Many times project managers start focusing on the project at hand too soon, and forget that the personal relationships need to be cultivated and nurtured in the right way and direction before anything else on the project.
I talked about rapport and how to build it in a previous post. In the specific case of dealing with the customer, there are questions that are out there to be answered and if you do not answer them, your client will try to answer them alone, based on biases or previous experiences. These questions include:
– Is my supplier going to take me seriously and provide me with competent resources? Are the resources as good as they looked in the CVs sent by supplier? Are we going to get the value we are seeking from the supplier? or will he just rush the work to get it done, get the money, and leave? Is the supplier going to try to trick me into accepting substandard work, like the previous so and so supplier did? These questions carry an emotional component along with the business component; no one likes to be tricked or taken for a fool, especially if one has previous such experience.
Sometimes clients are belligerent and tough to deal with from day one. The supplier project manager usually wonders where he could have gone wrong as he is bombarded with attacks and suspicions before any work is even planned. Some project managers ignore the issue hoping that the client will get more relaxed as the relationship progresses. That is a dangerous assumption to make.
So how do we deal with this situation as project managers and consultants trying to deliver a service as honestly and professionally as we can? It seems like an impossible mission. It really does not have to be. Let us remember what the client is mostly looking for: value sought from the project. The client must trust that you are:
– Competent to deliver
– Have the integrity and honesty and you will not lie to him.
And most importantly:
– Genuinely caring and having empathy for the customer and having their best interest at heart. Most project managers ignore how important this is. Some care, but could not convince their clients that they care. Others care but do not have empathy towards the client, which means they cannot understand the client’s needs, feelings, worries, or situation.
So, how can I convince the client that I care and have empathy? Here are some tips:
1) listen carefully to what the client has to say, and ask questions to deepen understanding
2) Do your homework and understand the client industry, history, background, previous experiences.
3) Tell the client how you feel about the project, and why it is important to you. Show him how your interests are aligned and that the project is your top priority.
4) Show the client that you are truthful, care, and understand, through your statements and actions. For example, if you find a piece of information or news that might be of interest to your client, even if not related to the project, pass it along.
5) Get personal with the client stakeholders. This does not mean that you have to necessarily become after hours friends, but at least show them that you see them as people, not just roles, and make sure they see you as a person, not just a role.
6) Be concise, truthful, and considerate in all your interactions with the client. Do not ever take the client or the client team members for granted.
Practice the above and be genuine. If the Project Manager does not care about the client or the project then the project manager will look fake pretending. So, make sure you care, and find your positive perspective towards your project and its success, before attempting to win anyone over.