How to Improve Client Management
A main challenge in contract management is client management. One of the top reasons why client defections occur is because of “indifference by supplier”. This can range from inferior client service to passive communication. The bottom line is, there are many different issues that will signal indifference to a client. You should not only know them but also know how to prevent or overcome them.
In this article, we will discuss steps you can take improve client management.
Managing Client Relations
While a contract sets the rules by which you and your client interact with each other, it does not provide recommendations as to how leaders and contract managers need to interact with client. Managing client relations is just as important as managing their contracts.
On the leadership front, chief managers need to know the client personally. They should develop a deep understand of how their business works. Both of these activities foster trust among all stakeholders and demonstrate the credibility of your organization. Savvy leaders anticipate issues and potential conflicts; they don’t just react to them. On the other hand, contract managers need to maintain well-organized, and that includes all activities related to the client. Nothing undermines trust in your organization like a lack of responsiveness from a contract manager. Contract managers need to respond to client requests promptly and provide regular progress reports, even when they may not be requested.
Breaking Bad News Early
A key point to preventing that the client senses any indifference from your side is to break bad news early. Unlike fine wine, bad news doesn’t become better with age. It’s critical that your clients hear the not-so-good news from you first. If your contract management system reveals that an agreed clause exposes your client to an unacceptable risk, you need to act right away. By taking immediate responsibility of challenges, even those you have not have caused, you are owning that client relationship and showing that you really care.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your client immediately because, as the saying goes, “your first loss is your best loss”. Also, don’t just report the bad news. You also should be delivering some alternatives to fix the situation at hand. It is ok to say, “I’ll get back to you”, but remember to keep that promise.
Develop Proactive Communication
Here’s a tip: really productive people try to initiate at least 80% of client interaction. The reason is so they can plan their schedules better. By getting your clients to agree on a regular schedule for meetings, phone calls, and progress reports, you’re developing proactive client communication. It’s even better to agree on meeting times through a phone call, and not an endless email chain with the subject “Re:Re:Re:Fw:Re:Re:Re:Re:Fw:Re: Meeting time”. Then, you can establish some calendar invites to secure the time slot on a recurring basis.
A second tip from productive people is that they develop a 1-page progress report that acts as a snapshot of the project/contract, and they do so with their client. Some items to consider within this report are:
- What was accomplished since last report?
- What are current action items, their status, expected completion date, and % of completion?
- What are missing resources/approvals/reviews/inputs to complete action items?
- What is the overall schedule, any changes?
- What are scope changes, if any?
- What are current/pending invoices?
- Are there any other issues that need to be discussed?
Always leave room for that last bullet. By developing a habit of asking this question, you are showing that you’re trying to be proactive. While your client may not have any, he or she will be appreciative that you’re not only considering the possibility of other issues arising, but you are also willing to address them.
Client management doesn’t have to be the Achilles heel of your organization. Prevent client defection by taking ownership of client management, breaking bad news early, and embracing proactive communication.