The success of an assignment often hinges on a strong client-relationship. But sometimes it happens… despite good intentions and best efforts things aren’t going quite right.
So what can you do to rescue the situation and protect the client-relationship, as well as your own sanity?
Here are some key ways to rescue a tricky client-relationship and stay client-focused:
- Clarify your role and link it to scope
While this sounds obvious, lack of role clarity can be the root cause of many misunderstandings. Once an assignment starts, flexibility and adaptability to client needs are necessary, however unclear or blurred roles and responsibilities can put both of you in an uncomfortable, even risky position. When the client’s new requirements affect the primary project objective or quality, it’s time to pause and re-calibrate roles and scope with your client.
Roles and deliverables can always be discussed and readjusted, but they need to be clear to everyone and reassessed in the perspective of the initial contract, client needs and project goals.
- Adjust to your client’s business readiness
It is not unusual for a client to underestimate the effort required to deliver meaningful change. Part of your expertise is to assess what your client’s organisation is able to accept in terms of change. A quick business readiness or maturity assessment is a good start to ensure that what you deliver is in line with the client’s capacity to absorb.The client’s business readiness can also be influenced by their cultural context. For example, what are the underlying motives for calling in a consultant? Does the client’s project team welcome your support or are they reluctant?
Recognise and accept your client’s circumstances and get ahead of them by asking: how can I create appropriate boundaries? How can I establish trust? Map the project stakeholders, identify the people you need to connect with and adapt your communication to in order to support the project success.
The idea is to put yourself into a position where your expertise is valued and productive.
- Maintain a strategic perspective with access to decision-makers
Many project circumstances – such as staff changes within the project team, project sponsors being too busy, geographic separation, etc. – can lead you to be blocked off from relevant decision-makers on a project. To achieve and maintain trust and quality, you need to maintain regular engagement with those with vested interest and influence over the project outcomes. Their input is infinitely valuable to the success of your project: think of creative ways to overcome barriers and stay in touch with them!At Iceni, we value the power of integrated teams and make a point of embedding ourselves within our client organisations. We take the time to understand our client’s operating environment and focus on building relationships with project teams and stakeholders. This enables us to gain perspective of their unique context. We also work to establish strong partnerships across organisational boundaries that we believe are essential to the project’s ongoing success.
- Clarify client expectations
No matter how good a consultant, you can’t read your client’s mind. Continue to clarify expectations relating to approach and desired outcomes as the project evolves to ensure that you remain aligned on the best way forward.
- Use your weekly report and follow up key risks
A concise weekly report is a great way to summarise your achievements and your plans for the following week, as well as an opportunity to raise any emerging risks or issues. The report clarifies project status for both you and the client and provides a reference point that everyone can refer to as often as necessary. It is a good tool to identify and highlight potential blocking points.If you identify one or more major risks or issues on a project, it is critical to articulate them in writing and follow up consistently if necessary. To do your job in a professional manner, it is sometimes necessary to encourage the client to take the time to consider an issue or a risk.
- Put things in writing
It is beneficial to acknowledge in writing what your client has approved, what they would like to see modified and what the next steps are. This way you won’t find yourself with a deliverable that is not in line with the client expectations.And while flexibility is important, and good consultants are always happy to do a little bit more for clients, it is important to keep a record of all additional requests lest they lead to a cost overrun or divert you from your contracted deliverables.
- Allow the conversation
If, despite best efforts, the project or your relationship with the client is still strained, it is time to raise it as such and organise a dedicated session to work through the issues. As we all know, communication is key and it is important to make the time and space to allow the conversation.Often, an honest discussion and clarification of expectations and needs sets the project back on track. However, it is also important to remember that not all client–consultant relationships are meant to be or are compatible. If there is nothing you can do to save an assignment, it’s better to retire with grace and find a better fit that is aligned to your vision and culture.
Have you ever had to rescue a tricky client-relationship? How did you do it? We’d love to hear about your experiences, as a consultant and a client.