I can count the number of our clients I've met in person on two hands. It's astounding to consider what a web team can accomplish just by email and phone. Yet, for certain issues (like gathering group feedback, remote training sessions, or troubleshooting bugs) there's no substitue for the ability to peer over the client's shoulder, or have them peer over yours. It's in these few, especially tricky remote communication gaps that projects can quickly go awry. Luckily, I've found a number of tools over the years that allow me to close that gap and rest assured that we're on the same page. Here are a few of these that I find particularly helpful.
Document Issues or Instructions by Video with Showmewhatsrong.com
This tool allows you to send someone a URL that initiates a video recording of their screen, immediately posts that video online, and notifies you when it's ready for your review. It also records sound, so you can talk through the actions you make on screen as they happen. I really love how simple it is -- enough so that it won't intimidate less tech savvy clients.
Speedy Annotated Screenshots with Skitch.com
Skitch is the best screenshot/annotation app I've found for Mac users. Prior to finding skitch, I'd capture screenshots with Grab, then annotate them in Photoshop. Firing up Photoshop to do basic things like add text notes, arrows, circles, etc. was overkill and prevented me from explaining things visually when it really was the best medium for communication. Skitch combined the best screenshot capabilities of Grab, and the most basic needs I had from Photoshop all in one. I just kick myself for not finding this product sooner.
Capture Technical Specs with Supportdetails.com
In my dream world, every bug report would be accompanied by a Support Details report. When I know a bug is something unique to a client's browser/operating system, I have them visit www.supportdetails.com, plug in my email at the top of the page, and all of their machine's specs are captured and sent to me. It is incredibly thorough, capturing every possible detail you might need along the troubleshooting process.
Collaborative Screenshot Commenting with Bounceapp.com
Bounce is a screenshot/commenting tool that allows you to plug in any URL and it automatically posts a screenshot which is open to public commenting. You can highlight various areas of a page and add notes (much like Flickr's 'add note' capability). One great thing about Bounce is that you can still comment without setting up an account.
Screensharing with Gotomeeting.com
This is an obvious one, but I'm not just advocating using screensharing in the general sense. I'm advocating increasing how often it's used. In the last year, we began holding monthly analytics reviews with several of our clients. As I got in the habit of hosting webmeetings for more complicated analytics topics, I began using it more frequently for day to day meetings on any range of topics. There are few meetings where screen sharing capability doesn't come in handy at some point. Although it takes a few extra minutes to setup, it always saves time and frustration in the long run. One of my resolutions is to rely on this product more in the coming year.
There are tons of other project management tools I could have listed here, but I wanted to focus in on niche products that solve remote communication problems that verbal solutions can't. I also wanted to share tools that don't require clients to create accounts or tackle a steep learning curve. You can easily add these tools into the mix of your primary communication tools, like basecamp, phone, and email. Though if you have any others to add to the list, please comment and let me know!