I'd like to take this opportunity today to discuss the topic of customer satisfaction. As a Project Manager or IT Consultant, the concept of customer satisfaction is make or break. It is the basis of your livelihood. If you're independent, it means the difference between a referenceable customer and a dissatisfied customer. If you're working for an organization and dealing with internal customers and/or external clients, then customer satisfaction over time may mean the difference between keeping your job or updating your resume unexpectedly.

As the PM, we have the bull’s-eye firmly fixed on our head. Often times we're the highest priced resource on the project and many times the customer sees us as the hardest expense to justify. Here are six ways to keep yourself 'relevant' on a project....

1. Lead weekly status calls

Every PM on every project should be responsible for leading weekly customer calls and documenting discussions, action items, issues, etc. and re-sending this all back out to the relevant project team members on both sides within the next 24 hours following the weekly call. I find that clients are happy with this approach and they know that everything was captured accurately when they review the notes and issues.

2. Produce weekly status reports

In advance of the weekly status call - preferably at least 24 hours in advance - produce and deliver a detailed status report to the customer and project teams on both sides. The status report should be the basis for the weekly status call and should be reviewed and updated on each call.

3. Deliver revised weekly project plans

At the same time the weekly status report is being revised and delivered to the project team and the client, the project plan must also be revisited, revised and delivered - preferably in both .mpp and .pdf format so users without MS Project can view the plan. A good project manager is reviewing and revising the plan almost daily, but an 'official' revised plan should be delivered to the customer each with the status report and reviewed as part of the weekly status meeting.

4. Stay on top of project issues and risks

At a minimum, at the kickoff of a project, gather the project teams together on both sides - assuming a customer-facing engagement - and brainstorm the risks. Document these well using a project register of your choosing…usually a simple Excel spreadsheet will do. Identify the likelihood of the risk as well as the potential impact to the project (budget, timeline, success, etc.) if the risk is realized. Also identify any risk mitigation actions that can or will be taken to avoid the potential risk.

Ideally, this risk register will become part of your weekly status report going forward and will be something that the teams re-visit weekly on the status call. At an absolute minimum, the Project Manager must review the register (and update it) regularly and bring items to the attention of the teams as any risk possibilities arise.

5. Ad-hoc communication with the customer

I’ve mentioned the weekly status calls and the delivery of the weekly status reports and revised project plans/schedules. That’s a given. However, the real communication with your project team as well as with the customer’s project team often happens as ad-hoc communications. This can be by phone, IM, email, etc. This is where the quick, but critical, status alerts happen. As the Project Manager, you must be prepared to share risks, bad news, alerts, changes, etc. with the customer in a very timely manner (after, of course, verifying all info and clearing critical info with executive management). This will gain customer trust and definitely help to ensure that evasive action is taken as quickly as possible when problems arise. It’s never ok or a good option to bury your head in the sand.

6. Be an activist for your project team

As the PM, one of your primary concerns is to remove any roadblocks your project team members encounter. If you have a Business Analyst onsite with the customer performing a design walkthrough and the server is down, you must be ready to get your IT support staff on it and escalate it to whatever exec necessary to get the server up and running. This is just one example, but the general idea is that proactiveness is key to customer success and satisfaction.

7. Keep the executives 'undented'