Every consultant / department manager has experienced that one client or person who simply cannot knuckle down and focus on what he or she is supposed to be doing. This can make life very difficult for everyone on the team, especially on the consultant who rely on client feedback to move the project forward.
These are the clients who simply do not reply to emails requiring action, or who are never at their desks when you call. Needless to say, it can all get quite frustrating.
So how do you deal with these overwhelmed clients without being condescending, and without losing your patience?
Set Expectations and Priorities Straight from the Start
At the project start, when you meet with the client, establish what the goals of the project are, the short term, mid term and long term plans. This will allow you to allocate the resources and work priorities adequately during all stages of the project. Accomping these plans include in the project schedule key milestones and deadlines. Make sure that all stakeholders are on the same direction when it comes to the project.
If you have set unachievable, unrealistic goals or have them set for you, you’ll feel constantly stressed. If you believe that meeting your deadline is impossible, speak to your client and find out if there are any areas of the projects that they want completed on a priority basis and which ones can temporarily be held off.
Schedule Weekly Status Meetings No Matter Where You Are
If you are not in the same geographical location, modern technology is a virtue, making meetings easy to accomplish. Meetings with your clients are held on a regular recurring basis at a set time.
Weekly or set periodical meetings will suffice, be these face to face or virtual, projects that require frequent input may require a greater client interaction, especially at the initial project stages. Make sure that the client is adequately briefed via reminders both email and telephone. After a period of time, these meetings will become an expected touch point where you capture the attention of your client.
Follow up via Telephone to Report Critical Areas of Progress
When you send a progress report that contains critical information (action required or not), it is crucial you follow up with your busy client via phone. Many times, the chances of your client actually reading the report are slim, and a follow-up phone call can be used to indicate any red flags or areas where action is required. Do not simply call to ask whether the report has been received- only call with a purpose.
Patience and Persistence is Key
Dealing with clients who are too busy to focus on the present requirements can be annoying and at times off putting. By staying calm and being patient, this will allow you to focus on the big picture, as you are always the one who has to follow up. As a project manager, it is your responsibility to manage difficult situations.
Being a consultant can be difficult, but rewarding at the same time. Dealing with difficult clients, you will more quickly gain experience. The key to any project is clear and concise communication. People who are too busy to focus need a little bit of spoon feeding and a nudge in the right direction. It’s important to remember that it’s (typically) not a reflection on the work your team is doing.
Relax every so often
We all know how stressful projects can be and the things that can go wrong while they’re in progress. While that may be out of your control, try to arrange for you and your team to relax. It can be something as basic as getting away from your desks and out of the office for 10 or 15 minutes. Other members of teams might opt to plug themselves into their MP3 players for some music. The key is to not keep working full throttle–anytime you can avoid it–for the duration. Exhaustion is as bad as it sounds. It affects your ability to work fast and think clearly, not something you want for a successful project.