There are number of actions that need to take place in such situations and each is a separate story. Today, I will focus on how well-established good relationship can save the day whether you are working on small or large projects. Importantly, I will describe how that kind of relationship is built.
In any relationship, people scan and use their sensory and mental antennas to assess the other party's trustworthiness. This scanning and sensing is a continuous process and can change one's opinion at any time. Therefore, people make serious effort to make sure they are maintaining their status in other person's eyes.
It is the same concept in business. Our customer is always tuned to our actions and continuously forms and updates his/her opinion of us. Since signals can come from many directions, we need to ensure that all signals are consistent. For example, if you are doing a great job from legal side negotiating contracts, or doing great marketing, but always late with your deliveries - then you are not sending a consistent message. Therefore, you cannot hope that your customer is viewing you in a completely good light.
However, there may be situations when you underperform (e.g. delay in delivery) due to events outside of your control, but you get affected because of contract language. Then what? What if you are working with a tough client who is very inflexible in its contract modifications, e.g. government? Then you are in big trouble.
Below are some actions you can practice to introduce flexibility into your relationships regardless of how tough your customer may be:
- Build personal relationships. Any organization however formal it may be is still run by people and you need to earn the respect of the person you are working with who will give you a hand in a difficult situation. We often hear the word "system" or "company" or "government" when we refer to parties we are dealing with as if we are dealing with lifeless, faceless machines. All of these places are run by people and if we look at people we are working with as individuals and not only face of a machine or entity, then it will be much easier to navigate through difficulties. Personal relationships include frequent meetings, phone calls, email communication, and involving each other in joint problem solving discussions.
- Deliver consistency from each side - you need to make sure that each team member is providing the same level of quality. For that you need to be aware of what is happening at each branch of your project and interject when something goes sideways to bring everything back on track.
- Anticipate issues and develop potential remedies ahead of time together with your customer, i.e. mutual engagement. In this way, customer will understand risks and your method of handling it.
- Communicate issues to customer as soon as possible however bad it may make you look at that point and let the customer know what you are doing to solve it. The worst thing is when customer finds out at the last minute that he is not going to get his shipment on time. If he knows ahead time, he can prepare and plan for it and the frustration can be avoided.
- Regular updates - maintain consistent and regular professional communication with your customer, e.g. through weekly formal status updates.
September 15, 2015