A big part of a project manager’s job is to manage people’s requirements and expectations. Any project manager, or account executive, has to regularly deal with challenging clients as part of their roles. It is one of the most difficult responsibilities of the job, but if managed well, it could result in an even better relationship with the client.
Communicate Properly and Clearly
Proper, on-time communication can solve many problems.
Establishing a good and steady relationship with the client helps foster the relationship and creates an open communication channel, which helps when problems arise.
When you are dealing with an unhappy client, it is advisable to do the following:
- Listen actively and rephrase their concerns so they feel they have been heard and understood.
- Ask questions to make sure you have identified the problem correctly.
- Summarize what you both agreed to and follow up with clear meeting minutes to make sure that everything is documented and clear, especially if you are communicating with the client using your non-native languages.
- You can even offer to meet the client in person instead of sending emails or exchanging calls. It shows that you are ready to do whatever it takes to address the problem and solve it.
Always keep the client informed of any changes in the project scope, agreed deliverables or delivery dates. The client will appreciate it if you inform them in advance about any potential risks or deviations, so they can prepare and take the necessary actions. Do not wait until the last minute.
When a mistake occurs, admit the mistakes and present a solution, rather than trying to be defensive. It is important the client feels that you are open to criticism and working on providing corrective actions. Respond calmly using a low tone of voice. This will lower the tension and ensure you keep your composure, otherwise the situation might escalate. If the client gets very angry and the situation escalates, despite your attempts to cool things down, then it is time to be assertive and try to postpone the conversation until the client calms down.
Take Action and Follow Up
Make sure you follow up with an action plan and put it
into implementation. The client will need to receive a clear action plan with the exact resolutions you are going to offer to reassure them that the issue will be resolved. You also need to keep the client informed along the way by providing regular status reports so they can be sure the project is progressing as per the agreed plan. Following up with the client is necessary even after the problem has been resolved to make sure they are happy with the resolution you offered.
Root Cause Analysis
Take time to analyze the situation, review every step of the process and perform a clear root cause analysis to understand why an issue occurred, and take appropriate corrective and preventive actions. This is the only way to make sure the issue will not happen again.
Keep written records of everything, send follow up notes and meeting minutes after every meeting or call. It helps to make sure you are on the same page to avoid any misunderstandings and keep these records for future reference. The reports will help to demonstrate what you did, the results and the added value.
Lastly, it’s always wise to remember that your client is likely answering to someone on their end as well, and they may be under the same pressure to deliver a project on time and on or under budget as you. Recognizing this as a shared experience and expressing empathy for your client’s concerns goes a long way to fostering and strengthening long-term relationships.