Preventing & Managing Challenging Customer Situations

Here are my notes from tonight’s Professional and Technical Consultants Association (PATCA) meeting on “Handling Difficult Client Scenarios in an Agile and Effective Manner.” It was a candid discussion among primarily experienced consultants about real situations that were challenging–and frequently painful. Several good suggestions for preventing and managing challenging customer situations:

To maintain lines of communication consider what are the most appropriate methods to use based on the urgency, information content, and emotional overtones of a conversation: email, texting/chat, phone, and face to face have different affordances.

A challenging situation is easier to defuse on the phone or face to face: confirm understanding in email. Don’t attempt to negotiate or address only in email. Text/Chat can provide rapid communication on small but important issues where a phone call may be overkill and an email may take too long to be read.

Determining when to pickup the phone is critical decision in a challenging customer situation: even if you cannot get through a voicemail can communicate your emotional state more clearly than an email–provided that the situation as not escalated to the point where you are having trouble managing your emotions.

Propose a scoping or planning or study phase as a separate small step in a new project with a new client.

Understand that no client relationship lasts forever and you need to continue to ask for referrals, network, market, and make new proposals.

Document key results delivered at least once a month and in brief every week.

Some clients and some situations present challenges that are not recoverable. It’s better to retire from them gracefully after making an honest effort to fix or address than continue to invest effort in what will be a lost cause.

There is no magic bullet for pricing services: fixed price vs. time and materials; pricing to value vs. retainer vs. hourly. Keep score on what’s working and what can be done to address the level of joint uncertainty and risk in what’s known (planned/documented and delivered) vs. what is yet to be done.

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