Those Difficult Client Conversations

By Sharon Kreher, teamworks communication management

I admit it.  I don’t particularly enjoy confrontations, whether it’s in my personal or business relationships.  As a result, my business partner and I have worked over the years to find ways to make budget, work scope, and expectation kinds of conversations direct and upfront at the start of our client relationships, when they’re less likely to be acrimonious.

So here are five recommendations for building a solid foundation for client relationships:

1.       Always have a contract

While some might interpret a business relationship without a contract as a sign of real “trust,” we think it’s a recipe for rancor down the road when both parties suddenly realize they have very different expectations about the scope work and the anticipated results.   A detailed contract eliminates difficult billing conversations and scope creep – that endless stream of “would you’s?” and “could you’s?” that can leave you feeling victimized by your client and your client feeling cheated.  With a contract that clearly specifies the work to be done and the associated costs, everyone starts from the same place, and has something to refer back to if differences crop up partway through the project.

2.       Discuss at the beginning what constitutes success

Too often, we assume that our benchmark for success is the same as our client’s.  But how often have you found out at the end of the day that while you feel you’ve hit all the important targets, your client feels you’ve missed the one that he/she values the most.  Talking about what success looks like at the beginning of the project allows you to incorporate the right measurement tools into the planning and everyone on the team knows what it will take to have a happy client.  It also gives you a chance to explain up-front why some expectations aren’t realistic – a much better time to have that conversation than at end of the program!

3.       Incorporate measurement tools into your planning

Too often, measurement is something we tend to address as we’re wrapping up a project and need to provide a results report to the client.  By then, it’s too late, or too expensive.  Again, it’s about managing expectations and being able to demonstrate results.  If increases in store traffic are a key indicator for your client, you certainly want to make sure there’s a way to track it!

4.  Keep clients informed throughout the project

Set up a specific schedule of project updates that the client can anticipate receiving.  In addition to them feeling well-informed, it also provides built-in opportunities for “course adjustments.”

5.       Tell your client if something isn’t working out as planned

This is perhaps one of the most difficult conversations to have.  No one enjoys telling a client that an approach or strategy just isn’t working.  But, avoiding the conversation isn’t going to fix the situation, and it’s always better to come clean as early as possible, when it’s not too late to shift to a new approach.

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