For an IT consulting engagement to be a success, you need to be skilled in two areas: delivering the technical solution and handling the customer service requests. Most IT consultants are adept at implementing technical solutions, but sometimes they fall short in the area of client relationship management. The bottom line is that if the customer isn’t happy, you’re not likely to get repeat business from that client.
Communication is key
My approach for keeping clients happy throughout an engagement is to communicate and share information on a regular basis. A well-informed customer is usually a satisfied customer — even if you have to relay information they don’t want to hear.
Here are my top four basic strategies for successfully delivering on a consulting engagement to hopefully ensure the greatest level of client satisfaction.
1: Schedule lots of face-to-face interaction
I’m a huge proponent of remotely managing an engagement; however, if it’s possible to meet with your client face-to-face weekly or even monthly, you should do it. By setting up an in-person meeting, clients will perceive that you care about their needs and the success of the project. In reality, these meetings may not actually help the project and they might even slow you down, but clients like the extra attention.
2: Provide the client with a project status report weekly
You should produce a formal project status report for the client and deliver a revised version on a weekly basis. If you can’t meet face-to-face with the client every week, you should at least have a weekly status phone call to make sure they’re informed about the latest project details. When you follow this step, you’re much more likely to have a satisfied client when there is bad news.
3: Keep the client updated on the budget
My clients appreciate that I keep track of where and how much of the project budget is being spent. This is usually just a section in the status report, but by including it, I’m telling them that I realize we’re spending their money, and I’m aware of how much they’re spending. It seems to build a level of trust and understanding.
4: Manage scope closely
Someone on the customer side will try to slip in their requirements at some point in the project. You must resist the urge to add every bell and whistle that SMEs and end users request. Each add-on means more work, and this ultimately changes the scope. Depending on your billing situation, you are either doing the add-ons for free, or your client is paying more without knowing it. The latter scenario will not make the client happy. Before making the add-on part of the engagement, you should get your project sponsor or primary client contact to sign off on this scope change.
There’s no guarantee of success and client satisfaction in any consulting project, but if you ensure the client is fully engaged, it will increase your odds of keeping their confidence level high throughout the engagement. A happy client is more likely to become a long-term client.
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