by Brad Egeland.
You’ve been handed a project for an important customer to your organization. Project managers are necessary – but also sometimes looked at by a project customer as an expensive, necessary (maybe) evil. So be careful – you may be treading on thin waters from the beginning. Figure out your place and how the customer perceives your role. Figure out what they want to see and hear from you each week. Usually, you can get that well defined during a project kickoff session but not always – and things can change along the way depending on how the project is proceeding… good or bad.
For me, I’ve found several ways to help the project along in tight situations and increase customer satisfaction.
1. Save them money
Every customer loves keeping some of their money. Big dollar projects often get charged out at high rates. So look for ways to either stay well within budget or even charge fewer hours to the project. I led one large tech project for Texas Health and Human Services to implement a new software solution and they decided they weren’t a fan of project management charges. They considered the $150/hour charged by the professional services organization I was working for to be unnecessary. It wasn’t – it was necessary – but they were the customer, and they were a bit nervous about the budget. So I managed from afar and skipped a couple of onsite visits – saving them thousands of dollars overall. Suddenly, they decided they liked me and they went from nervous to feeling comfortable and satisfied. The project ended successfully, and we received more business from that government agency. It was a win-win.
2. Communicate… well and often
The fastest way to create customer anxiety is to not communicate project status and issues fast enough or well enough. Nothing turns off a project client faster than feeling like they are being kept in the dark. The most important job for the project manager is effective and efficient communication… if you can’t do that with your project customer, your project team members, and all concerned stakeholders then you are in the wrong profession.
3. Promote their business whenever possible
If you can run the customer’s project AND help promote their business in any way, then you are adding value to the project-client relationship, and that will always work in your favor in terms of customer satisfaction and retention. Maybe it’s a comment on their site/blog. Perhaps it’s running the project client’s information on your site/blog. Maybe it’s a press release about the project. Whatever you can do to add positive views about the client is a win.
4. Be as transparent as possible
Always be as open and honest as possible. That doesn’t mean you need to bring everything troubling to them in the first five minutes. Review any issues that arise. Discuss with the project team and come up with one or more possible solutions – if possible – and then present them to the project client. Obviously, I’m not referring to a very long time span. The worst thing that can happen is for your client to find out there’s a problem from someone other than you – the project manager. If that happens, you might find yourself sitting across the desk from your CEO on the phone with your client working through the situation. Been there… done that… and it’s not fun. At least come up with some forward-thinking action to assess or attempt quickly and setup a meeting / call with your customer ASAP. You won’t be sorry, and they will be glad to help.
5. Run great meetings
You’re going to have status meetings – likely at least weekly meetings – with your project client. Make them count and ensure that they are well attended by the key project resources on your project team and other stakeholders. First, prepare a status report and agenda. Ensure both are accurate and up to date. Distribute the information a day ahead of the meeting – if possible – to allow everyone to come prepared to participate and provide their status and feedback. Send out follow-up notes from the meeting quickly and ask for feedback and changes by noon the next day. Revise anything necessary and resend to all parties. The goal is to ensure that everyone on the project on both the project delivery side and the customer side are always on the same page. There needs to be a clear understanding throughout the engagement by everyone of their role and responsibilities and the overall project status – otherwise you could end up with re-work and budget overruns. Finally, if it seems like there is no need for a meeting – hold it anyway. Make it short and go around the room. Regularly cancelling meetings can cause people to perceive your meetings as less important, plus key information could fall through the cracks. Don’t cancel if at all possible.
This list could go on. However, these are five key things that I’ve found I can do to make a project more successful, more profitable, and a customer more satisfied.
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