Client Communication and Analysis

Clients are the lifeblood of most businesses, especially those in the professional services market. Keeping your clients happy, motivated, and involved is extremely important to your businesses continued success.

I have wrote some simple guidelines and tips that come from past experience when dealing with clients while acting in various roles or capacities.

If you are an analyst:

  • Experience can sometimes be a double edged sword.
    One of the things many of us fall into is the desire to blanket clients needs based on previous experiences. This is a very dangerous thing to do. When a client says I need an intranet that does this, this and this. Keep in mind that while that experience is a wonderful asset and may be spot on for what the client desires you have to make sure that the client actually wants that.
  • Product mapping before fully understanding the client’s needs.
    I know if your business sells a product that your first instinct is to map the clients needs to your product, but as an analyst you need to get the client needs before you map them. All of those needs if possible. One of the worst things that can happen is you miss an integral client need because either you didn’t ask, or you made an assumption.
  • Involve the client.
    Remember that your client always (although some may not seem it :P) the project to succeed. In fact most of them are willing to do some work on their side and you should always take advantage of this. It’s okay to push a little work onto the client, just make sure they know you can do it for them, but it might be faster, more effective or less costly if they do it internally.
  • Remain in contact.
    When analysis is finished Keep in Contact with the client. I know normally this is more of a consultant thing, but as an analyst you have interacted with them quite a bit, it is always good to keep that communication channel open because you can learn about all the requirements you missed, and help improve your analysis abilities so that you miss fewer and fewer requirements as time goes by.

If you are a consultant:

  • Update update update.
    Your client always wants to know how things are going (if a project is going on with them involved). Keep track of the progress of the work you are involved in and update the customer regularly. Now I am not saying spam them every day, then they will get frustrated, instead summarize things for them each week as an example so they know where things are. Feel free to play with the summary a little, and make sure you keep that personal touch.

    Example (my comments in italics):
    Hello John,

    How was your weekend? (I always like to update clients on Mondays, as Friday updates most do not read and Fridays are often very busy.) Did you get a chance to visit the cottage with Sally and Janie? It was perfect weather and I felt like jumping into a lake a couple times. (Write something personal to the client to help maintain a healthy corporate, yet personal relationship.)

    I am sending you this status update to let you know the current progress of the project. As always contact me if you have any questions.

    <<Template filled out of status report details, make it easy to read with a high level indicator such as Good, Running Behind, or Ahead of schedule or something like that.>>

    Thank you,
    Richard Harbridge

  • How to handle out of scope or change requests.
    If a client brings something new to your attention hear them out. Think about the item carefully. Is this important to the client? Will this make the application, service, or project better for the client? Was it really something that should be in scope? Keep in mind that you are there to help facilitate and manage the clients needs. If it’s something small typically I try and find a way to get it done, keeps the client happy and you know you tried your best and can honestly return with a response to the client that is either we can do it, or we can’t however I have another solution for you. Never return with a we can’t do it without an alternative. Let’s drop feature A, and we can include this new feature B.
  • Represent your companies interests and your clients interests.
    Always represent your own companies interests first. Let’s face it, that is the way the business world works, and it’s a good thing. However don’t forget most of the time as the consultant you are also the only person in your company that can properly represent your clients interests. If project scheduling is complicated by overdue items, or other projects impacting your own make sure that you try your best to ensure your client still gets what they need by the end of the day. Understand the impact it will have on your own business (normally fairly easy to do) and make sure if it does have an impact on the customer that they know about it as far ahead as possible and know that you personally are representing their interests and doing everything you can to ensure the project schedule is impacted as little as possible.

    A client is going to be upset if a deadline isn’t met either way. If you let them know and try to do everything you can to help reduce the impact I promise they won’t be MORE upset.

If you are supporting a client:

  • To a client they are all that matters.
    Remember that even though you may be supporting 20 clients that each and everyone of them believes their problems to be of the highest priority. Accept that and do your best to make the client feel like they are the number one priority.
  • Keep a knowledge base for issues and issue correction.
    I cannot count the number of times I have said to myself, I know we fixed this before, but I can’t remember how. Document fixes, and do it in a way that categorizes them and makes it possible to search, find, and apply the fixes to recurring issues. If you don’t have one make sure you get at the very least a change management and issue tracking application to help facilitate this.
  • Capture new feature requests or enhancement requests.
    Support often is notified by the client that something they are trying to do or want to do is not possible with the system. In these situations it may be an issue that needs to be corrected but often can be an enhancement or feature that would be great but isn’t part of the current delivery. In these situations capture the request, talk with the client and support them in the fact that it is not in the system and let them know you will look into it. Then submit it to the appropriate channels in your organization to create a Change Request, or to create new projects. Most of the work businesses get nowadays (due to competitive markets) comes from recurring clients.

I know alot of this seems obvious but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of important things that will help your business keep happy, satisfied customers.

Helping one client at a time to make a better tomorrow (or some such),
Richard Harbridge

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