No matter what industry or business we are in, it goes without saying that understanding our clients satisfaction is critical to continued domain success. Ignoring it can only lead to long term failure. In this two part series we’ll start by defining the fundamental and power steps to assess and ensure client satisfaction. In part II we’ll explore the process of measuring satisfaction and what to do when we find its not quite where it should be.
Understanding client satisfaction can be interpreted through the lens of interviews, surveys or other feedback mechanisms. But that can hide the subtle truths. There are obvious industry standards like net promoter score etc. But true understanding - empowering us to tailor our efforts in real time - is available at our fingertips upon every contact, with every meeting, and every time we deliver a solution. Holistic satisfaction builds through the small stuff - client interactions, personal touches, and a polished process. Its my belief that you will know how happy a client is throughout the engagement if you’re tuned in; and if you use simple and authentic strategies to build trust. Flawless delivery is the goal - and is a big factor in client satisfaction, but the simple stuff can really make a huge difference - day-to-day responses to areas of risk, proactive forecasting, and human interactions will keep a client happy project after project. Client satisfaction is not just about the numbers, timelines or deadlines. Its not just about scope and delivering final product. Its the whole experience we create along the way too. Here are some of the basic and powerful elements of building client satisfaction that we should sprinkle across every project we touch.
Emphasize the face to face meeting
As this is a global marketplace, its understandable that the majority of your client interactions will not be face to face. But getting in at least one or two visual meetings can go a long way. Whether in person or on Skype, seeing a client's’ reaction to a creative concept can give further insight into what they really think. Looking at their expressions can help guide the conversation. This interaction allows us to be human - to engage in eye contact, talk in the hallway post meeting, assess a persons mood by body language, and build on the basics of relationship building. Wherever we can we should weave in as many of these interactions as possible. Where not possible; video technology can provide an alternative - actually being able to see each others gestures goes a long way to measuring client satisfaction and adjusting our course accordingly.
Be responsive and pro-actively informative
There’s nothing more satisfying for clients than quick resolutions. And even when you can’t resolve the issue quickly, there is comfort in knowing the issue is being addressed. The speed of a reply can turn a problem into a positive experience. Keeping a client informed throughout the process will ease their mind and keep them focused on the big picture. Too many projects can go off the rails when clients don’t feel informed. Panic sets in. We tend to want to shy away from the bad news - but often its all about how we position issues, our strategy for resolution, and our commitment to the cause.
Be friendly and accessible
Clients are people, too. Just as you build relationships throughout your life, a client should be no different. If you’re not a people person then maybe client management is not for you. The many joys of working with clients is getting to know all sorts of personalities and understanding how to adapt your working style to suit their needs. Understanding bits and pieces of your client’s personal life will help you cope with situations where an answer may be less than initially ideal. It provides room to create understanding. Accessibility is a big key to success. While of course we should always consider individual boundaries, focus on relationship building at its most fundamental level. Be professional but share your human side. Give them insight into your life, the more they know, the more acceptable boundaries you can create as your relationship evolves.
Anticipate needs and over deliver
Your clients deal with many vendors and agencies. Nothing stands out more from the competition than a team that delivers a great experience. Spend the time to think about details they may not have thought through quite yet. Make sure you completely vet all requests and think about the big picture. And remember - there’s an art to “no” that doesn’t involve the word no at all. An update to a site may not be as simple as the request. Is the site using an updated platform, have there been browser security updates recently that may add scope creep to your QA process? Anticipating the details for the client can save time and money in the long run. And helping clients to achieve success will play a big role in greater satisfaction.
Do what you say you’re going to do
Projects aren’t easy. Even the most wonderful clients can make decisions, cause delays that impact their own projects, and derail their own deadlines. But always deliver on your promise - on time and on budget. There’s no way around this one. Pure and simple, a flawless process will keep a client coming back time after time. Keep your client informed of timeline and budget at least once a week, if not daily, and providing clear insight and options when a tradeoff is necessary. Following through on client expectations is a base requirement of engagement and is the easiest to achieve with the proper project controls in place. This is also a major indicator for client satisfaction.
Satisfaction has a lot to do with delivering on promise. But we cannot overlook the fact that even the most on time and on budget project may still not feel satisfactory to the client. We build satisfaction in every touch, in the way we communicate, and importantly how we handle the difficult stuff. Thats what makes the softer side of project management a true art.
In Part 2 we’ll explore methods for measuring client satisfaction. No one cares for surveys or even has time for a post mortem. Lets discuss the alternatives that will give insight into understanding a clients experience and how they’ll make their decisions for future engagements.