Get to the Heart of Your Clients' Ecommerce Dilemmas With the 5 Whys

The 5 Whys for Ecommerce Design

Web design and development professionals get all kinds of crazy requests; some good, some bad, and many that won't necessarily affect a client's bottom line (at least positively).

That's why you have to find a way to communicate that you're an expert in your field.

That's where the ‘Five Whys’ come in. By asking your clients a set of direct questions, you’ll quickly get to the real reason they’re calling on you for help.

Today, I'll show you what the Five Whys are, how to use them, and why they'll help you get to the heart of every client's ecommerce dilemma.

The “I need” request

Let me give you some examples of the “I need” request.

Sometimes, folks blatantly ask for a copy of another online shop's design and functionality; or go into great detail about a feature that's pretty standard (like social sharing); or ask for features that won't necessarily improve conversion or the user experience (like infinite scrolling); or ask for complicated, conversion blocking features (like extra required fields on the cart page, when a configuration change in the admin would totally do the trick).

Usually these requests start with  "I need..." and that bums me out. When I first meet clients, I want to have a good long chat, figure out what they really need, and then present better options.

I've learned to respond to “I need…” inquiries with better questions, to really get at what that need is. Simply giving a client what they first ask for, can be a big waste of their time and money. I mean, we can easily code all this stuff up, but it doesn't necessarily impact sales, delight visitors, or make a real difference.

You might also like: 4 Quick Ways to Build Trust With a New Client

The Five Whys

A while back, someone taught me a technique to combat “I need” requests called the 5 Whys. It's a method to figure out exactly what a client needs.

It's real simple, too: you ask yourself why you need/want something, and then ask again, five more times. For example:

Request: "I need to add five more slides to my slideshow."

  1. Why? “Because I want to feature all my latest products.”
  2. Why? “Because I'm concerned customers are missing some items they may really like.”
  3. Why? “Because I don't want to miss additional opportunities to make a sale.”
  4. Why? “Because I want to increase sales for my shop.”
  5. Why? “Because I want to get gold teeth and engrave my initials on the incisors.”

It only takes a minute, and you can immediately see so many opportunities to accomplish the ultimate goals. With each question, you get closer to the real reason behind a request, but you also get closer to a solution to the problem.

Let's examine each answer to the why question, and look at how we can truly address the client’s needs:

“Because I want to feature all my latest products”

A slideshow probably isn't the way to do that because after the first slide, attention really drops off. If you want to feature these products, let's find other ways. We can improve the navigation, perhaps introducing sub-navigation or taking better advantage of product tags. We can improve the search functionality on the site. And we can really fill out the featured products and collections on the home page.

“Because I'm concerned customers are missing some items they may really like”

We can certainly be more targeted here. There are options to add related items to the product and cart page — "You might also like" and "Customers who bought this also enjoyed” sections. There are great apps available to deliver personalized recommendations throughout the site so that customers aren't missing content, especially content relevant to them.

We can also tune your abandoned cart notifications to be more effective, and include product recommendations on many of your shop notifications. We can even include personalized recommendations in newsletter campaigns. All probably much more effective than the last five slides in a slide show.

"Because I don't want to miss additional opportunities to make a sale"

We probably want to start with a review of your site analytics and some user testing — try to figure out where visitors are leaving your site before becoming a customer. It may have nothing to do with whether they're seeing featured content. There may be issues with how the site is displaying on mobile or with shipping rates. We could try pricing strategies, sales, and bundles.

"Because I want to increase sales for my shop"

Here, we have tons of options. We can work on copywriting, photography, SEO, speeding up your site, making it more mobile friendly. There's probably a lot of room to improve marketing, too.

"Because I want to get gold teeth and engrave my initials on the incisors"

Okay, maybe this one is me projecting a little!

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Get to the root of the problem

Every studio is different. Some developers probably appreciate very clear instructions. For us, though, we really want to know why. Every request has a whole root system of attendant design and development decisions, and having a better understanding of why a client wants a change or a feature helps us make decisions that serve those goals.

And this is probably a good time to clarify that we don't hit our clients with "why, why, why, why, why" for each and every request. But if we don't understand how a change will help achieve their previously stated goals, we begin to question.

We even try to set the tone before any conversations begin, by explaining to clients the difference between communicating good and bad feedback. An example we often use with clients is:

  • Bad feedback: “Move this to the top, and make it bigger and brighter.”
  • Great feedback: “This is the number one thing we want customers to see first on the page, can we emphasize it the most somehow?”

For clients, asking these questions will likely lead to making requests that actually lead to achieving their goals.

You might also like: 6 Questions to Help You Gauge Client Fit

At the end of the day

As a designer/developer, asking the Five Whys can reveal the real issues, which gives you an opportunity to solve the real problems. By working with clients to achieve their goals, rather than simply typing code and invoicing for hours, we demonstrate our expertise and can strengthen our client relationships.

Do you use the Five Whys with clients? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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