Effectively communicating with clients can power the success of a project. Each communication is not just about exchanging project information, but also an interaction that will create trust and confidence in the partnership. Experienced project managers recognize the need to proactively engage with clients. They may be engaging them directly or indirectly via an Engagement Manager. Regardless of how, they understand every client communication is an opportunity to secure the kind of client engagement they will need throughout the life of a project. Project Managers who can develop a strong client relationship will build capital which will be important for managing things that go wrong and, ultimately, for delivering the project successfully.
Here are four unheralded practices that project managers can use for perfecting customer engagement:
Your Opinion Counts
Every project manager understands that is critical to thoroughly and completely understand their client’s business problems. Some have probably even read about or been trained in the art of deep listening and structured questioning to help clients properly articulate their ambitions. All of that is good, however, it is also important to recognize that you are on the project because of your expertise. Clients want objective guidance and advice from you…in fact, they are paying you for it. When you communicate your point of view and support it with your thinking and rationale, you become a more valuable and strategic partner to them.
Don’t Be Afraid To Talk Budget
Budgets are an uncomfortable topic that many project managers want to avoid discussing with clients. The truth is clients are reasonable when it comes to budget. They greatly value transparency and desperately want to avoid surprises, particularly surprises on short notice. For these reasons it will be important to have regular communications about budget. Being proactive and consistent rather than shying away from the subject will build their confidence in your fiscal responsibility. It will also give them advance notice and time to prepare if things are looking like they may come in over budget.
Guide on What to Expect
Each client has a unique set of business challenges and most will not have the breadth of experience or insight into project management that you have. Counseling them up-front about the project management process and what they will see along the way is an important expectation setting exercise. It will help them understand what your team does and what to expect along the way. More importantly, it will set up a communication dialogue around expectations that you will be able to leverage throughout the project. Ultimately, they will determine if the project successfully met their expectations, so communication around expectations early will be a best practice for project managers.
People want to work with people they like. This is as true for clients as it is in your workgroup. If the chemistry is not apparent right up front, set the intent to get to know your customers better and in person. For project managers, making this investment is not merely about building new relationships, it is also about building an environment for success. Communicating authentically and at a personal level will help build relationships with clients where they want you to succeed and they will help you do it.
Successful projects are dependent on the supportive partnership with clients and stakeholders. Communicating openly, transparently and often can be a great springboard for building the types of partnerships that stay solid when things get tough.
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