Customer Service is Everything - Especially for Project Managers
I can’t say personally that I have always viewed project management as a customer service oriented career path. I saw it as a more methodical, mechanical process of managing schedules, tasks, and team members and reporting…oh yes…lots of reporting…of project status to anyone and everyone who mattered.
The reality of it though, is that it truly is very customer service oriented. And I am glad that it is…even though I didn’t really see myself as a customer service type person. Am I really nice enough and tolerant enough to be that type of person? Well, I guess 20+ years in the field says that yes, I am. But at least we don’t have to take too much abuse…its not that type of customer service. But it is about making the customer happy and keeping them that way…because that is the key element to project success.
The way I view it, there are three customer service keys to project management success. Not the “Hello, how are you?” or the “How can I serve you today?” inquiry. It is much deeper than that…more involved and requires more skills…not that being nice isn’t a real skill. It is…especially if the person on the other end isn’t so nice and we all know that customers can be a bit testy at times. So that leads me to my first one…
Yes, customers can be testy. They can be inquisitive. They can be demanding. Very demanding at times. So be nice, but above all be patient. Because someone has to be. Count to ten, take a deep breath, don’t lash out, and always…always…be professional. I lost my temper with one customer one time and learned you can really never take that back. That bridge was burnt forever.
As I have always contended, communication is everything. And it is probably the single biggest ingredient to good customer service. The well-informed client is more engaged, more satisfied, perceives you to be working hard on their project and certainly asks fewer questions and is far less demanding than one who is poorly informed and lacking regular, up-to-date information on the status of their project. The key is to remember that this was all important to them to spend money to have you do this work for them on the project you are leading. Treat them like the very important customer that they are.
Finally, inclusion. Many times the last thing a web developer or other creative industry tech wants is a customer breathing down their back telling them what to do or getting too many chances to provide input to the creative process. Project managers and project team members know their job and just want to “do it” and move on to the next task or process. It is easy to want to shut the customer out. Avoid that temptation. It is poor customer service, poor treatment of the customer and it can greatly increase your chances of missing the mark of the intended final product that you are rolling out to the customer.
Including the customer in your communications ensures that you are staying on track with the requirements and their needs by having formal and informal reviews of the progress and solution along the way. And it can greatly increase your chances of having a positive affect on the revenue for the engagement because the customer who is part of the process is more likely to see things that need changed or added that aren’t part of the original requirements and, therefore, scope of the original project. The end result is change orders and increased delivery side revenue.
The bottom line – it is all about the customer when you are running a project. Communicating with the customer, informing the customer, including the customer in key discussions and decisions and – this is the big one – ensuring the satisfaction of the customer. And all those things I just mentioned help get you there. Stay true to the three key things I mentioned in this article and you will have a satisfied customer in the end. Unless you screw up the actual project itself…and that is for another article.