Thursday, April 21, 2011

Client Retention Obstacle 2: It’s All About Me.

We always complain about clients. They demand, they question, they change their minds. All the while we're trying to build great client relationships and improve client retention. What's the rub?

Look in the mirror.
Let’s start with us. Look at the ideal we’ve created in our mind about the client relationship.  It’s a client who appreciates everything we do:  the fire drill follow-ups, the head-butting with designers, the internal budget negotiations, the hand-wringing during presentations, the late nights and weekends making deadlines. We even wish they knew about the bonus we’re going to get if things go well.  Essentially, we want the client to focus on us, on our world, on our stuff.

It's not about us.
Who are we kidding? Why do we focus inwardly?  Partly, it’s the self-centered nature of our big egos. And many of our reward and recognition systems emphasize self-importance. Yet, this focus on "me"causes the anguish.

It’s about them.
The problem is we forget to balance the “me” with the “you.” Providing service is inherently selfless. The better you understand the other, the better you serve. So try to be the client. Know their world, the internal politics, the pressure for profits, that fact that your client’s boss is on your client’s case. Heads are on the chopping block. Be in that world.  Feel their pain.

Stop complaining and start knowing.
We need to face this squarely. For whatever reason, you got in the service business. So for a moment stop pulling your hair and complaining to your colleagues. Know what your client is faced with, really dealing with. And if you don’t know, find out. And once you develop a true appreciation for that world you’ll find your pain recedes and the client relationship improves. And so does client retention.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Client Retention Obstacle #1: Not Knowing the Client

How well do you know your clients? Most account and project leaders do a good job focusing on the plans to be made, objectives to be accomplished, deadlines to be met and the like. Not enough, however, pay attention to the client relationship, the personal dynamic with those who ultimately judge success or failure.
The anxious client.
I was hired to conduct a client evaluation for an architecture firm whose client was a regional hospital. An interview with the VP of Patient Care Services revealed a gap in the engagement process. When posed with the first question, “Overall how is the experience working with (my client),” the VP responded with one word, “anxious.”

Understand the client’s needs.
When I probed further, I discovered that this was the first major construction project for the VP and she was very concerned about not knowing her role and responsibilities. The VP, a very buttoned up and conscientious person, knew she was a key to success but felt lost about what she should be doing. And her pride kept her from disclosing this to the project lead, who was in the dark about her concerns.

Low Readiness.
This is not an isolated incident.  Many clients do not possess the experience or knowledge to contribute at a high level as effective partners. Organizations today are short staffed and place people in roles outside their capability. It’s no wonder that that anxiety abounds in the workplace and that client retention suffers.

Assessment is key.
Assessing a client’s readiness to lead or contribute to a project should be integrated into the project initiation process.  When done properly, an assessment will tell you the skill and will levels of the client to accomplish the tasks they need to own for a successful project. That, in turn, should guide your efforts to lead the client in the best way, and get the best results.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Exploring Client Relationships

Hello everyone.  This is my first blog post. Kind of scary and exciting at the same time.  I get encouragement from a little abstract  piece of art hanging in my home showing a butterfly floating softly alongside a tree . The caption reads:

“Sometimes you must leap, she said gently, and grow your wings on the way down (Kristen Jongen -”

I guess now’s the time. That’s what everyone is telling me. They’re right, of course.

Anyway, I want to use this space to explore the complex world of client relationships, client retention, client turnover. What makes a great relationship? Why do they fail? What can you do about it?

I will draw on my many years serving clients and helping others do the same. I will share both my experiences and those of colleagues.  

I look forward to exercising my wings here.