In my first post, we discussed the agency model paradigm and how it differs from the internal PMO model. We also talked about understanding of the opportunity, itself. In Part 3, we look at how you manage the client experience from end to end, both externally from the client’s perspective and internally within your firm.
As a project manager in an agency model, your strategic goal is simple; when your client hangs up the phone after talking to you, they should think “If only ALL my vendors were like THIS vendor, then I’d be set! My project manager and the project team have my back. They ‘get it’!” How can you achieve this goal? Let’s start with the external side; what your client can see:
- Execute and Deliver: Your tactical goal is to manage the solution of a problem which means first and foremost, you and your team must execute and deliver. Solve the problem in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost to the client.
- Make It Safe To Walk Down The Hall: Understand what your client needs to know so that they can safely walk out of their office, knowing that if anyone asks about their project, you’ve updated and prepared your client in their language to speak knowledgeably about the project – particularly with regard to project risks or issues.
- Details, Details: Remember the little things, such as spell checking all your documents and emails, ensuring any re-used artifacts have the former client’s name removed and the new client’s name included, getting people’s names right, etc. This also includes preparing your project team for on-site client meetings, making sure the team is appropriately dressed and sufficiently updated on the nature of the client and the desired outcome of the meeting. I won’t go into every detail here, but understand that the little details can have a strong impact on you and your firm’s brand with the client.
- Under Promise / Over Deliver: Make sure you build in any cushion when making commitments. Your goal is to “under promise/over deliver,” so it’s important to make sure you understand the other commitments made by people on your project team who are also assigned to other projects. Ultimately, your client needs to feel as though their project is the ONLY project, so your ability to understand, negotiate and ensure proper resourcing within your firm will have a strong impact on your ability to deliver.
- Proactive Communications: Your client should never need to call you for an update – you should be calling them. Be proactive and anticipate your client’s needs, then meet them.
- Keep It Business-Focused: Your communications with your clients – even when technical in nature – should be such that they can be understood in terms of your client’s business operations. This not only shows respect for your client, but it also ensures that you give them information in language that they can easily understand and share with other people at their firm, thus helping your client look great.
Managing the experience also has an internal component. Most agencies share services such as creative and production design, development, QA, business analysis/strategy, etc. Therefore, you’ll have to manage the experience from a perspective that won’t be immediately visible to your client:
- Relationships: Your ability to build, maintain and leverage relationships with all the functional groups within your firm is key to your ability to delivery a strong, consistent and positive client experience. Make sure you know key people in all groups, particularly the people you’ll need when escalating an issue. Know who the strong players are, as well as the weaker links. Learn how to work with and, if necessary, work around the weaker players on the various teams. Until weaker players leave or are “enabled to leave,” they work at your firm and they’re who you have – it’s on YOU to learn how to get them to deliver.
- Accountability: Learn to respectfully but consistently hold people accountable for delivering. This means being very clear on what you need, when you need it and what will happen if you don’t get it. If you are waiting on a deliverable from an unreliable resource, it’s on YOU to check in a little more frequently that you “should have to”.
- Respect: Be respectful of the other members of your project team, as they most likely have other commitments to other project managers on other projects. Most agencies leverage shared service models, so while your customer needs to feel as though their project is the only project, you have to be smart enough to understand that within your firm, this is not the case. Respect and understand this fact, then collaborate/negotiate accordingly.
- Risk Planning: Make sure you communicate any tight deadlines, making your needs and expectations clear, potential impacts understood and then hold the team accountable. Follow the adage of “inspect what you expect” and don’t leave yourself open to surprises. If you have resources working through the weekend on a tight deadline, do you have everyone’s cell numbers? Do these resources know you need them to work through the weekend? Do their managers know, as well? Take some time to think about what COULD happen (as opposed to what SHOULD happen) and plan accordingly.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: As the project manager, it is your responsiblity to make sure everyone has the information required to do their jobs and to deliver for your client. Make sure you’ve share the right information with the right resources and over-communicate when necessary. Make sure you tell team members what you need, when you need it and clearly explain the business impact if you don’t get it.
Ultimately, Managing the Experience is about two things; relationships and delivering. You leverage internal relationships to ensure your shared project resources within your firm meet their commitments to you and your client. You likewise leverage relationships with your client to collaborate as one team to solve the business problems at hand.
Delivering a powerful and positive experience helps ensure that the next time your client has a problem, their first instinct is to call your firm first. By doing so, you not only achieve your tactical goal of solving the client’s business problem, but you also achieve a valuable and lasting strategic goal; building a lasting and mutually beneficial partnership to help your client achieve and maintain a competitive advantage over their competitors and to help your firm grow revenues organically.
© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese