A solid customer engagement strategy, when done well, increases reputation, customer satisfaction, and loyalty. After years in search of the perfect formula for building and maintaining successful customer relationships, we've uncovered a winning combination.
1. Have a plan (and a backup).
Most, if not all, of your engagement and delivery processes should be repeatable. It's unsustainable to reinvent the wheel with every new deal that comes your way, which means defining a critical path for the product you are delivering as your foundation. That said, every customer has their unique requirements and caveats to success—meaning, the plans you build around this foundation require a touch of thoughtfulness.
Now, I’m not talking about strict PMP standards, because I march to the beat of my own drum more often than not, but here is some insight on the general idea behind critical path.
Your critical path is a versatile tool in any scenario, allowing for project items to be swapped in or out and moved around. You can also modify additional versions to include damage control activities for high risk components that have potential to drop out of the project or hold up your progress.
Once you have something repeatable in place, the key is to practice it, study it, and refine it if needed. If you can keep perspective on knowing that even the best of plans have pitfalls, it makes any mistake a bit more bearable. The strategy behind maintaining healthy customer relationships partly lies within your ability to know your plan like the back of your hand. Anticipating need isn't possible without this practice. You simply must know the next five things that need to be done once a milestone has been achieved.
2. Start with a rhythm.
Obviously, your plan has included some kind of communication outline. Who's talking to whom, about what, and when it should be happening. It's defined and understood. And at this point, you understand your customer, your team, and the objectives within the plan. Outside of this structure, it's imperative to establish a rhythm of open dialogue with your partner in this relationship. Set a baseline to your communication and go from there depending on the need. Sometimes, project objectives and timelines require 200% in excess of your baseline, and that's okay (if you've allocated your resources properly) because it can quickly become the reverse as soon as you've reached your next milestone.
Maintaining that heartbeat communication with your customers through the life of the relationship helps to ward off any perception of disconnection. It's never a happy time remaining in a one-sided relationship, and I'm not just speaking from personal experience. Our culture today demands our genuine engagement in every interaction.
If you're flying by the seat of your pants and your rhythm isn't there to being with, it's difficult to build it after the fact.Maintaining your baseline and accommodating the ebbs and flows through the process, results in brand loyalty and a stronger reputation.
3. Understand boundaries.
This can be tricky, but the concept is simple. Boundaries exist, and can present themselves in a variety of ways. People have boundaries, products have boundaries, businesses have boundaries, all deserving an equal amount of mutual respect.
If you've lived the life of a project or program manager for any length of time, you can likely identify with working through these kinds of constraints while planning. You also probably know how the "human factor" is a reality often lost in the height of intense engagements.
It may be impossible to account for the human factor, or the social and cultural boundaries of your customers, but expressing empathy and compassion go a long way.
Trust each other to respect the relationship margins. If a boundary has been breached, speak up and implement a change to your process that limits the potential for it happen again. If you find yourself overstepping, take ownership and make a repair.
This doesn't mean a tenacious individual shouldn't ever "test the limits", but toe the line with respect and professionalism… You'll be golden.
4. Learn from every experience.
My experience in delivery has gifted me the ability to account for itemized wins and losses. In the industry, we’re challenged to learn new tricks at every turn. I come away from each engagement with a new view on how I can improve my skills and approach, to achieve the “win-win” we’re all after.
Don’t ever forget to evaluate, when it’s all said and done. The breathing room you have during the let-down period, should be focused on a retrospective or lessons learned.
- What worked well?
- What didn’t work well?
- What were your top challenges?
- What can we use from this experience for future projects?
- What actionable steps can we take to ensure we anticipate these challenges?
- Examples are process templates, creating KBs, walkthroughs, training
- Did we have the right people engaged at the right time?
- What skills did we lack that would have assisted in improvements?
- What will we do differently next time (+how we will accomplish it) ?
Lastly, don’t forget about yourself—practice a brief and personal review. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, track them, learn from them, grow from them. I promise it’s an incredible confidence boost, even if it seems counterintuitive.
While you may be an All Star with a practiced hand at successful delivery engagements, there is always room for improvement.