We have all been there before – we have an angry customer that we must somehow placate for the sake of our project (or even our business). Regardless of the source of the consternation on the customer side, it is up to us to repair that damaged relationship and ensure that our customer feels like they can still trust us to do what they are paying us to do. Here are three critical steps to repairing a damaged customer relationship.
Understand Their Perspective and Make Them Feel Heard
As with any conflict (and yes, this is a conflict), it is important that you understand where the other party is coming from. Customers don’t just get upset for the sake of getting upset. It is critical that you as the project manager do a deep-dive with the customer to understand the problem. Ask questions, listen intently and most importantly – make the customer feel that you are trying to understand. This step requires very solid listening skills – listen to understand, not to respond. So many times project managers go down this path of trying to understand but then start attempting to put words in the customer’s mouth and ultimately make things even worse. As you are understanding the problem, be hesitant to offer solutions right away as this should primarily be a listening and understanding exercise. Problem solving comes next.
Plan Wisely and Communicate Clearly
Once you have gathered all the facts and feelings from the customer it’s up to you and your team to come up with a plan to address the concerns and ensure that the customer understands your plan. Depending on the nature of the hard feelings, the plan could include a shift of priorities in your original project plan, a complete overhaul of the project plan or perhaps even a change of personnel. Whatever plan you and your team come up with to address the issues, it’s critical that you involve the customer in reviewing your plan and ensuring their buy-in. By having the customer engaged with your plan you are providing them a sense of co-ownership to resolving the issues which tends to help build up the trust level again.
Plan Execution/Relationship Care & Feeding
Once you and your customer are on board with how your plan will fix the issues that have led to the damaged relationship it is critical that the plan be executed flawlessly. Whatever the plan calls for needs to be done with accuracy and precision. But in addition to rectifying the issues that cause the hard feelings in the first place, it’s also just as important for the project manager to pay closer attention to the health of the relationship so that things do not take another turn for the worse.
Most often, customer relationships get sour due to a lack of engagement or involvement until things are off the rails with your project. Project managers need to make relationship management part of their ongoing duties, no different than steering your project towards success. Remember – a likeable customer will pay off massive dividends for the health of your project.
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