Top tips for managing client relationships and expectations
Whether it’s a case of unrealistic demands or an inability to take onboard advice, most professionals have found themselves involved in a‘difficult’ relationship with a client at one time or other.
A breakdown of communication is at the heart of many of these problems.It’s where a client wants a certain outcome and expects you to deliver it -regardless of the reality of the situation. As such, an important element ofclient relationship management involves bridging that expectation gap so thatboth you and your client are clear on what’s achievable. To help ensure yourrelationships start and continue on a sound footing, here are some relationshipmanagement tips to consider.
Stick to your areas of expertise
You have just successfully completed a project on behalf of a client. Infact, it went so well that the client would like you to take over the handlingof something else they have in the pipeline. It’s potentially lucrative work,but it lies slightly outside of your main areas of practice.
‘Dabbling’ in areas outside of your comfort zone creates the risk ofturning that existing relationship sour. Your client may regard you as thenatural port of call for dealing with this additional matter, but it’simportant to be honest with yourself (and with your client) about whether youare competent to deal with it.
Don’t be misleading in your marketing material
What messages are you sending out in your adverts and other marketingmaterials? Are these messages at odds with the type of experience your clientscan expect in reality? Your potential clients will make assumptions about whatyou are capable of delivering on the basis of how you present yourself - bothin ‘general’ marketing and at client-specific pitches. Especially if you have aseparate marketing department, it’s important that you do not end up expresslyor implicitly promising the impossible.
Beware of taking on more than you can handle
A natural temptation is to try and win over your prospective new clientat any cost. But to avoid setting yourself up for a difficult relationship,including the possibility of potential errors and even professional negligenceclaims, it is vitally important to assess whether you are able to handle thematter in hand. In all cases, ask yourself whether you have the time,resources, experience and competence to deliver what that particular clientexpects at that time.
The contract: set out the full scope of the work you will be carryingout
Your contract performs an important role as a relationship managementtool. If it is properly drafted, this document should set out the parameters ofyour relationship. As such, make sure it includes a full summary of the workyou will be doing, including details of what won’t be included if thereis any scope for confusion here. Where relevant, timeframes for completionshould also be included. Ensure your client is clear on all of this before workbegins.
Confirm your action
Communication breakdown can occur when you and your client both comeaway from a consultation with a slightly different understanding of what’s beenagreed. As such, follow up your action with a detailed attendance note for yourfile, as well as a letter or email to your client confirming what youunderstand to be the outcome and setting out the steps that you (and possiblyyour client) will be taking next.
Stay in regular contact
From a client’s perspective, one of the biggest potential causes ofcomplaint is the feeling of being kept in the dark. This can be reduced byputting steps in place to issue regular progress updates setting out what iscurrently happening, what’s going to happen next and when your client canexpect to hear from you again. If you are proactive with updates, clients areless likely to feel compelled to chase you for information.
Following these tips should make it more likely that clients will have abetter understanding of the process you will be following and the expectedoutcome without any ‘nasty surprises’ further down the line. While satisfied,happy clients should be the norm, you cannot rule out the possibility ofunwavering, unrealistic expectations in a small handful of cases - no matterhow diligent you are. Even when they have little or no merit, dealing singlehandedlywith formal complaints and professional negligence claims can be a highlyunwelcome distraction.