A fantasy image of a screaming man with flames coming out of his mouth

When client relationships go sour, what’s the key question?

Blue chip client – those three words are catnip to any professional whether sole trader or major firm. In a discussion on golden questions – the key questions a client should ask their consultant to ensure their best value – I was reminded of a blue chip client of a firm I worked for where their golden question could best be summarised thus:

Where are my @*&$ing deliverables?!!!

I retain the expletive as it’s fair to say that the relationship with the client had pretty much broken down at the point I got involved. I was part of a team sent in to rescue a study that had clearly not met the client’s expectations in any shape or form and, whilst I can’t remember the specifics of the study, other than it being telecoms or IT-related, I do remember part of the dialogue in the very uncomfortable meeting which went thus:

Lead consultant: “If we can just talk about the deliverables…”

Client: “The problem is, THERE ARE NO @*&$ING DELIVERABLES!!!!”

Needless to say the rescue team’s mission – in the space of about half a day – was to shape some sort of deliverable from the work that had been done. I don’t think the client was any happier by the end and we didn’t do much further work with them.

This sorry tale illustrates the paramount importance of building a good relationship with clients from day one. And by good, I don’t mean that you have to become best buddies, but you do have to have a continuous dialogue to establish a clear understanding of the value you’ll add and, yes, the deliverables that embody that value.

It sounds blindingly obvious but that clearly hadn’t happened in this blue chip case.

One thing I am very keen on in my customer experience work is taking the opportunity to learn from when things go wrong. And whilst we were all keen to forget our uncomfortable afternoon in our soon-to-be-ex-client’s offices we should, on reflection, have held a proper debrief and lessons learned session. That would have certainly flushed out the points that the lead consultant had missed that signalled that the client’s expectations had either changed or been clarified.

Excellence in consulting is a theme we are developing ideas around at CMCE. It can be a tricky thing to define as it can mean different things is different situations. One thing’s for certain though, the best foundation for excellent delivery is being absolutely clear on what you are supposed to be delivering and when.

And you need to have your own “golden questions” for such situations: not only “how can we rescue this?” but, most importantly…

“what can we learn?”

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