Our customers are half of the lifeblood of our organizations (the other half being our team members). It’s our primary function to keep them happy so that they keep paying their invoices. However it’s not always as easy as that – keeping customers happy is often incredibly challenging, and not always within your direct control. This week I’m going to talk about three very common sources of customer dissatisfaction and what you can do to avoid them.
Surprises (Good or Bad)
I am actually surprised at how much people are surprised by this. We all love the surprise of unwrapping our Christmas gifts but in the professional world, the biggest gift you can give your client (or your boss) is predictability. One can plan around predictability but when you are hit with a large budget overage (or even an underage) on your project it can have adverse effects on your business. Well I think we can all understand how a budget or schedule overage can be negatively impactful on your business so let’s talk about large-scale budget or schedule underage’s. Nobody is going to bat an eye if you come in 10% under budget. That’s the sweet spot that we as project managers all strive for. But what if you come in 55% under budget? What does that say to your customer about your ability to predict what the project will cost? There are always the edge cases where you may be doing something leading edge that you’ve never done before in which case, it’s fair to say to the customer “we aren’t sure what it’s going to cost so here’s your estimate with a +/- 50% fudge factor”. But in most cases your customers are contracting you because they have confidence in your ability to know their business and deliver value with what you bring to the table. If you can consistently hit the +/- 10% sweet spot with your projects, you are well ahead of the pack!
Nothing irritates a customer more than not being responded to. We’ve all received those emails with bold font and the red exclamation point with content that we aren’t sure how to respond with. The worst thing we can do is not respond at all. Even if it’s a “hey, I don’t know the answer but I will get you the answer by X”, customers will almost always appreciate that you have acknowledged their request. Letting things consistently fall through the cracks is a sure-fire way to agitate your customers and make your relationship with them more adversarial.
Not Following Through on Commitments
One of the worst things you can do is not follow through on commitments (this goes for team members just as much as customers). At meetings, there are often action items assigned and project managers are not exempt from this. By not following through on what we commit to our customers, we are setting the stage for a very difficult and distrusting relationship (and can you blame them?). It’s not only you that you have to be accountable for, but it’s also your team. If team members make commitments (or if you make them on their behalf), you as the leader are responsible for making sure your team delivers. Remember – your customer views you as one unit, not a collection of individuals – how your entire team behaves reflects on you and your organization.
Keeping reasonable customers happy is often tiring, but never difficult. Following through on your promises, keeping your customers informed and trying your very hardest to make sure your project maintains predictability, you’re going to have a long list of happy customers.
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