3 Steps to Improved Customer Relations: Help Them Through Difficult Tasks
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
We are now at the final installment of my three part series on improving customer relations on your projects. To recap, we’ve covered two concepts so far: giving away something for free and getting your senior management involved in your project to make the customer feel important.
In this final article, we’ll consider how we can help our customer through difficult tasks so that they see high value from the delivery organization and overall success on the project.
As the project manager, it’s imperative that you keep the customer engaged. Your project sponsor and their team often have their own ‘regular’ jobs to perform. They may have welcomed this project assignment and it may have been forced on them, but in all likelihood it is not the only work that they are performing. Like you, they are probably multitasking every day and they are likely stretched pretty thin. You know how that feels. If you don’t assign tasks to them they are going to drift off to their daily tasks and it’s going to be very hard to rein them back in.
Let’s consider what we generally expect from our customers on a technical project. We expect them to review document deliverables and give signoff/approval. We expect them to participate in weekly status meetings and conference calls and to be available for informational needs and decision inputs. And we expect them to prepare for testing – mainly user acceptance testing (UAT). And we expect them to participate in deployment and provide final signoff. Really, it’s all about participation in deliverable review, planning and kicking off each phase of the project with us, and a concentrated effort on testing, and deployment. The other stuff just happens from time to time on the project.
- So how can we help our customer?
- What are those difficult tasks?
- How can we show extra value and improve customer relations?
We can help with things along the way as they arise, but for starters we work on these two key areas that are almost always weak ones for the project customer.
Assist with requirements definition
Many customers come into the engagement with what they consider to be detailed requirements. Often, they are a ways off the mark. A good project manager assumes that and builds proper time into the first iteration of the schedule to help the customer create better requirements. But we must also go a little further and help the project sponsor and SMEs confirm that what they’ve identified as the project is really the project, there may be underlying issues that are really the root need of the customer that should be addressed as part of the engagement.
Assist with testing
We can’t, of course, test for our customers. Doing UAT for our project clients would be a big conflict of interest and would serve no one’s best interests. We can, however, show them how to create good use cases and test scenarios. Most customers struggle a lot with testing. Holding the client’s hand through testing will help ensure that a thorough test process is followed, help us see problem areas that our customers may have missed, and will build an even stronger relationship with our project sponsor and team, one that may serve us well post-deployment.
The project customer is spending their dollars on our expertise. The idea in improving customer relations is to over deliver, without breaking the project budget and/or timeline in the process. Look for ways you can go the extra mile for the customer, help them through any struggles, keep them engaged, and all the while understand that this is likely not their only work focus. Helping them does indeed improve customer relations, but it also helps you to deliver a successful end solution as well.