Let’s be honest, gathering information from clients can be a pain. If you’re reading this, you probably know what it’s like to chase clients for key documents or data. You know how much time and energy it wastes. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Some best practices to make data collection a breeze
- Which tools work for data collection, which don’t, and why
But first, let’s answer an important question…
Why can collecting data be so tricky?
Information gathering is hard to avoid. Whether you’re onboarding new clients, understanding project briefs, or seeking customer feedback, you need to transfer information from those who have it to those who need it.
Without an effective system in place, this process can get pretty messy. You spend half your time sending reminders or follow-up emails. On top of that, the information collected can soon get lost in messy shared docs, spreadsheets, and email chains.
While most industries have to deal with this problem, there are some where it is especially prevalent, including:
- Digital agencies
- Mortgage brokers
- Financial planners
- Legal professionals
- Event planners
Thankfully, there are ways around these issues. With the right tools and processes, you can streamline and automate how you gather information, freeing you up to focus on delivering real value to your customers.
Best practices to collect information the right way
So what can you do to make data collection smoother for both you and your clients? In this section, we’ll look at some tips and best practices.
Align expectations from the start
Before you start working with new clients, explain that they are responsible for providing the information you need. That way, it won’t be a big surprise when there is suddenly all this “work” they need to do.
It might even make sense to have a clause in your contract that protects you from delays associated with collecting information. For example, you could “archive” their project if you don’t receive what you need within seven days.
Plan out the information you need
A great first step is to create a complete list of all the customer information you need.
This can be data, content, documents, files, or anything else.
Think of it as a “master list” that contains everything you would ever ask for from new or existing clients. When the time comes to collect the information, you can duplicate it and delete the parts you don’t need. This will save you a ton of time in the long run.
Request information in manageable, bite-size chunks
Sometimes you’ll need to collect a lot of information from clients. If you dump it on them all at once, it can be overwhelming. It might even put them off altogether. By breaking it down into small pieces, the job will be much easier. And customers tend to do easy things faster.
For example, instead of writing “upload your identity documents”, you can ask for a specific ID, then a recent bill, then a photocopy of a card. This lets your clients focus on one thing at a time.
Provide detailed guidance
For each piece of information you request, add an explanation of what you mean. Spell out exactly what you need, and maybe even why you need it. For example, if you need a photocopy, describe any requirements for size, orientation, clarity, and colour.
This helps your client get it right the first time, meaning less time wasted answering questions or requesting new versions of the information. If you do get asked questions, feed them back into future requests so you don’t end up answering them again.
Explain complicated processes using video
If your request requires the customer to take a series of steps, make sure you explain them properly. For complex processes that are hard to explain in writing, you can use a short video to show them exactly what they need to do. A tool like Loom makes this easy.
Data collection tools — what works, and what doesn’t?
Here, we’ll run through some different tools you can use to collect information. We’ll look at some that work well, others that don’t, and explain the reasons why.
Despite being around for decades, email is still most businesses’ go-to tool for client communication. It’s fine for sending one-off messages or individual documents, but it’s a poor choice for gathering client information. Here’s why:
- Back-and-forth emails result in long, messy threads
- Inboxes fill up quickly, making old threads hard to find
- Information is difficult and time-consuming to find — and can get lost altogether
- File-size limitations for attachments
- Attachments sent to your personal email aren’t available to others
Verdict: Simply the wrong tool for the job, causing more problems than it solves.
Tools like Microsoft Word or Google Docs allow you to create and share questionnaires easily. This is already an upgrade on email, as you can keep all relevant data and instructions in the document itself, separate from other information.
But shared docs still aren’t ideal. They are open-ended in nature, which can lead to the following problems:
- No way to control the data clients submit
- Clients can type what they want, where they want, without limit
- No way to control the way clients format responses
- Documents soon become messy and complicated
Verdict: A few benefits, but they are outweighed by an inability to control client submissions.
Spreadsheets can work well if you need to collect information in the form of a table, but they can often feel overwhelming. Customers may expect a more intuitive and slick UX when interacting with your company.
Whether you go with documents or spreadsheets, you’ll also need an external system to receive files and attachments, such as Dropbox or Google Drive. But using multiple systems makes it difficult for your clients to track what they have or haven't uploaded.
Verdict: Great for storing large quantitative data sets. Not ideal for most client-related information.
Meeting face-to-face (or digitally) can help you get a lot of data in one go. But this approach requires your client to be organised enough to have everything ready before you meet. If they don’t come prepared, you’ll be wasting your time, although you can reduce the risk of this happening by sending over a list beforehand.
Then there’s the problem of attachments. In-person meetings can be an effective way to collect information verbally. But if you are relying on digital documents, you’ll have to resort to alternative tools anyway.
Verdict: Ideally, information gathering should be automated and digitised. Face-to-face meetings can’t provide the accuracy or certainty that the right tool can.
Forms are a great way to collect small amounts of data. Most form-building tools allow you to request specific information in a range of formats and styles. You can also add instructions to make it easier for the client.
The downside is that most forms require everything to be submitted in one go. If you have a lot of data to gather, clients may abandon the form to do something else. When they come back, they may have to start over from scratch.
What’s more, basic form-building tools often lack additional functionality that allows you to customise, automate, and manage the gathering of client data.
Verdict: Great for creating and sharing simple forms that can be completed in one sitting, but that’s often where the functionality ends.
Content Snare goes way beyond your average form-building tool. In addition to creating and sharing a range of forms, you can manage and streamline the entire process of gathering client information.
Client progress is automatically saved, allowing them to come back later and finish the job. Meanwhile, all information is immediately accessible to you. If clients forget to provide something, Content Snare sends automatic reminders on a schedule that you customise.
Unlike shared docs, you can ensure that clients provide the right information in the right format using conditional fields. For example, you can specify:
- Character limits for text responses
- Image dimensions and sizes
- Numbers-only fields
- Correct email address formats
If they have any questions during the process, they can ask — and you can answer — right there inside Content Snare, without having to resort to email. Once they’ve submitted the information, you can approve or reject it with a single click.
In short, Content Snare transforms the process of gathering client information, allowing users to complete client intake forms, web design questionnaires, and creative briefs in more than one sitting. Its intuitive UX makes it simple to use, saving you and your clients countless hours in the process.
Verdict: Content Snare is a complete system for requesting, approving, and managing client data. Unlike generic tools, it comes with a range of features designed to streamline the way you collect information.