The relationship with the client is unique. You need to learn to manage this relationship effectively or risk damaging your reputation – and remember, reputation is everything in the consulting business.
Essentially, your client is your customer, and as with any business, customer relationship management is a key part of your role. But if you’ve recently transitioned from employment to consulting, you’ll likely be in unfamiliar territory as you take on the mantle of small-business owner and tackle the role of managing customer relationships.
Learning to manage your client’s expectations is a good place to start.
Do you have trouble managing client expectations? Do you constantly feel on the back foot trying to meet your client’s expectations? In this article, I provide three strategies to help keep client expectations in check.
1. Flag any potential scope creep up front (not after the fact)
When I’m preparing a consultancy proposal, I can invariably see where the potential for scope creep lies, so I proactively manage the client’s expectations about this by flagging those in my proposal. I do this under a section titled “issues related to scope”, and in here I identify any potential pitfalls that might impact the project, stating that if they eventuate, there will likely be time and cost implications. It’s a simple strategy, but it alerts the client to the possibility of scope creep and helps establish realistic expectations.
2. Provide timely communication about any changes to deadlines
As a consultant, you operate in a project-based environment. At the start of every project, your project plan is signed off by the client, stipulating a series of deliverables and deadlines. But in the real world projects are dynamic. You’re working with an organisation, dealing with real people and live problems. So things shift and change and sometimes this impacts on your best-laid plan. In my experience, clients understand that issues that are outside of your control can arise and can accommodate adjustments. But you need to keep them in the loop when any of these adjustments are likely to impact on your deadlines. Manage their expectations by discussing any potential deadline changes with them. And always send a follow-up email summarising agreed changes, so there is a formal record.
3. Meet with your client to present findings before you write the report
One of the things my consulting mentor advised me when I first started out was “there should be no surprises for the client in your report”. Seeing the findings for the first time in black and white can be confronting and can potentially have a client be less inclined to accept them. Instead, manage their expectations by having a meeting to verbally present preliminary findings before you write the report. Let them ask questions and explore the issues with you, rather than presenting them with a fait accompli. Your report will have a much smoother passage to approval and sign off as a result.
Customer relationship management is a core consultancy skill you need to master quickly to survive and managing your client’s expectations is a key component of this. Pay attention to managing your client’s expectations before you even start the project and then at all stages throughout.
Jacq Hackett, Founder, www.soloconsultantmasterclass.com