It’s not easy delivering outstanding service at the best of times. But now, with so little fact-to-face time? There are just so many pitfalls. Let’s analyse the situation to show where these potential traps are.
First, there’s knowing what the client is looking for from their supplier. Actually, and I’m not trying to be clever here, a related issue is knowing who the client really is! For big ticket projects there are probably several individuals involved, such as:
- The contracting client
- The person with the purse strings (eg CFO)
- Some technical bods who might have an important contribution
- The boss or even the owner
You get the picture. It can be complex and harder to sort out as a supplier when you are not having face-to-face meetings.
Added to this is the fact that the client might know in their head what they want but how good are they at expressing that and how good are you at teasing it out and clarifying? Some good questions at this stage can be:
- “What would a good outcome give you?“
- “Can you give me an example please?”
- “Could you explain why that’s so important to you?”
- “Is there anything you don’t want?”
- “What is important to you in terms of service delivery?”
I reckon that if you’re doing a great job at this contracting stage, you will be 98%– 99% accurate in terms of understanding how a client will be judging the quality of your service.
The next problem is briefing the team, so they have an accurate understanding of the client need. Again, even brilliant communicators and listeners can only get this 98% – 99% correct. The chances are that whoever briefs the team will use slightly different words and phrases to the client or miss one or two little things out.
Then there are the changes in client needs over time. Assuming the work takes a few weeks or even months, whatever the brief was at the outset will probably change somewhat. Suppliers often talk about this as the client moving the goalposts!
How important it is to keep checking the objectives. But it’s harder when working virtually. Again the final client needs might be at least 1%-2% different to those expressed at the outset. Sometimes the changes are much greater.
So, just looking at these core elements of communication, you can see that there’s a good chance you’ll only be delivering 95% of what the client is looking for. And that’s if you are doing a good job of questioning and listening. Clients will notice if you’re 5% out!
So, what can we do to address these challenges? We need to make extra efforts and be more rigorous at communication and checking in with all concerned – the client and the team.
Here are some specific suggestions:
- It might help to use checklists when receiving client briefs, to avoid any omissions or misunderstandings.
- Asking team members (in a non-patronising way) to restate their understanding of what is being expected from them.
- Perhaps more frequent feedback from the client will help. Asking “Is there anything you’d like more of or less of from us?”