyone that visits your site is at a different stage in the process. Let your visitors control their journey - give free content away for people who aren't ready to buy, and make it easy to learn more about your services or contact you when they're ready to take the next step.
Innes has three choices of fish, depending on your budget and taste preferences, and they cook each piece to order. They let the customer feel like they're in control of every step in the process.
Remember, too, that good practice goes both ways. Do everything you can to make life easier for your clients. No-one wants to jump through hoops to schedule a call with you, or to send you files, or even to pay your invoices. Stay in contact regularly, and keep them in the loop with everything you're doing for them.
Make it exceptional
Look for ways to go above and beyond what you've promised. I've found clients and customers always prefer feeling like they're getting more value for their investment than simply getting a discount.
Even small things like buying new clients a "virtual coffee" (in other words, a Starbucks gift card), or sending a small thank-you gift can make clients feel appreciated.
Pro tip: fish and chips get soggy in the mail.
Get better at getting better
It's important to remember that none of these changes need to happen overnight. Instead, look for ways to slowly improve over time.
An excellent way to do this is to ask your clients for feedback at the end of each project. It gives you the chance to learn what went well, where the client ran into problems, and how you could improve next time. Some of the issues will be specific to the project or the client, but you'll often find ways to deliver a better experience for everyone.
Innes spent over 50 years perfecting their experience - I'm sure you can do it faster.
Think about this next time you're working with a new client. How can you make their experience working with you so memorable, so effortless, and so exceptional, they never want to work with anyone else? How can you go above and beyond for your clients?
And next time you find yourself in Batemans Bay, stop by Innes for some fish and chips. I hope you'll be lucky enough to see the stingrays while you're there.