The Art of Client Service: A Three-Part BreakdownThursday May 2nd, 2013
Recently, I’ve been reading a project manager’s playbook - The Art of Client Service by Robert Solomon. Over this three-part series, I’ll be distilling his most basic concepts down, especially those I have already been applying to my own account management style.
Part 1 of 3 – Project Manager Roles: Laying a Solid Foundation
Recently, I’ve been reading a project manager’s playbook – The Art of Client Service by Robert Solomon. Over this three-part series, I’ll be distilling his most basic concepts down, especially those I have already been applying to my own account management style.
As a project manager, I’ve come to understand how important establishing roles and expectations really is. Before jumping full-steam into your next web project, ensure the groundwork comes first and solidify a project management plan. At the start of every successful web project there are a few key elements you’ll want to focus on: setting expectations and goals, agreeing to a plan, and creating a timeline and strategy. Without these pieces, projects can easily go awry. So, take time to start the project off on the right foot and move forward strategically.
Expectations and Goals
Define What the Goals Are
I’ve learned it’s important to ask what the goals of the project are and have them easily accessible to everyone throughout the entire project. Doing this sets the tone for future conversations and guides work. It sounds like an easy thing to do, and it is, but many times it gets overlooked. In the past I’ve neglected this step myself, but defining goals for the project forces both the client and the agency to be on the same page. If the client can’t verbalize the goals, no matter how good the product is, it will fall short. By doing this you’re validating the project and ensuring there are real expectations to hit. At Brolik, we like to present the client with these initial goals often because it’s not uncommon to see goals change, especially if they weren’t agreed on initially.
Based on what these defined goals are, manage the expectations accordingly. Be clear with the client so they know what to expect. This includes letting them know what approach your agency will take, what they can expect delivered at each stage of the process, and what those stages are. My experience has taught me that this helps everyone stay on the same page and avoids confusion or surprise when clients see the work. Keep in mind that there are clients who have unrealistic expectations for both the project and the budget. It’s completely fine, I’d even say encouraged, to indicate that expectations exceed the budget, and the scope needs to be adjusted. This avoids a situation where the agency feels lost and works to no apparent end with a minimal budget.
You’ve established what can be expected so when the work is actually presented, make sure to listen. Take time to ask questions about how clients feel and what their thoughts on the work are. At this point I like to try and draw information out by asking specific questions, then gauge client’s comfort levels. In an effort to preserve the relationship (which we’ll discuss in part two) clients may not want to be completely forthcoming, but they need to be. Let’s be clear, this isn’t so I can abuse that information later; it’s to ensure that everyone is moving together in the right direction.
Planning and Discovery
Here’s an all-too-familiar situation in our world; A client comes in and they’re pumped, they love our work and want to get started quickly. We jump in and have a kickoff (we use the term ‘Discovery’) meeting. From there we present our findings and plans for the work, and the client (who is busy with their own endeavors) says “Yup, that looks great. Go!” A couple things just happened. One, there’s a good chance everybody involved is still in the “honeymoon stage” and didn’t really dig deep enough. This likely means that, two, the creative team will present work that doesn’t exactly hit the mark. This frustrates the client. You’re certainly not honeymooning anymore and everyone wonders what went wrong. Chances are not enough time was spent planning and managing these steps. Be definitive here, perhaps even make them sign off on material before moving on to ensure important details and milestones aren’t overlooked.
Our clients look to us provide them with good counsel. To do this, project managers need to invest the time to learn the ins and outs of their client’s business, or ‘speak their language’. This is all in an effort to be able to recommend the best combination of services to achieve the best results. Without investing time to understand the client’s perspective this is difficult, maybe even impossible to do.
Live the Brand
Ever have a client say, “That’s exactly how we would have said it”? Congrats, because this means you took the time to understand their business and you started approaching the project like they would. It’s also evidence that you have built enough trust with them to suggest new ideas because you have a firm understanding of their brand. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s always a great sign when it does. In my experience, sometimes it just takes a bit of an outside perspective to bring fresh ideas to the table.
Strategy and Schedule
Setting up a project timeline can be tricky, and I always find myself perfecting the skill. These days, everyone wants everything yesterday, and each project feels like it’s rushed. With that mentality, it’s easy to cut corners. Don’t. The project management timeline is in place for a reason. It’s a waste to exert all the effort putting a strategy and timeline together and not stick to it. Do your best to make clients understand and agree that timelines are in place for a reason. Keep in mind that promising expedited timelines is a dangerous way to start a project and do what you can to manage them. Brolik’s mentality has always been that it’s better to promise a timetable that’s feasible, rather than an aggressive one that sells a job but is difficult, maybe even impossible to deliver on.
Be an absolute resource on the project. This goes not only for the client but also for your team. Your agency is counting on you to know all the answers when it comes to the client, and well, you should… it is your job. On the flip side, the client is counting on you to relay their vision and needs (whether verbalized or implied) to your agency. Think of it like being a quarterback in football or a catcher in baseball. You see all the players on the field and have everything in front of you to make the right call, just put yourself in position to do it. Hopefully you can use these suggestions and add them to your own playbook.
Stay tuned for part 2 of 3; Managing the Relationship – Attitude, Communication and Trouble