Satisfying your client is the ultimate goal of a project manager. How do you accomplish this? The most intuitive response would be simple: do a good job. However, if you are doing a subpar job in client management, even a exceeding a project’s goals may still disappoint them, particularly if they don’t understand the ins and outs of the type of work that you are providing.
If you want to consistently end a project with a successful product AND a happy client, how you discuss your work with them is just as important as the actual work you do. Here are a number of things you should keep in mind to keep a client’s expectations in check.
Outline potential setbacks
In any profession, but particularly in an unpredictable field such as construction, it’s important to clearly convey the risks and potential setbacks that may occur throughout the course of a project. In explaining every step of the project to the client, you need to discuss how things beyond your control may lead to higher costs, a longer timeframe or even a complete cancellation.
For instance, when you give a client a six-month timeline for project completion, clarify that this is the time it will take under ideal conditions. You can’t guarantee, of course, that a major storm won’t force you to close the job site and extend the deadline, or that the city might take much longer than usual to review your permit applications.
The key is to provide a range of outcomes, rather than guaranteeing one. To the extent that you can – based on your experience – you should assign a percentage chance or a likelihood to different outcomes. For instance, you could say that in the top 10 percent of cases, such a project would be completed in four months, whereas the average timeline is five months, and in the worst scenarios, it could take up to seven months.
Keep them updated
The less your clients are up-to-speed with the project, the more shocked and angry they are likely to feel if you have to deliver bad news. That’s not just because they may feel misled or betrayed – in many instances, your failure to keep them in the loop has resulted in them spending time and money on plans that are not going to materialize.
It’s critical to keep them informed so that they won’t be caught off guard and so that your staffing plan and other work priorities can align with their expectations. Send them regular correspondence – whether it’s emails or phone calls – updating them on the progress of the project and make sure to specify any obstacles that have emerged or that you foresee happening in the near future. Don’t force them to ask you what’s going on – you should be offering up that information rather than having them dig for it.
Be a good listener
Listening is as important a leadership tool as communication. Whatever the outcome of the project, a client is much more likely to feel positive about the investment if you have been mindful of their concerns throughout the process. If you come off as aloof or don’t seem to be paying much attention to what they say, they’ll be much less forgiving of any bumps in the road.
Actively listening is important during the very first meeting with the client, where you need to demonstrate that you are alert and taking into account what they want and expect to happen. It remains an important component of the client-project manager relationship throughout the course of the project, however. When you check in with the client, you should not only be updating them on the status of the project, but also asking them about their thoughts and feelings on how things are progressing. That will help assure them that they retain a sense of control over the project that they’re investing in.
Be clear about the scope of work
There’s nothing more important than being as explicit as possible about what work you are agreeing to do. Having that scope of work clearly-defined (in writing) is key.
If the client makes a vague comment about something else he’d like to see happen, make sure to clarify what he means. If you ever suspect there is a misunderstanding, don’t hesitate to go through the details of the deal again so that you can be absolutely sure about what you are being hired to do.
For many projects or services, there are things that you can guarantee and just as many things that you cannot. As an example, an exterminator might be able to guarantee that he can reduce the population of cockroaches in your shed, but he may not be able to assure you that they will be entirely wiped out and never return.
Set clear milestones
The longer and bigger the project, the more important it is to break it up into stages and set milestones. Just as important as establishing milestones is communicating whether you’re achieved them or not. When you complete a major task, it helps reassure a client that you are indeed managing deadlines effectively.
Project management software can also help ensure transparency and make it easier for both clients and teammates to stay up-to-date with the progress and get a real-time view of how you’re managing deadlines. We built our Project+ feature based directly on our customers’ feedback in needing an easy-to-use, practical solution to communicate and collaborate with members of their mobile workforce about ongoing projects. It’s an ideal tool for projects involving multiple job sites. In addition to it's private and group chat app feature that is integrated in Timesheet Mobile’s , Project+ allows you to create and share checklists to tick off tasks as they are completed.
If you come to realize that you won’t meet a deadline, then it’s best that you warn the client as soon as possible that you might be falling behind schedule. Informing a client before they sense a problem demonstrates transparency, which is critical to building trust.
Only make promises that you can keep. Making outlandish assurances to a client is not only unethical, but it sets you up for a disappointed customer and can be very damaging to your company's reputation. If anything, you should try to be conservative when providing a deadline or a cost estimate.
If you are cautious with your guarantees, you’ll end up with a lot of clients who are pleasantly surprised when you in fact deliver the project ahead of schedule or under-budget.
It’s all about communication
Project failures are often due to a lack of communication. The same is true when it comes to clients who feel shafted by a firm they purchases a service from. If you’re open and honest from start to finish, then there’s no reason a client should feel that you cheated them. The best way to convince them of that is to stay in touch and communicate clearly and consistently with them.
Sure, solid client management requires finding reliable ways to share information and making sure you never leave calls unreturned or emails unanswered. But more important than the technicalities is the ability to be a direct communicator who is available, understanding and forthcoming.