Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dancing With The Client

I was a consultant for 5 years, and I had a really wide mix of clients. Some of them were really good, and had managed projects before, some were horrible managers and had a "Just get it done" mentality, when in fact they actually had no idea of what *it* was. As I gained some experience I found that most of the problems came from poor communication on either or both sides.

Along the way I developed strategies for dealing with the very wide range in customers, not really rocket science, but you might be surprised how when I didn't do those things things would inevitably go south.
  • Always Communicate Expectations of the Relationship to The Client - If you can't communicate with a client immediately when they request, that's ok, but tell them when and how you will be communicating. "Look I am really slammed right now but write up an email on what you want to talk about and I will get back to you with an answer by tomorrow afternoon" is completely acceptable. How often you expect to communicate with the client is important too. If you expect that you will primarily be emailing them daily and wont be available for more than one call a week, say that, make it clear to both parties so expectations are understood. What ever you think make sure there is agreement by both parties so there isn't confusion. Confusion kills productivity for everybody.
  • When You Make a Commitment Keep It - Its the foundation on what you will be judged. Be careful about what you say you will do and when, if a client proposes a date that cannot be met communicate that the exact second you see it. Clients aren't going to want you to commit to things you are not going to do, so tell them you cant commit to the date they propose, but then propose an alternative that you are sure you can accomplish. Dates sometimes are missed, when they are owning up to it taking responsibility for it and then communicating more with the client about how you are going to make up for it is important in maintaining trust.
  • Dont Do Work Out of Scope - The client doesn't own how you do something, but they do own what you do. Make sure the scope of work is clear for the engagement, if it isnt clear then your first task is to clarify it before doing work.  It is a waste of your clients money to be doing work they cant use, or is a lower priority in the lifecycle of the project so make sure your client knows and understands exactly what you are working on currently. Usually a journal helps with this with something like an entry with the start time and end time as well as a one sentence description of the activity. Make that journal available to the client.
  • Don't Take on Too Many Clients - This one is tough, everybody has to pay the bills and only you can know how many is too many, but when you take on too many clients all the other stuff starts to fall apart, you communicate less, you miss your commitments, and the right work doesn't get done. If you do take on more work than you can handle negotiate a refund as a way to end the relationship early with one of your clients to open up some bandwidth.
  • Remember that your Client is a Human Being Too - If you have an issue your client most likely wants it to work out. Probably they have alot of responsibilities too, a mortgage, and people who depend on them. If there is a disagreement just remember that they are not the enemy. In other words be nice. Always.
Now as I try to make this things bigger around here I am forced to wear the other shoe. Really I think most of these things work the other direction too, and in my life as whole with any relationship. Because when you think about it a business relationship is still just another relationship. It needs a mutual understanding and agreement to even exist.  

Its kindof like a square dance, it has to have some structure and expectation, and both people dancing have to continually try to move to the music in a synchronized way to make it all come together.

Swing your partner!

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