We love our project customers sitting on the other side of the table, video conference call or phone, right? And they could never do anything to make us feel otherwise, right? Wrong! It's ok to say they drive you crazy from time to time - maybe even all the time. They aren't necessarily your friend but I feel strongly that they are our main focus throughout the project engagement. My motto is "You're only as successful as your last customer thinks you are..." Employ that model and you'll always have the proper customer service mindset.
What strategies do we use or should we use in a best practices focus that can help keep the project on track, the customer engaged and confident and not ready to pounce, call out the delivery team or contact our CEO about project issues real or perceived? Anybody? Can I see a hand? Ok, come back with some after reading mine and share how they've worked for you. Mine are:
Over-inform the customer. Never ever, ever just go through the motions when communicating status, issues and project updates to the customer. Never assume they know something when you are conveying information. I'm not saying they are unaware or lack understanding. I'm saying that the things you assume and leave out could cause you problems over time. They have a full plate just like you do and this project is likely not their only concern. If we assume our project customers are on exactly the same page as us when we are discussing an important decision on a project task or deliverable, then it is definitely possible that the wrong decision could be made, being both costly and time consuming to the project.
Assign tasks in the project plan to the customer. One way to keep a customer more focused and engaged in the overall project than micro managing everything the delivery team does right or wring on a daily (hourly?) basis is to keep them assigned to several tasks throughout the project. Assign key risk identification tasks to them. Assign important tasks focused on other planning and testing preparation tasks. Of course all deliverable review and sign off tasks go to him. Fill in the gaps with other tasks as needed. This will be win-win as they will remain more engaged and available for important decision making needs, but also as part of the ongoing project progress rather than just an annoying watchdog.
Have your CEO sit in on a project status call. Want your client to feel important? Have your CEO sit in on a status call and actually participate and discuss and ask questions. I realise not all CEOs will have time for this, but they should. Especially if the project is doing incredibly well or has some major issues the team is working through with the client. Nothing says "we care" or "we are on it" quite like your CEO going over status updates with the project client. And it is greet for dispelling the overly anxious and attacking client before it gets out of hand.
Adjust the status report. If the project customer isn't seeing enough of the right information, that may cause that unsettling feeling that the project isn't going as well as hoped and that the delivery team may be trying to keep something from them. The right detail and high level reporting in the form of a quick look dashboard can give customers and their higher ups as well as yours that comfortable feeling that all is well on the project front and keep them from being anxious throughout the project engagement.
Total transparency is the way to go. Finally, plan total transparency throughout the project. I believe in it, customers want it and if they find out you're keeping vital project information from them, their confidence level will drop like a rock – even if they may be better of on a need to know basis only. And you won't likely regain that confidence. Don't head down that path.
Summary / call for input
The key is to keep your customer from losing their confidence in your ability to deliver. Never give them that feeling that they need to take over the project.
Readers - what is your take? When customers get overly anxious about anything - justified or unjustified - what do you do? How do you calm the savage beast?