Have you ever worked on a project that was behind schedule, released a program that had problems, or did not deliver in a way that resulted in a tense relationship between you and a client? This article summarizes five lessons I have learned over the years about client relationship management that have both helped reduce the tension and build confidence in my clients.
Tension arises with clients when expectations are not met in the eyes of the client. The fundamental lesson that I learned about client relationships is to set realistic expectations. If this is not possible, it is not worth doing business with the client, whether you are doing sales, marketing or development work. Below are a number of client relationship management lessons that I learned the hard way and that I implement every single day.
Lesson 1: Call the client.
When things go wrong and the client knows, call. Email does not always translate circumstances or feelings well as there is no voice inflection and a client usually places more value on a phone call. Discuss the situation and have solutions ready! Also have a time line ready for implementing the solutions and resolving the problems. Be sure you can deliver on the timeline; this will restore confidence. People in crises situations feel less stress when they know what to expect. When you execute the solutions and the client is aware of this they will increase their confidence in you and relax more.
Lesson 2: Keep the client informed.
When things go wrong and the client doesn't know, it is still a good idea to let them know. This is not always the case, but in my experience, more often than not it resolves more potential problems than it causes and shows your integrity. I always have solutions in place and address the problem before I talk to the client. The majority of the time your client will find out about the problem anyway.
Lesson 3: Offer solutions.
Have solutions ready for clients when there are problems. Do not expect them to tell you what to do. Offer them solutions and ask for their thoughts. In my case clients have most often said, What do you think we should do? This shows the client that you have thought about the problem and have it under control.
Lesson 4: Watch those promises.
Do not promise what you cannot deliver. It is always better to under promise and over deliver as they say. This is critical in the above scenarios and always true with clients. Set realistic timelines and budgets and add a little padding so you can absolutely deliver what you promised and then some. This will pay off in spades. Clients will be more likely to refer you and more likely to use you in the future.
Lesson 5 : Add value.
Add value to you and your business by bringing the client ideas. For example, you might make these suggestions to a Web site client: Have you ever thought of using Google Adsense to add a revenue stream to your site? I noticed that your site is not in the Open Directory Project; have you considered submitting it? Do you have a tracking system on your site? I have found this is a good way to understand where people are entering your site and where they might be leaving, as a tracking system may offer insights into navigation problems which lead to audience attrition. Have you considered writing a white paper series?
New pitches, marketing strategies, anything that is of value that will help move the clients business forward will be appreciated. I use this approach with all of my clients and eventually they begin asking me about portions of the business where I am not currently involved. This may lead to additional dollars in your contract and increased loyalty. The drawback comes when a client starts spending a lot of your time talking about new ideas. It is important to be careful with this one. Be sure that the relationship is set up so everyone respects one anothers time.
When applied with tact these client relationship management lessons will help you minimize conflict as it arises and add value to you in your clients' eyes.
Marshall Zierkel has built a number of successful Web based businesses and products over the years. His role typically involves directing the sales and marketing efforts.