“Cesar, we are not happy. We need to talk.” That’s what I heard once from a client when I was left alone with him after a meeting. Sometimes your clients will come out and tell you that they’re not satisfied with how you’re managing an agency project. Sometimes they’ll hint at it. Sometimes you can see it in their body language. Sometimes you don’t know it until they’ve let you go.
The fact is that there will be times when your client is not happy with your work. Here’s a look at what makes clients dissatisfied and six key ways to keep them happy.
Why isn’t your client happy?
There are many reasons for client dissatisfaction. First, consider the obvious ones: scope, schedule, and cost. Your project plan might be falling short on metrics. Yet, in my experience, I’ve learned that unless the project is really failing miserably, hitting milestones and staying on budget is usually not what determines the level of client satisfaction.
I’ve had clients that were very happy with me and the work I was doing, and yet, from a purely objective perspective, the project was not doing well. I’ve also had projects that were doing well but clients were not happy.
So what’s the answer?
Let me address this issue with six points. To make it easier to remember them, the first letter of each tip spells “CLIENT.”
We’ve all heard the old adage: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” A client is a human being, with a thinking mind. According to Jonathan Creaghan, author of “Getting More Done,” the thinking mind has six core motivators:
- Looking good
- Sounding smart
- Being right
- Feeling secure
- Feeling safe
- Believing it’s all alone and separate in the world.
If you know that your client’s thinking is operating under these six motivators, you’ll have a better understanding of how to present issues, risks, problems and successes over the course of the project.
For example, if you know that your client is motivated by reward and recognition, this might be a cue to pay tribute to his or her contributions when celebrating successes.
A project is a never-ending learning opportunity—starting with knowing what motivates your client to familiarizing yourself with technical specs.
But the more you can learn about your client and what they care about, the better off you and the project will be. When you learn more about the client, the team, the project, and the problem you’re trying to solve, you’ll start thinking with the mind of the client. And when you and the client share similar outlooks, suddenly you’re both on the same side. You’ll win together (and maybe even fail together), but either way, the client will always see you as a partner—as someone on his or her side.
As a project manager, you’re also a project leader. Leaders, by definition, show and lead the way. Regardless of all the information out there about leadership, I find that if you simply take initiative, you’ll be well on your way to good leadership.
Because the client is usually the sponsor, we tend to look at them as the leaders. This is true to a certain extent, but remember why you were hired: To manage the project and lead.
So be bold, take initiative, and show the way. The client will learn that the project is a priority for you and that you care about where it’s going.
As we know, most of what a project manager does is communicate. I’ve interviewed many successful project managers for my podcast, which has confirmed the fact that being about to engage with your team has the most influence on the success of your project—and as a result, on the success of your relationship with your client.
I’ve also found that the best way to spark engagement is to ask questions and truly care about people. I have a personal database of my professional relationships where I keep track of key information about those I work with. I make a point of asking questions and getting to know people on a more personal level. Do they have kids? What are their passions, hobbies, interests? What are some important dates and names in their lives? I then set up reminders to ensure I stay engaged with those I work with.
Your relationship with your client is like any other relationship. For it to thrive, you will need to nurture it. I have a personal rule that at least once a week I make a point of reaching out to my current clients. Sometimes there’s nothing to discuss, but I want them to know that I’m there and available.
Meeting outside the project environment for lunch or coffee is another way I found to nurture my relationships with my clients. It’s important for the client to see you as a person. The more these personal interactions occur, the more your client will understand your struggles in managing their project, and the more they’ll appreciate your hard work and competence.
Remember that the relationships that matter and thrive are the ones you take the time to nurture.
Gratitude is one of my favorite virtues to exercise.
The client could have chosen a different project manager. But you were chosen.
Team members could have chosen a different project or a different company. But they chose to participate in your project.
Your project is creating something new and (hopefully) exciting! And you are at the head of it all.
Be thankful for being a part of your client’s project, even if it may seem mundane. When you learn to see the excitement in the work you do, your energy will trickle down to your team and rise up to your client.
Winning back your client’s happiness
The client I mentioned at the beginning of this article was not happy, and he was right not to be. At that time I was able to have the courage to own up to the fact that I had dropped the ball. We worked out a new game plan and to this day I’m still working with him.
In the heat of the project work, we tend to forget that clients are people too. Their thinking minds have intrinsic motivators and it really pays to invest time into being proactive and addressing these motivators.
What tip here has worked well for you and your client relations? Or, give one of your own well-tested tips, in Comments.