In project management, a project is often considered a success if it was brought in “on time and on budget.” It works on the assumption that those are the two primary goals in completing a project.
Imagine if you asked a builder to build you a house. You worked with them on the design and told them that you had $100,000 and needed to be in the house by January 1st.
On December 30th, they invite you to do a walk through. They finished the house on time and on your budget. The problem is that there is no bathroom or floor coverings and the walls have not been painted.
It is always good to finish a project on time and on budget. But a project is not a success unless it meets the project owner’s specifications.
The same is true in consulting. Whether it is project-based or some other service, client satisfaction is the key goal to strengthening and continuing the relationship.
Here I will discuss ways to develop client satisfaction to pave the path to being a trusted advisor.
The Client’s Definition of Satisfaction
For most consulting engagements, there is a statement of work (SOW). The SOW defines the scope of the project, the deliverables, the fees, and many other parameters for the engagement.
There are some “by the book” consultants that follow the SOW and assume the client will be satisfied if all items are checked off as complete for the engagement.
Once the SOW is signed, the consultant should meet with the key stakeholder at the client and walk through the scope and deliverables of the SOW. Ask them what they expect from each item. The goal is to get a definition of what outcome will meet their satisfaction upon completion.
You now have a clear understanding of the client’s definition of client satisfaction. The next step is to determine how to exceed their expectations. Identify areas where you can go over and above to ensure increasing client satisfaction.
A couple of notes about this. You want to exceed the client’s expectations, but still stay within the time and budget constraints. Breaking those constraints may do little to accomplish client satisfaction.
You also want to be careful not to “gold plate.” Gold plating is adding services or features that the client did not ask for and did not necessarily want to pay you to do. Exceeding client expectations implies that you are doing what the client wants.
One of the best ways to exceed a client’s expectations and ensure client satisfaction is to reduce any friction for them to deal with you. This is normally done by proactively providing them information. Anticipate the information they will need during your engagement, when they will need it, and how they will want it delivered.
This can be defined in that initial meeting to define their satisfaction. Find out their preferred means of receiving information. Ask them when they want to be made aware of major issues and how to escalate it outside of the normal status reporting.
By identifying and removing the client’s friction points, you can make great gains in attaining and exceeding client satisfaction.
Develop a Plan
You now have a good understanding of the client’s assessment of client satisfaction. You have also determined ways to exceed their expectations. This now needs to be built into your plan. In addition to defining how you will complete the deliverables and scope; you should add tasks for how you will exceed their expectations. Include how you will be proactive in communicating with the client. This will ensure that you cover everything that you need to do to meet and exceed client satisfaction.
Frequently Ask the Client
There is a saying here in Chicago that you should vote early and often. A much more ethical version of that approach is to check in with the client on their satisfaction. The client’s definition of their own satisfaction can evolve over the course of the engagement.
Check in with the client to determine how you are doing in achieving client satisfaction. Many consultants neglect to address this during the engagement. Some assume that the client will speak out if they are dissatisfied. But dissatisfaction can be like the frog in the pot of water on the stove. The frog does not realize that the pot is gradually getting hotter and never jumps out of it.
The client may address their dissatisfaction in the same way. They may be mildly dissatisfied, but not enough to speak up. That dissatisfaction gradually grows, almost without them realizing it. At the end of the engagement, they may be enraged. By that time, it is too late to address it.
Asking them about any dissatisfaction on a frequent basis gives them a chance to speak up early. They are much more likely to speak up when prompted than to do so on their own.
Many consultants consider meeting the requirements within the statement of work as the goal for meeting client satisfaction. In reality, it requires getting a clear definition from the client and identifying ways to exceed that definition. It also requires regular prompting of the client to ensure that you are on track to achieving true client satisfaction.
What is your secret to achieving client satisfaction?
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
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