4 ways to win back a frustrated project client



By guest blogger Brad Egeland.

Projects and project managers struggle from time to time… even fail miserably. Sometimes they have some control over what happened, and sometimes it is all out of their control. Learn more about common challanges in the Chaos Theory. Either way, the goal is usually going to be to set things right with the project client and hopefully move forward with the current project or – if it is over – move on with more work. To do that… obviously you’re going to have to really turn it around with them.

Since more than 50% of all projects fail to some degree, it goes almost without saying that at some point we’re all going to have to deal with a frustrated customer. And telling the customer to deal with it will never fly. I guarantee it. So we have to look at strategies that will improve the situation, hopefully turn our customer’s unhappiness into satisfaction, and get the project back on track all at the same time. Hopefully this can be done without adding a lot of expense to the delivery team side or the customer side – and hopefully without disrupting the project schedule too much, either.

Rarely does a project team make it through an entire engagement without the customer being upset to some degree about something no matter who is at fault. Sometimes the issue isn’t small either. Sometimes you’ll find your customer threatening to call your CEO or cancel the project altogether. These are the times that will test the nerves of the project manager to the highest degree. What do we do then? The little actions won’t make things better….no, you must take some significant step or steps to improve the situation – as quickly as possible.

What I’d like to do is present 4 tips for winning back those frustrated clients and make the most of the situation and hopefully move forward with more project work…

Get your executive leadership involved. It’s always best to fix a situation before it gets elevated to your management. But that can’t always happen and they actually are there to help you out because their success is somewhat based on your success. If the customer is upset enough, they may escalate the issue. Be proactive about it – if you go to the CEO before your customer does – it may save your job. And when the customer sees how important they are to your company with the CEO adding his involvement, that will say a lot to them about how you’re trying to resolve the situation and the priority you have put to that resolution.

Be honest. Always be up front and honest when major issues arise. The customer is smart. They usually know when you’re being honest so don’t lie – it’s never a good idea. Include them in the issue discussion as early as possible and tell them everything – make them part of the solution. Rework the project schedule with the customer using your chosen project management software tool and involve them as much as possible going forward. They may still pull the plug on the project or ask that you be removed as the project manager (ouch!), but by involving them in the solution you’re getting them to invest in it and that will increase their confidence and decrease the likelihood that they’ll quit on you.

Negotiate free or discounted work. You’ll definitely need leadership approval for this so don’t make promises to the customer that you can’t keep. But working up a proposal and getting your leadership’s buy-in to provide the customer with a big financial break may be the icing on the cake. I highly recommend saving this for last resort because it’s painful to give too much away for free and your leadership may get rid of you at the end of the project just to compensate for the free work. But use it if you have to. It gets the customer’s attention quickly and will almost always work to some degree.

Offer something significant early. I don’t mean give the client the moon. But look at the schedule. Discuss it with the client. Is there a key functionality that you could put in place early that would get their end users up and running soon? If you’re implementing a software reservation system, could you set up the customer-tracking portion of it now so that legacy data could be loaded and utilized and new customer information could be captured in the system? This might mean a more expensive implementation and your organization may have to swallow some of that because handing a frustrated client a change order for this may not be the best thing to do at this time. Make the necessary changes in your project management software tool and move forward. Giving them significant functionality early through a phased approach may appease them.

Summary / call for input

None of these are a guarantee to fix any client – delivery team relationship or project. I have, however, personally used all of these at one time or another (and all together on one unfortunate and particularly difficult project engagement) and they did work.

How about our readers? What experiences have you had with frustrated project customers and what did you do or offer to help mend things and move on with more project work?



brad-egelandBrad Egeland is a consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. He is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s project management blog.



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