Recently we received some excellent feedback from a client at the conclusion of a project. The scores were glowing, but one remark surprised us: the client stated that we might have been too transparent.
At Optimation, we pride ourselves on transparency with our clients. As a service provider, you want to make sure the client knows how their money is being spent. The big question is – how much is too much?
Some context: This was a new client that we had not worked with before. The project was a fixed price project. As is the case with most fixed price projects, we had built some contingency in but there were many changes requested throughout the project. Our project manager was documenting these as changes, but the client assumed that the changes were covered by the contingency.
Our project manager and engineers were keeping the customer informed of everything that was going on in the project, including many of the challenges that we were facing during the engineering phase of the project. This was an attempt at relationship building, but unintentionally could also be seen as a sign of insecurity to a new client. This also created a level of fatigue on the client’s end, in having to hear about minor issues.
The customer doesn’t need to know all of the details about the project – but where do you draw the line of keeping them informed of what’s happening and why? Each client is different, with varying degrees of responsibility for the project and varying tolerances for information.
Ultimately, what matters to all clients is that the project is going to be delivered on time, on budget and to their specifications. The details behind how you get there may need to be filtered.
The client may need to be involved if there’s a scope change that impacts the schedule or the cost. They probably don’t need to get involved in materials procurement. But this is where it gets sticky – what if there’s a problem with the vendor? What if parts are on back order and you need to pay an expediting fee?
The truth is that there’s no one answer. It’s a balance of relationship building - it’s part of the project manager’s job to balance the relationship of trust and transparency, and the “need to know.” It’s also knowing your client – some want to know more details that others. This can be difficult in a new client relationship. So a baseline needs to be set for the frequency of communication and type.
It’s good to set these expectations with the client at the kickoff meeting, so that everyone is on the same page. Questions like these are often overlooked at project kickoff, as both the client and the service provider tend to focus on the technical aspects of the job. But they can be crucial in creating the customer service experience you want to give and your client expects.
Bottom line, it is important to keep the customer informed of what is going on, but most customers don’t want to be involved in the minutia, that’s why they hired you – to take care of that for them!