One of the things I’ve mentioned many times in the past is that the ultimate goal of a successful consultant is to become the client’s trusted advisor. One of the most important ways to do that is by keeping the client informed.
It can be a tricky balance. You want to provide the client with timely updates. But you also want to respect their time. Calling the client every hour with status updates may keep them informed, but you probably will not end up on their list of trusted advisors for it.
Fortunately, there are many ways to keep the client informed without becoming a nuisance.
There are many formal communication routes a consultant can take to keep the client informed. These provide predictability for the client where they can expect to be informed at specific places or times.
Periodic status updates: Most consulting engagements are project-based. And most projects have periodic updates. This can be in a weekly status meeting where a formal status report is usually discussed. Here the consultant can update the client on the progress of the engagement, and discuss any issues or risks that the client needs to be aware of and make decisions on. These meetings are most often weekly in frequency, but can be more or less frequent, depending on the client’s preference.
Another form of periodic update is the daily stand-up meeting. This is usually performed in agile project approaches. If the client sponsor takes to time to attend these meetings, he or she will be able to get a snapshot of each project team member’s status.
For larger engagements, there is usually a steering committee to report status to. Steering committees are usually high-level executives that help to direct the project in relation to other large engagements within the organization. These meetings are usually monthly or bi-weekly in frequency.
Project dashboard: Most engagements provide a web-based dashboard that allows an executive to refer to on an ad hoc basis. If the information is kept current by the consultant, this should provide any information needed on the project status, budget and schedule. Most dashboards also provide “traffic light” status (red-yellow-green) indicators for various aspects of the project.
Formal communications like those above allow consultants to provide timely information to the client at predictable places and times to keep them up to date. They are good tools for providing a regular cadence to standard communications.
Major issues rarely occur on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Depending on the urgency, the consultant may need to provide updates outside of these formal vehicles.
Ad hoc meetings: When an issues occurs that requires the project sponsor and potentially others to be informed and weigh in, it might be necessary to schedule a meeting outside of the normal status meetings.
Most executives have full calendars and it can be difficult to schedule time with notice of only a day or two. If the issue is urgent enough, you may need to inform the executives of the issue and ask if they have any flexibility in their schedule to attend an ad hoc meeting right away.
Another form of ad hoc meeting is simply walking up to the client’s desk or meeting them in a hallway. It can be very effective, to walk with the client on her way to a meeting to provide a quick update of new information that they need to have.
Email: If you simply need to keep the client informed, it might be appropriate to send an email with the news. This has the advantage of providing a paper trail of the details you provide. If a decision is needed from the client, they can reply to the email and resolve the issue.
Text: Sending a text is perhaps more effective than sending an email. In most cases, texts are checked more frequently than an email. This increases the chances of being seen if an issue is urgent.
Phone call: If an issues comes up that is urgent and needs to be handled immediately, it may be necessary to call the client directly. It should be noted that in most cases, phone calls should only be used for urgent issues. Busy clients will not want to be called out of meetings to answer non-urgent calls on a regular basis.
Each of these ad hoc communication vehicles can be effective. In most cases, it depends on the individual client you are attempting to keep in formed. The best approach to determining this is to ask the client up front how they like to be informed of ad hoc updates.
Some clients live on email and prefer that form of communication. Some never answer their phone and never check voice mail. It would be a bad idea to call anyone with that approach. Learning the client’s preferences and getting to know how they want to be informed on urgent matters is key to becoming their trusted advisor.
Every once in a while you may deal with a client who requests to be copied on every email. This is a micromanagement approach by people who need to be aware of every detail on an engagement.
It is important to comply with their request. If they learn of an email that went out in which they were not copied, trust will immediately begin to erode. Do not rely on them getting urgent information via email. If they are copied on every email regarding the engagement, they will likely be checking emails late into the evening at best, or more likely, a day or two late. Make sure to find out from the how to get urgent updates to them outside of email.
What is your best technique for keeping the client informed?
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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