Cultivating your client relationships is essential for growing your client base. Successful project managers across the industry gain new clients by word of mouth. Building a strong reputation in any field takes time, but with consistent effort and good follow through, you can be sure that strong client connections will continue to pay off – even after your initial project is complete. Here are some tips to keep in mind when building and maintaining positive client relationships.
Set up clear communication in the beginning of a project and maintain it throughout the project
The client will have trust in you if you let him or her know what to expect throughout the process. Even if you have been brought on board because you have an extremely specialized skill set, you can make your client feel that he or she is part of the process with regular updates and communication. Email is a great way to generate communication that does not intrude on your client’s daily activities.
However, when an unexpected change arises or when you need to communicate a more complicated message, a phone call is better than email. Listen to the concerns of the client and respond in a clear, controlled, calm tone. Set up a follow-up time to call back if the subject needs further attention. Always follow up after the problem is resolved, if not before.
Never make promises you cannot keep
If a client asks you a question about a product or service and you are not sure of the answer, just tell him or her that you want to be sure you give the correct response. Set a time to get back to him or her about the information that is needed. This is much more respectable than offering your client a timeline, or service that you cannot provide. Aside from negatively affecting your client relationship, it also puts unnecessary pressure on your team members who may not choose to work with you again. After all, a team leader is only as effective as team players.
Occasionally, despite best intentions, you will need to adjust an agreement, this usually happens with timelines. There may be times when the weather doesn’t cooperate or a worker’s strike affects your vendors. Having extra time built into a schedule will help, but the delay might be larger than the allotted emergency time. In bigger delays, be sure to have clear alternatives ready to discuss. Being honest and clear in your communication is always important, but even more so when handling bad news.
Go above and beyond to assist and to appreciate your clients
As business settings become more and more tech-based, the human connection you provide your clients becomes even more important and powerful. Strong project management skills combined with people skills will leave your clients feeling satisfied. Perhaps in conversation, the client mentioned an unrelated problem and you have a contact who could address it, then use that opportunity to build a stronger connection with the client.
If there are time-saving strategies you can share, do so. If there are ways to finish the projected before the deadline and under budget, try to do that. Be empathetic to the client’s situation and give your communication the human connection. Clients who feel the human connection with a project manager are more likely to remember you, give you repeat business, and spread the word about your services. Find some way, at least a personalized email note to let your clients know that you appreciate them individually.
Maintain high professional standards at all times
In the current business climate where work and social worlds often collide, it is important to remember that you never really know who you’ll encounter when you are out in social settings. Complaining about a client in a public setting, or making other disparaging remarks about the appearance or business practices of a client can come back to haunt you. Even if in the course of your project with the client something goes very awry, you still need to maintain a professional tone, attitude, and response to the situation.
A good project manager handles a smooth project with skill and finesse; a great project manager handles difficult projects with the skill and finesse that make them look nearly as smooth as the easy ones. Usually, it is your response to the actual delay, problem, or obstacle that will leave the biggest impression on the client, not the actual difficulty itself.
Be sure to adhere to the highest professional standards when representing or meeting with clients, and take the extra time to make sure your appearance is neat and organized. Even if your client is always running late, be there on time. Avoid checking text messages or other communication when you are in the presence of a client. Face to face time is highly valuable; be sure your client feels that s/he has your undivided attention.
Committing to a strategy that regularly cultivates your professionalism and builds strong client relationships is a key component to longevity in the project management field. Word of mouth referrals builds a reputation more quickly than perhaps any other marketing strategy, especially when considering today’s immediate nature of client satisfaction ratings on social media websites. Intentionally building your client relationships is one way to secure your foothold in the project management arena long after your current project has drawn to a close.