All of us have our lists of work monsters. It is no surprise that bosses and clients from hell top rank at the very top of it.
I have had my own version of this list too. But after spending a good decade in client-facing roles, I came to realize a little introspection goes a long way in making sure that you are not the reason your client is turning into a monster. Ever heard of ‘consultant, agency team, or client servicing person from hell’? Here’s how to make sure you are not one.
Meet your deadlines. Manage expectations early. Aim to over-deliver but never deliver lesser than what you committed. Keep clients in the loop on progress. Be accountable at all times. Pre-empt their questions when you send an email or deliverable, make a presentation, or have a chat about new ideas and initiatives. Summarize your attachments in your email. Be responsive to emails and calls. If you don’t have an answer, tell them by when you will get back to them, and meet the deadline.
These are basic fundamentals at work, whether a client is involved or not. But they become that much more crucial when you are working to earn the trust of an outside party.
Your clients must be able to trust you as a capable partner and expert. For this, it is important that you are perceived to be adding value to the relationship and quality of work. Be authentic and honest about what will work, what won’t. Don’t have an answer? Don’t make things up; instead promise them you will find out.
Suggest alternatives. Proactively present new ideas and perspectives not just in new business or project meetings but also for on-going deliverables. Suggest smarter, more relevant ways to work. This helps showcase your team and you as partners who are constantly thinking on behalf of the client organization and working towards shared goals. It is one of the few ways in which you can elevate your position from a ‘vendor’ to a ‘consultant and partner’ in a very short period of time.
It is extremely crucial that you see your clients as competent professionals, as they often are. Their employers wouldn’t keep them on the payroll if they weren’t doing something right. You must know that when a client puts in a request for a new project, deadline, or deliverable, they have their reasons for it. That being said, client servicing often works on the concept of saying ‘no’ even when ‘yes’ is an easier or less time consuming option. This is a flawed approach to any relationship, let alone one with the fragile power dynamics of client and vendor/ agency/ consultant.
There are of course situations when you just have to say no. In such times, you’d be better off presenting a better alternative than just shooting down a request. Again, remember that if the client has made that phone or sent that email, they would have thought it through. They need to achieve the said end goal. As an expert, it is your job to suggest an alternative way to get to it if you believe that your client’s way will not work.
Client relationships are also an endless game of give and take. Ace your negotiation skill and keep it in top form when discussing matters like project costs, deadlines, and deliverables.
Unforeseen delays? Mistakes? Gaps in communication? A client-partner relationship is just humans at work at the end of the day. Sometimes, things can slip through the cracks. Own up to it and solve the problem quickly. I have found clients to be more reasonable than we give them credit for. Once you have earned their trust, all they need to know is that you think on their behalf, have their best intentions at heart, and work quickly to resolve issues when they happen.
This is extremely important. Often, as agencies or consultants, we focus so much on the transactional part of the relationship or ranting about rude mails and calls that we fail to recognize where the client is coming from. Get to know pressures and deadlines that make or break the client’s day. Understand the dynamics of his or her team and how you can help your client succeed within the structures of his or her organization. I have known happy, successful clients to be more appreciative of his or her agency partners or consultants. The reasons for it are obvious.
You can do everything right and the client might still be a bully. The hierarchical structures of our workplaces – our clients’ included – often breed insecurities. If these insecurities translate to disrespect, you need to draw the line. If you are new to the relationship, then ask your line manager on how to manage these conversations. Or you can simply walk away from a disrespectful phone call telling your client you will get back when they have cooled off. Keep your tone decisive and calm in such situations. Don’t cross the boundaries of professional behaviour yourself. You don’t want to treat others the way you don’t like to be treated.
When things get heated and uncomfortable, remember tomorrow is another day. Start afresh and stay as professional and friendly as you have always been.
In my own experience, if you can see and position yourself as an extension of your client’s team, you will be able collaborate and have your client’s back as you would with your own team. That makes everything that much easier, from saying no to heated conversations to celebrating shared successes. After all, in any client-facing role, you are only as effective as your client is successful.
Read Also: How to identify and deal with toxic clients