Think about the best customer service you’ve ever received and why it was memorable.
For me it was—hands-down—my experience at a luxury hotel where I booked a staycation with my husband. I wanted to arrange an elaborate surprise for him and had inquired about what packages were available.
When I asked, the front desk agent said, flatly:
“We don’t do packages. Each customer is unique. How could we know what you want before we’ve met you?”
I was stunned.
Instead, to make the surprise come together, the hotel sent a concierge to the local shopping mall and purchased an expensive gift for my husband. She also gift-wrapped the package, purchased a card, and signed it for me and from me. Finally, she hand-delivered the gift to our room. (Oh, and they did all of this in less than an hour.)
They didn’t charge me a service fee, ask for a tip, or complain about how hard it would be to make the request happen. They found a way to do it. I’d never realized that I could experience such impeccable service.
So what does this have to do with project management?
Project managers often get a bad rap for being so committed to what’s outlined in the contract, that we fail to see opportunities to accommodate our clients. There is what is written and then there is what the client actually wants to accomplish; a motivation, a need, and a problem they need solved.
(But how could we know what they want to accomplish—before we’ve even met.)
Most clients are used to “budget hotel” experiences where every time they ask for something they’re just told the cost that it would take to make it happen.
Don’t get me wrong, good fiscal management is a key aspect of project management. In our defense, project managers are expected to ensure that the work gets done according to the budget, time constraints and specifications of the agreement between their agency and the customer. However, there is a much more elegant and “fancy hotel” way to handle those requests than just saying no, or “that’ll cost you”.
Whenever you can show a client that you empathize with their challenges, without nickel and diming them, you are winning.
The next time a request comes in that seems outside of your contract, consider each of these factors before rushing to an answer.
- Why is this important to the client?
- What does the client hope this request will accomplish?
- What is the impact to the project budget, scope, and timeline if you say “yes”?
- If the impact is significant, is there a potential compromise or alternative solution that you can propose that will still accomplish the client’s goal?
Once you’ve come to a decision, get input from other members of your team. They may be able to offer some ideas or insights that completely alter your assumptions about what is and is not possible.
Effective project managers are great relationship managers.
We strive to say yes whenever possible, while maintaining the integrity of a project. Sometimes you have to be creative to find win-win solutions (and creative solutions are not always covered in an SOW), but I’ve noticed that customers respect and appreciate a sincere desire to be their partner and help them solve the challenges they are facing. A customer that feels heard, valued and supported is much more likely to keep calling well into the future.
And that’s the goal.